Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.


Published:  23 July, 2008

Wine consultant for Hakkasan, Anda, Busaba Eathai and the Eco Group Interview: Josie Butchart

How did you approach the creation of the wine list at Hakkasan? We tasted the wines with the food very deliberately, using a system of categories. I developed the system because I had to put the first wine list together before the menu was ready. I had three weeks to do it and looked around for a model, but there was nothing at that time. So the chef and I came up with three categories of food: mild', which covers most dim sum and steamed fish dishes; rich and savoury' for powerful flavours such as black bean or oyster sauce; and sweet and spicy' for dishes with ginger, chilli or sweetness. The rule is that to get on the list the wine has to work with at least one category of food. Our superstar wines are those that work across all three. It has worked very well and we've stayed with the system.

Any areas of the list you are expanding? I am organising a Semillon tasting because I am convinced that Semillon is underrated and I certainly think it works with our food. I'm trying to get colleagues from other restaurants to try the different styles. People don't seem to appreciate the difference between the younger and older styles. I think some styles could be superstars and they would add real variety to the list.

Any unexpected discoveries? We've got a Malvasia from Bonny Doon in California that is light and very aromatic - a really fun wine. You would imagine it with white meat and fish but the surprise is that it works superbly with meat dishes and black bean sauce. There are also red wines that surprise: we have a Shiraz that can be fantastic with mild and light dishes.

Any favourite matches? My favourite surprise is dry Sherry. I really think it is the undiscovered partner to most Chinese food. I tried it on the list when we first opened, but as we didn't have a team of sommeliers nobody bought it. We've got a great team together now and we are looking at listing several Sherries. Another great unloved category of wine is ros, which is often fantastic with Chinese food.

How do you approach food and wine matching when there are shared dishes? We would encourage people to try one of our superstar wines that go with everything, or talk to them about what they like, or concentrate on a particular dish that they are ordering. I sometimes think food and wine matching is given more prominence than it should be. Wine and people matching should take priority. Unless you have got someone eating on their own, you have two people minimum having two different main courses. While it's good to be able to offer the customer something that goes with a particular dish, it can make more sense to consider what wine the customer likes.

Do you select wines purely on taste or do you prioritise the classic regions? Taste comes first every time. One of the areas that has been very difficult for us at Hakkasan is the left bank of Bordeaux. A lot of the time the tannin structure of Cabernet Sauvignon simply doesn't work. It was a decision I took really early on: the wine has to give the customer enjoyment with their meal. I just simply can't sell somebody a wine that tastes awful as soon as they have the first mouthful of food. Some people do expect Bordeaux in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but our first loyalty is to the customer's enjoyment.

You have a new project in the pipeline: Yauatcha. What will you do with the list? It's coming very soon, at the end of February. Yauatcha will be on two levels: a dim sum restaurant and a tea house. Although tea will be very important, wine will be important too. The list is going to be quite unusual. We'll draw a lot from what we've done at Hakkasan, but perhaps taking it further in some senses. Although it will be a smaller list it will be very clearly defined and will really explore the different flavour combinations. If I find something that really works with the food then it will be there no matter how unorthodox it is.

Do you have any Chinese sommeliers? We don't. The really impressive thing is that we have one who isn't French! One of our team is Mexican. I look for people who have equal passion for the food and the customer. That's all that matters.

You have some exciting dessert wines. We're selling about ten by the glass and that figure's still growing. I've slipped in my only Sherry, a Moscatel from Lustau, but it won't be the only one for long. A really good sptlese is superb with the food here but sometimes we've got a job to do to get the customer to try it.

Do you have a wine hero? It would have to be Martin Lam, chef-proprietor of Ransome's Dock. He should be the nation's wine hero. He's shown the way by listing adventurous wines.