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Published:  23 July, 2008

John Davey, General Manager, Morton's private members club, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

What will be the main benefits of membership at the newly refurbished Morton's? Morton's will be unique because of its wine list. There will be nothing like it around: we'll have the best of everything. It will be perfect for people who enjoy fine wines and fine dining and who are looking for somewhere to relax with comfortable service.

What is your role at Morton's? I am here to make it like a home for the members. It's their house in a sense and we are here to look after it for them. It's all about giving people pleasure through food, wine and service. My little extra on top of that is a warm and caring approach and remembering everyone who comes here by name, even recalling what they like to eat and drink. There are lots of French people working here and French people who work in the high-level restaurant business are generally a little stiff. I want to create a flow and movement in the club. From the moment members get out of the car and the doorman says hello, they can relax.

Has anyone you've worked with been an important influence? Years ago, around 1973, when I worked at the Lausanne Palace hotel in Switzerland, there was a restaurant manager called Maurizio Santambrogio. When he was in the kitchen or with his kids he was great fun, a real laugh; when he was in the restaurant he was a true professional, simply top class. I still think of him often. That was the nicest job I ever had because I just loved watching him - nothing was too much trouble and anything a guest asked for they got. That's a philosophy that's stayed with me. I want to keep the old service traditions without being over the top. There should be a great atmosphere.

What are the essentials of good front-of- house service? The first contact: the doorman and reception are the most important. It's for us to know who the members are and how they are feeling. We have to anticipate. I can't sit still and when I'm in a restaurant and talking to someone I am always looking around, watching everything that's going on. You need to use your eyes, ears, hands and even knees. You also need to use your common sense. Your body language has to be correct with people. There are so many things that go into being front of house.

Are you still recruiting? We're looking for about 70 people, which is going to be difficult, but all the department heads are already in place. We've got Morton's, The Greenhouse and Bruton Place all opening between March and April so there will be some movement between them.

Do you expect to attract equal numbers of men and women members? If a gentleman joins his wife is automatically a member, so hopefully ladies will use it too. We're hoping to attract younger people and overseas members.

If a woman joins is her partner a member too? I should think so, yes.

Who looks after the wine list? The wine list was put together by the head sommelier, Benoit Allauzen, and the owner, Mr Abela. I've been on board two weeks but the wine list has been ready for a year and a half. It's Mr Abela's baby.

You've got 2,800 wines listed Yes, that's 1 million worth of stock.

So I take it you've got your storage sorted out? Yes, but it's very tight. All these buildings look massive but once you've got the members in here there's not a lot of space left.

What is the general theme of the list? Very French, very Italian; it has all the best French and Italian wines. The magnum selection is unbelievable.

Are you going to present customers with the full wine list? Yes, but eventually we will have a record of what all the members eat and drink. We'll be able to look up what they have chosen in the past and that will help us when we approach them, so we'll know where to pitch it. What I want to create here is an environment where we know what they would like without them having to choose.

Who will buy the wine? Mr Abela has a company called Napa Wines, which has 100,000 bottles in stock in London. The wines will be bought from UK agents and merchants, directly from producers or at auction. Jean-Marc Heurliere does all the buying for the company, but the plan is that once the wine list is in place and gets moving Benoit will get a portion of his own to look after.

So they will work together? Yes. As the wine is such a big thing for the club it really has to be looked after 100%. If Benoit is serving the wine and looking after the cellar every day then he will need to have control. It's going to be great for him because he's going to be opening bottles that I wouldn't dream of seeing, let alone opening.