Seamus Williams-Sharkey, head sommelier at two Michelin-starred restaurant The Ledbury, began his career in hospitality at The Dormy House in the Cotswolds aged 18. From there he joined The Nut Tree Inn in Oxfordshire, followed by stints as Head Sommelier at Hampton Manor and Tom Sellers’s Restaurant Story, before joining The Ledbury in 2015.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier?
My first job out of college was working at The Dormy House in the Cotswolds. Working for David Brian (Deputy General Manager) and David Field (General Manager), I was a breakfast supervisor but showed interest in learning more skills inside the restaurant. So between breakfast and dinner service, both Mr Brian and Mr Field would give me wine lessons. After a couple of lessons I was hooked, buying every wine book possible. Not long after, I looked for my first sommelier role and joined The Nut Tree. I haven’t looked back since.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Coming in to work and working within a great team of sommeliers at The Ledbury.
What’s the biggest misconception of a sommelier?
Not every sommelier is just out to make the biggest sale of the day, then boast about other peoples’ wealth through posting a photo of those bottles on Instagram. Some come in to work to look after guests and make sure they leave happy.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
At Hampton Manor my office was in the old pump room and the wheel was still in there. One day, out of curiosity (and possibly stupidity!), I decided to climb the wheel. The wheel start to turn and the more I tried to pull myself back to the top, the faster the wheel moved. I ended up wedged between the wheel and the wall. It made for great viewing on CCTV.
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a sommelier, what would it be?
Learn from every person you meet throughout your career whether it be a positive or negative interaction. Taste as much as you can and listen to guests.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
I went to the Mosel on my own when I was 19. Brough Gurney-Randall, who at the time was the owner of O.W Loeb, kindly arranged a visit to Thanisch and a few other producers along the river. I tasted at Thanisch with Sofia and a group of Danish collectors. At the end of the tasting, Sofia called me into the family kitchen and poured me a glass of Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese from the 70’s, I cannot remember the exact vintage. She didn’t have enough to share with the whole tasting. I remember tasting the wine for the whole bus journey back to Trier.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Mike North and Imogen Young who owned The Nut Tree Inn in Oxfordshire. They opened their own restaurant in 2006 and gained a Michelin Star in 2008 while both still in their mid-20’s. I have only fond memories working for them, both starting work before us and leaving after we had finished. They were generous, kind and always led from the front. I am lucky to have a very similar boss with Brett at The Ledbury too.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
I love junk food and fine wine. I have been lucky enough to try some magical combinations, here are my top 3:
Salon 1999- Chicken Legend Meal (Macdonalds)
Haut Brion 1998- Sausage Sandwich (Jolly Hog The Porky Black Sausages)
Chablis, Forest 1er Cru, Dauvissat 2011 – Fish Finger Sandwich (Birdseye Fish Fingers, Iceburg Lettuce and Hellmans Mayo)
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
If I could retire with a few rows in Musigny I would be a happy man.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
An Osteopath. I always wanted to be one growing up and if it wasn’t for my time at The Dormy House, I would probably be one now!
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
I love South Africa but on every trip I still struggle with Cinsault.
Who is the most memorable customers you’ve ever served and why?
My family. Due to the hours we work in the industry, it means you miss certain family occasions. I take a lot of pleasure in being able share what I do and see their enjoyment. It means a lot.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier in London?
London is lucky to have such a diverse and mature wine industry meaning we have access to wines from around the world and guests to share it with.
* The Ledbury was ranked 19th in Wine List Confidential’s 2019 guide to the best restaurants in London for wine. To see its full review, please click here.