At chef Gordon Ramsay’s flagship London outpost, sommelier James Lloyd is devoted to one of the country’s most considered and food-focused lists.
“I want wine to evoke fun, curiosity, experimentation and to heighten the guests experience but most importantly not to be pretentious, and I believe the physical list and how it is written can definitely aid in that,” says head sommelier, James Lloyd, who began his wine career in 1999, not in the environs of seventeenth-century Chelsea but South Croydon. His first, “serious” role as he puts it was at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor restaurant in 2001, followed by Royal Hospital Road a year later as commis sommelier where he remained for four years, “making my way to assistant head sommelier.”
Lloyd’s “barometer” at all times must be the guests wants and needs, and what works with the food of chef, Matt Abé, “who is driving the kitchen forward and continually evolving.”
Preference is given to wines with maturity “which tend to work better with our food meaning the guest has a more balanced, more enjoyable experience.” It also helps if Lloyd and his team, Giovanna Satta, Michal Bílek and Simone Nieri, enjoys what is to be listed. “Sounds simple, but sometimes I feel sommeliers are led by fads or fashions and must trust their palates more.”
Wines also “have to make sense for the money,” something which is clarified in Lloyd’s authored and entertaining list via charts, maps, flavour wheels and facts. ‘”On our Domaine de la Romanée Conti page I introduced little facts such as the size of the vineyard, annual production and the average age of the vines to try to explain why these wines are so valuable and revered.”
Lloyd is fortunate to have curated a large list in the small but massively acclaimed restaurant, but that is not, he notes, licence to overload a section “just for the sake of it.” His personal “soft spots” include Saint Emilion, of which he “just loves the town and the hospitality” and Piedmont, “for the pure fact of rekindling so many fond memories from my time living there,” including an internship at Cantina Ceretto; he subsequently took on the mantel of sommelier at a wine bar on the shores of Lake Garda.
Lloyd and Abé spend an extraordinary four to six weeks polishing wine pairings, including, from the Prestige Menu, pressed foie gras, clementine, hazelnuts and smoked duck. “I pair this with Dönnhoff’s 2012 Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese from Nahe. The sugar in the wine is a perfect foil for the richness of the foie gras and the Madeira and black pepper jelly. The fruit profile picks up on the clementine perfectly in the dish allowing the acidity to lift and cleanse the palate.”
This is clearly a place oenophiles can feel cosseted, though for those who don’t drink, there is always the ‘Temperance Bar’, including a ‘Negroni imposter’ made with rosehip and nettles…