Head sommelier Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
James Lloyd’s sommelier career began in 2002, when he worked as a commis sommelier at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea. There, he moved his way up to become assistant head sommelier.
Hungry for adventure, in 2006 he moved to New York to be part of the opening team for hotel restaurant Gordon Ramsay at The London. After an inspiring stint in Piedmont working both as a sommelier and an apprentice winemaker, on his return to London in 2008, Lloyd worked at some of London’s top fine dining establishments, including Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester.
Changing direction slightly, in 2011 Lloyd swapped Michelin-star dining for The Playboy Club, where he worked as head sommelier and assistant restaurant manager before coming full circle and returning to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2016, this time as head sommelier, taking over from Jan Konetzki. An avid Italophile, Lloyd is passionate about listing wines that are ready to drink, so that each bottle he opens is guaranteed to perform. “I love wines with maturity, which tend to work well with our food, meaning the guest has a more balanced and enjoyable experience,” says Lloyd, who believes some sommeliers have become slaves to fads, and should learn to trust their palates more.
Having to uphold the site’s three-Michelin-star standards, he and head chef Matt Abé spend up to six weeks tweaking the food-and-wine pairings on the tasting menu, ensuring all are seamless. During the creative process, Lloyd tastes every element of the dish to come up with the perfect wine pairing, which is usually chosen from a shortlist of four. One of the pairings he’s most proud of is Abé’s Dexter beef short rib dish with peas, broad beans and smoked bone marrow matched with Ca’ del Bosco Maurizio Zanella 1999, a Bordeaux blend from Lombardy.
Lloyd is custodian of some of the priciest wines in London, with just 15 bottles on the list coming in at below £50, and more than 100 costing over £1,000, including first-growth Bordeaux dating from 1900. His most memorable wine experience thus far was the chance to try a bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild 1894, though an “exceptional” bottle of Latour ‘45 came pretty close. Topping his wine bucket list are Château Rayas 1978, and Château Latour 1899 – if there are any bottles left.