Kandylis was studying physics in the University of Athens and working for some of the best restaurants in Greece when the wine bug bit. After completing the first three levels of his WSET qualifications in Greece, he moved to the UK, where he landed a position at Heston Blumenthal’s revered gastro molecular pub The Fat Duck in Bray. Having completed his WSET Diplima, he went on to take up the position of assistant head sommelier at The Ledbury, after which he joined private members’ club 67 Pall Mall, where he is today head sommelier, working under the leadership of Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn. An accomplished sommelier, Kandylis earned the title of Best Sommelier in Greece in 2015 and represented the country in the European Final in Vienna in 2017, where he managed to go through to the semi-finals. In 2016, Kandylis was crowned the 2016 UK Sommelier of the Year, has passed the advanced level of the Court of Master Sommeliers exam and is currently preparing for his MS Diploma exams.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier?
My first inspiration was my cousin, who influenced my first steps and opened the gates for me to discover what is hidden in the wonderful world of wine. Then, I was lucky enough to work with some of the most respected wine professionals like Ronan Sayburn and Isa Bal, who taught me how to think and how to approach things. I learned a lot and and keep on learning from them.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
What brought me to this profession is that I always wanted to meet people form different cultures and backgrounds. Engaging with guests is always fascinating. Another unique moment is meeting the winemakers. Wine is all about the stories that can make our guests dream and travel, with the wine we suggest enhancing their experience. Sommeliers are storytellers.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
Many people have the image that a sommelier is in the restaurant only to suggest wine to match with people’s food choices. The modern role is much more beyond that.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
Depends on how long the day was! A good glass of red on most occasions, but nothing can beat a beer after a tough one.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
In the beginning of my career when I tried to open a bottle of sparkling without being taught how to open it. Also the bottle wasn’t really cold. You have the picture…
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a somm, what would it be?
Be prepared for many hours of hard work, patience and lots of study, and if you are persistent and focused on your target, you will be rewarded.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
The bottle that made me believe that wine can trigger amazing emotions, act as a time capsule and spark the most wonderful of conversations was a 1983 Cos d’Estournel. It happened to be the first fine wine of my life and when it is as old as you are it is very memorable.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
I had the chance to meet Paul Pontallier back in time and Corinne Mentzelopoulos more recently, from Château Margaux. To be able to host a dinner on the wines he was responsible for with his son was truly memorable. So the dinner we organised with Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos and Thibault Pontallier for the first year anniversary of the 67 Pall Mall is something that I will never forget.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
Smoking in restaurants and bars. I know that sounds a horrible habit of the past, but trust me the law still does not apply to every country in Europe…
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
When it comes to wine, Gerard Basset. His ethos, humble approach and character is what I call ‘to lead by example’. As for a chef, I think Brett Graham. I was fortunate enough to work with him and gain amazing experience on the subject to taste together with the chef and find pairings.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
Simplicity is what matters to me in food and wine pairings. It’s hard to decide between Comte and Vin Jaune or sardines and Sherry, because I LOVE both.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
Burgundy or Santorini.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
A farmer. Every time that I meet vignerons I get more inspired by them. Their approach to life and what matters most, the way they are connected to nature, reminds me of my grandparents and connects me to my past.
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
Sorry, my dear Gareth Ferreira. Pinotage.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
Brad Pitt. He didn’t care about people looking at him and enjoyed every bit of his meal. He had fun and was cracking jokes with the staff that were as nervous as the guests around him.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier in London?
It’s a community that makes you proud to be a part of. An amazing mix of professionals from around the world that strive for perfection and are constantly thirsty for knowledge and excellence.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
Lots of Rieslings, Assyrtiko, Chenin, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.