Elena Serban is head sommelier at the newly-opened, Swiss-inspired Heritage Restaurant and Bar in Soho. She has curated a 200-bin wine list that champions wines from the Alpine regions of Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany, as well as idiosyncratic wines from independent producers. Serban has over 10 years of experience in the hospitality sector, and was previously senior sommelier at Hakkasan in Mayfair. Before that she was food and beverage supervisor of the Laura Ashley The Manor Hotel Elstree in Hertfordshire. Serban is currently studying for her WSET Diploma, having also achieved the SSI Master of Sake accreditation.
How did you arrive at the position you are in today?
Commitment, passion and trust given by my superiors.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Guiding the quest towards new and lesser known wines.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
That the sommelier only serves wine. It’s a lot more than that.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
A glass of Riesling
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
Dropping a full tray of Bellini’s into a lap of certain American CEO in the middle of a business meeting.
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out, what would it be?
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
A 1982 Cheval Blanc I opened few years back. I was a junior sommelier, my hands were shaking for the cost of the bottle and I knew very little about the wine, but when I tasted it, it was different than anything I’d tried before. It was beautiful and I could not describe it any other way.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
In September 2017 a few Hakkasan sommeliers from Las Vegas, Shangai, Doha, London went on a trip to Bordeaux, lead by group head of wine Christine Parkinson. We visited Château Margaux, sipped a glass of 1967 Château Louviere while having lunch, and then had dinner and stayed over night at Château Pichon Lalande.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
When they say “my white wine is not cold enough”. When white wine is ice cold it is just a crisp refreshing drink to have when you are thirsty!
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Christine Parkinson – the most knowledgeable, humble, understanding, patient, who has taught me so much.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
Pan-fried foie gras on brioche with caramelised apples paired with 2007 Auslese Weiser-Künstler from Mosel.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
In the Hunter Valley in Australia. I’d have a small vineyard with old Sémillon vines and be the winemaker, producing only a small volume of wine aged for years and just for personal consumption! That would be fantastic.
In couple years I would like to work in a winery. I am constantly thinking about studying enology and eventually becoming a winemaker – they are superstars!
If you weren’t working in the restaurant industry, what would you be doing and why?
I’d be a human rights lawyer. I dropped out of studying when I was 20. It was a dream from when I was little to do something to help people.
Which wine do you find it impossible to get along with?
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
It was a Chinese gentleman having one bottle of 1999 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg. Yes the wine was memorable as well, but so was the way he picked the wine.
As soon I approached the table he ask to see the wine cellar, so I brought him to the sommelier station. I opened the fridges shelf by shelf and explained the wines for a good 20 minutes, moving from Bordeaux to Tuscany and gradually getting to our most prestigious wine!
What makes you most proud to be working in London?
The diversity and opportunity to learn from the best in the industry
What’s on your wine bucket list?
1982 Cheval Blanc, 1945 Petrus, 1985 Sassicaia, 1996 Jasper Hill, Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, 1990 La Turque E.Guigal and Dassai ‘Beyond’ Saké.
Finally, what wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?
Tomato raclette paired with the 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr, J.J. Prüm Auslese. It’s a simple dish, while the wine has fresh with savoury aromas balanced by layers of exotic sweet fruit from the most sought-after vineyard site in Mosel.