Ryosuke Mashio joined Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Umu as a commis waiter in 2008 after applying for the role of assistant head sommelier. He transferred to bartending for the restaurant before moving through the ranks to become head sommelier at Umu in 2011. One of the few sommeliers in London to hold in-depth knowledge of both wine and sake, Mashio is also a senior judge at International Wine Challenge Sake.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier?
I had and still have a cool image of the word “sommelier”. I came to London in 2007 and my plan was to stay for just a year. I had a Youth Mobility Scheme visa which allowed me to work on a full time basis but I didn’t make the most of it and the year went by so quickly. I didn’t want to go back to Japan without learning or experiencing something new and challenging, so I decided to stay for another year under a student visa. With that ambition to start a new thing I applied for a position at UMU. That was the direction I was automatically guided in by the cool image I had for a “sommelier”.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
To see sommeliers in the team growing up.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
A sommelier is just about wines.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
A group of Japanese tourists asked for a Japanese waiter to look after their table. I am the only Japanese speaker in the sommelier team so of course I did the drinks service. However, it was really difficult to explain and talk in Japanese (words don’t come out naturally when explaining wines/sakes in Japanese…) so they asked for the waiter who was looking after their food service to translate my words to proper Japanese…
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a sommelier, what would it be?
Hay fever season is tough, always have tablets with you.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
Savigny les Beaune Les Narbantons, Leroy 2000. My very first experience of this prestige producer was in 2008 when I was working as a commis sommelier. My head sommelier opened it and let me try a sip. I didn’t know much about wine in general but when I had it in my mouth it blew my mind. I couldn’t describe how it tasted or how I felt at that time but I still remember I was stunned by its elegance, charm, and purity. Since then, I have fortunately had the opportunity to try lots of prestige wines but this definitely will remain as one of the most memorable ones.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
Vertical / horizontal tasting of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Our owner Mr Abela often holds a wine dinner with his guests and few years ago he had a DRC dinner at UMU. There were more than 20 wines from different vineyards and different vintages… opening and serving every single bottle was a precious experience. Polishing loads of glasses late at night didn’t bother me at all. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
Putting ice cubes in wines and sakes.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
I thankfully have the opportunity to judge at the International Wine Challenge Sake every year and the people I meet there are just amazing. Especially people in the wine / sake industry in Japan who are all top of the tops: an MW who always pushes me to the next level, a journalist who’s daily report is my must read in the morning, a sommelier who looks after state guests, an educator who teaches at the biggest wine school in Japan, and so on. They are always humble, kind, and never stop at where they are, always looking for more despite having status and so many achievements already. Their existence keeps me motivated and inspired.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
White meat with Smaragd, tuna with pinot noir, sea urchin with orange wine.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
My hometown of Chiba. There is a group of growers in my city producing grapes called Kyoho which is a hybrid of vinifera and labrusca. They are mostly grown for eating but some producers in Japan are making them into wine. So I want my city to do it as well.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
A bartender. I love this industry.
Which wine do you find it impossible to get along with?
Demi-sec sparkling wine. Bubbles, acidity and a high amount of sugar kill the teeth.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
At UMU, we have many visits from celebrities but if I had to pick one it would be Hidetoshi Nakata, a former football player who used to play for AS Roma, Bolton, and so on. In the interview for the enrollment exam at my high school, I was asked who I respect. I answered his name as I was playing football and he was my hero.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier in London?
Surviving in this competitive and diverse city. At UMU I’m proud of being able to introduce our guests to unique experiences through food, wine, sake, and service. Where else in London you can find the range of wine and sake we offer?
What’s on your wine bucket list?
Always Champagne. Nothing better than that when it comes to celebrations.
* UMU was ranked 20th in Wine List Confidential’s 2019 guide to the best restaurants in London for wine. To see its full review, please click here.