Theo Randall at the InterContinental
Douglas Blyde says: “Curious and far from fearsome, Umberto Luberto was born in 1987 in the Aosta Valley. From four to 14, his “first career” was as a gymnast, “and my temple was the gym.” Luberto moved to Turin to study architecture, then Milan to undertake a degree in business advertising and communication. But it was at Emilia-Romagna’s eminent ALMA school of Italian gastronomy where he found fulfilment.
“Totally surrounded by chefs from the past, present and future,” Luberto studied wine avidly, “planning gala dinners,” in the process discovering such “goosebump- inducing” dishes, such as praline with white chocolate sphere, Brittany oyster and star anise dust matched with diluted Sambuca.
His first sommelier role was at the sleek Japanese counter restaurant, Zero, Milan where he “learnt to communicate with guests,” then Geneva’s Nico & Co, “a cosy bar by the lake”, where he created the wine selection.
“I was then called by Italy’s youngest Michelin-starred chef, Lorenzo Cogo of El Coq, Vicenza, where I matched wines with freestyle, emotion-inducing, seven-course menus,” he says.
On arriving in London, Luberto decided to accept a job at the first restaurant which responded to his CV, reasoning, “sometimes you need spice in your life.” That would to be the Mexican-influenced Ella Canta at the InterContinental, “though because of my knowledge of Italian wines, I was guided to Theo Randall’s restaurant next-door”.
Luberto’s list “celebrates the biodiversity of Italy’s grapes and their interaction with the soil, microclimate and hand of the winemaker,” hence the presence of wines such as Elisabetta Foradori orange Manzoni Bianco. Despite the Park Lane setting, mark-ups are generally fair, even on rarities such as the 30-year-old Barbacarlo di Lino Maga from Lombardy.
Being “the business card of the list”, the by-the-glass selection might feature Nero di Troia blend, P. Petrilli, “which, served with seafood, subverts the canonical rule that you must only drink white”.
Of waiter turned chef, Theo Randall, formerly of The River Café, Luberto describes him as “pure heart”. Indeed, Luberto and Randall often talk about culinary pairings, “which is why we’ve renewed our wine dinner series”.
Luberto also enjoys brainstorming with Randall’s “alchemist” bartender, Luigi Cioffi, who devised “a savoury, intense, cleansing caper Martini with essence of Amalfi lemon leaves and gin infused with capers and celery”. This mirrors components in the tuna tartare starter. Indeed, spirits fascinate Luberto, evidenced at his Negroni masterclasses where he blends history and creativity. He says: “In my little lab, we end by creating bespoke Negronis based on guests’ palates.”
Of the future, expect an increase in magnums and traditional method Italian sparklers, and the emergence of wine flights where Italy is pitched against the rest of the world.
Luberto enjoys visiting The Laughing Heart when not working, and other than wine, holds an appreciation for graffiti and music production. When back in Italy, he loves devouring pasta with his mum whom he describes as “my personal truffle pusher!””
Theo Randall is posting recipes you can try at home during lockdown. You can find out more here.