The Director of Food and Beverage for Coworth Park talks to Douglas Blyde about applying his neuroscience degree to Woven by Adam Smith, which scooped a Michelin six months after opening, the importance of homegrown wines, and who would play him in a film…
What is your vintage?
I was born in 1989 about five minutes away from the hotel. I have tried two standout bottles from this year. I enjoyed the first with my fiancé, Mardi and a group of friends on the final night before lockdown: Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle Hermitage. The other was Chateau Musar, opened by the late Gaston who fetched bottles from people’s birth years, unlabelled and covered in dust. The generous hospitality of that country was remarkable.
What was your first job?
Aged 13, on £2.50 an hour, I worked at the local fish and chip shop which is still going. It was the start of my career in hospitality and gave me skills which I still use to this day. I then progressed to a local Italian, Piccolino’s adjoining Laithwaites where we did 250 covers a day. I remember carrying big oval trays piled with lasagna, pizza and pasta.
What other formative roles have you undertaken?
I managed Majestic’s fine wine store in St. John’s Wood while taking the WSET diploma.
How do you keep your wine list unique?
Much thought has been given to the document itself, visually and texturally, which includes stories about how collaborations with producers such as Danbury Ridge in Essex came about – which chef Adam Smith discovered when he went to dine at Oxeye, the restaurant of Sven Hanson Britt, with whom he used to work at The Ritz. English wine is one of the pillars on which Woven is built. We look at families, including Mouiex, showing how they translate across nations, from the great vintages of Château La Fleur Pétrus to Dominus, Othello and Ulysses, and Leflaive, from the Domaine Burgundy to Clau de Nell in the Loire and Macon Verze. The cellar is on display as you enter Woven, housed in bespoke floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets.
How often do you hold wine dinners?
We have at least seven a year, with a particular focus on England, as well as upcoming events with Billecart Salmon and for Thanksgiving, Ridge.
What has been a particularly successful match with the cuisine of Adam Smith?
A very important dish close to Adam’s heart is our Cornish turbot with lobster, truffle, caviar, Champagne sauce and leeks, a nod to the dish with which he won the Roux scholarship in 2012 – then known as “Turbotin Jubilee”. It is punchy enough to work with lightly chilled Danbury Ridge Pinot Noir, which might push people out of their comfort zone on paper, though when they put their trust in us, they might see that the dish could actually overpower a white.
And what has been a terrible match?
At a previous venue, I was involved in a wine dinner organised by a Greek producer which didn’t make a sweet wine so we ended up pairing a Port-like Xinomavro with a blue cheese enriched crème brûlée. Put together it equalled God-awfulness!
What does Adam enjoy drinking?
An amazing sparkling if in the mood for celebration; otherwise, espresso martinis and Jägerbomb on a night out.
What is your favourite grape?
Pinot Noir. You can do so much with it; it can go through a whole meal.
And your least favourite?
New World Sauvignon Blanc. Having worked in retail, I grew quickly bored with the demand for pallets of The Ned and Oyster Bay.
How does the design of Woven’s interior enhance a diner’s mood?
The design makes guests feel as if they’re the only ones in the room. I genuinely don’t think there’s a bad table. You feel part of the dining experience. Everything has been considered, from the service stations made from paper-mâché and resin to tables layered at high temperatures from compressed paper, and napkin rings forged by a blacksmith in the South West. We have also paid a lot of attention to lighting – the perfectly weighted lamp above each table is lifted as the diner sits – the equivalent of the maître d’hôtel lighting a candle. We have got rid of starched tablecloths and fussy uniforms in favour of an atmosphere which is relaxed enough to appeal to a younger generation while the quality remains.
What has been an embarrassing service mistake?
It wasn’t my mistake but that of a junior somm. When we used to have a Champagne trolley he wheeled it over to a guest and took out the stopper of a wet bottle which slipped into the ice. Panicking, he reached into the ice bucket, put his thumb over the top and brought out the bottle, creating the effect of an F1 podium, spraying every table around. He is now at Plumpton learning how to make wine because serving it wasn’t his forte…
Who was your mentor?
I’ve had two: Lio, my first manager Majestic who grew up in the Jura yet was incredibly passionate about the whole world of wine – especially the New World – searching out older vintages of weird and wonderful things. And our GM at Coworth Park, Zoe Jenkins, who rose from being a trainee housekeeper at The Dorchester, Park Lane, 40 years ago, to become its head of F&B before opening here.
Whose voice do you listen to?
My inner voice. I like to take influences from different spheres. 99% of my job is not about what is in the glass or on the plate but about the people I work with and the guest who walks through the door. If they’re not happy, the wine and food become redundant. I noticed this especially during COVID when this hotel went from buzzy to feeling like an old derelict house. People bring life and soul.
What can the wine trade do better?
It should market the world of sommellerie as a career. Most people have fallen into wine for some reason or another rather than pursue it from the start.
Are you planning a standout wine-related trip?
I have never been to South Africa and love the idea of how they are able to marry wine, food and hospitality.
How does your degree in neuroscience inform your daily life?
I take a slightly more analytical and scientific approach to the job. Wine can be whimsical, fanciful and opaque. Applying science and analysis helps from a business point of view. Though my team don’t always thank me for this.
What is your motto?
“Tomorrow is a new day.” I work in a high-pressure environment in a five-star hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you get too hung up on something, reflect, analyse then move on – we’re not dealing with life and death.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
At age eight when my friends were playing football, I grew up playing lawn bowls. My grandparents owned a business selling the equipment for the sport.
Who from history would you want to share a bottle with, and what would it be?
Pol Roger with Winston Churchill. I would like to see if he could actually drink as much as was said – while still functioning.
Who would depict you in a film?
I had a nickname at school: Boris. After both Boris Johnson and Boris Becker, neither of whom seem particularly popular at present. Maybe they can act?
This article was originally published by the drinks business and has been shared with permission.