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The Interview: Corrine Michot

Published:  23 July, 2008

What made you choose The Connaught?
I spent a few months as the head sommelier for Aurora, but I didn't like the feeling of the City. They don't want sommeliers, they just want to order Sancerre or Chablis and have a quick lunch so they can go back to work and do their business again. I prefer Mayfair. People are traditional but more open to trying Riesling, say, or something like Amarone La Marega from Salette.

Have you increased the Italian selection to go with Angela

Hartnett's food?

Actually, I've been buying lots of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Burgundy is my main love, so I have plenty from Dujac and Vallet Frres. Jean-Claude Boisset is a star on my list, too, with his '03 Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin. Boisset has done a beautiful job with this vintage. People think I'm strange, but I really like 2003. It's a very big style of Burgundy, and the whites are too heavy but the reds are fantastic. It's like 1997 Bordeaux.

Are you really a fan of '97 Bordeaux?

You hear how it's not a great vintage, but I'm not talking about every producer.

I mean Cos d'Estournel, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Lalande and Montrose: they have made good wines that are supple, soft

and perfect to drink now. What do you expect of a sommelier - to open a wine and say, Sorry, it's a bit young. I'm going to stick it on your table and I want you to come back in three years' time'?

1997 doesn't have the reputation, but it's cheaper.

Both the Good Food Guide and Jay Rayner of The Observer have said the list at The Connaught is expensive. What do you think of such comments?

Well, my average GP is around 72, which is very good for Mayfair. It's a strange thing. I've kept 1990 Chteau de la Commanderie at 100, and this isn't really selling, maybe because people expect it to cost more. But I used to work for the Hotel du Vin group, and Gerard Basset said, Don't be stupid and do a big GP on wine. You need to think of your customers. They'll respect you for that.'

What was working for Gerard like?

Really good; I call him every two weeks. I started with nothing and ended up helping to open two restaurants. He was like family, a mentor for five years, but if he asked me to work for him again I would say no, because he's not going to pay me enough.

Was it easy moving to London, then?

Very, because I found Birmingham quite difficult after I opened the Hotel du Vin there. The hotel was much larger than any of the others. And I missed the south.

How different is it working in a restaurant with a Michelin star?

That's why I left the Hotel du Vin, because the service was just a bit too bistro for me.

It was frustrating, because you want to do something nice, and the staff would plonk down a plate of fish. But here I get on very well with Angela, possibly because we're both so miserable in the morning. With a male chef you can be nice with him - not flirting, of course, just friendly - and get your way sometimes. Angela is tough.

When you see Angela on a bad day with a full restaurant - ooh la la. You make yourself very scarce!

Are you tough on your staff?

Yes, and that's why they've all left. No, really, if they do their job correctly I'm not hard towards them. If they complain and they're not happy working here, I say the door's open. I prefer working with men because you can be firm and they're not going to cry.

What about customers?

They're starting to understand that a woman can be a sommelier as well. An old customer arrived and asked for the wine waiter. I went to show him the wine list and he said, But you're a girl', and I said, Yes, that's true. I'm sorry, but there's not much I can do about that.'

How do people feel about the changes at The Connaught?

Well, we haven't got the cut melon or the Sole Meunier anymore. A customer came back for the first time in four years and he said, Oh, the menu is different.' I said, Yes, well it would be if you haven't eaten here in the last four years. And the wine list has changed, too, and the prices have gone up.' Yes, that's normal after four years. And where is all the staff. There used to be so many waiters?' Well, it's four years ago, come on. Where's the Spanish sommelier gone?' I said, I don't know - possibly in a retirement home. All these questions People need to open their eyes: Angela has taken over now.

Angela Hartnett at The Connaught, The Connaught, Carlos Place, London W1K 2AL, Tel: 020 7592 1222

Corinne worked in her first restaurant in Banyuls, in France, and then moved to England in 1999, where she started at the Hotel du Vin in Winchester, under Gerard Basset. Subsequently, Corinne helped open Hotel du Vin in Birmingham, and then in Brighton. In 2004, she was invited by Jolle Marti to work at Conran's Aurora restaurant at The Great Eastern Hotel near Liverpool Street in London. She spent 10 months there before becoming head sommelier at The Connaught.

Other Gordon Ramsay restaurants in the UK include Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea; Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's; Ptrus and Boxwood Caf in the Berkeley Hotel, The Savoy Grill and Banquette at The Savoy, and the most recent, Maze, on Grosvenor Square.