Unfiltered: James Lloyd
The head sommelier of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on the importance of being humble and listening, taking time to find the perfect pairing and the memories of a thirteen hour lunch…
What is your motto?
Always be grateful for what you have.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
I honestly did not have that eureka moment; it was more the people I worked with who inspired me. and I have been very lucky in that respect throughout my career.
What is your vintage?
I was born in South London in 1981, a year from which Château Latour and Château Rayas have been two favourites.
What is a misconception that guests have of sommeliers?
Classically, the misconception is that we are here purely as salesmen and can come across as arrogant and presumptuous. A good sommelier should be a guide using the knowledge they have acquired, listening to the guest to ultimately find the perfect wine to ensure pure enjoyment in a humble and open nature.
Describe your role?
Vast and varied, but primarily to ensure the smooth running of our three Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. That includes the wine programme in all aspects as well as nurturing and managing the whole front of house team. Outside of the restaurant I oversee investment for the group, any new openings and recruitment and most importantly I am someone whom people can lean on for advice and guidance.
Where did you work before Restaurant Gordon Ramsay?
My career started in a hotel in south Croydon in 1997, with my move to Central London being the Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols, then in 2002 I started at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Describe your list?
It leans towards the classic whilst ensuring value at any level on the list and is very much tailored around what our guests enjoy drinking rather than my own ego. I am in a very lucky position where I have the ability to buy whatever I require from the sublime to the ridiculous. Consequently, the list is full of amazing world-class producers with maturity. Most recent additions of note are some en-primeur wines particularly from Burgundy coming into maturity allowing us to offer unique wines at an enticing level.
How many bins do you have in total?
It does change daily but currently 950 references.
What has been a standout wine pairing with a dish designed by head chef, Matt Abé?
The wine, Grüner Veltliner, Tradition, Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal, Austria, 2012 from a double magnum. The dish, Cornish Turbot, violina pumpkin, clementine and shiso finished with a citrus beurre blanc. The pairing works beautifully, lifting both wine and dish to another level. The wine has a density due to its maturity which works with the texture of the turbot and has a slight calming effect on the citrus elements. The fruit breadth highlights the aromatic qualities of the particular breed of pumpkin used and the citrus, however the dairy in the beurre blanc requires acidity hence choosing a double magnum to serve from as it retains freshness and acidity for longer to finally lift the dish.
What does chef Abé enjoy drinking?
Lately a penchant for the wines from Antica Terra.
How does the setting of the venue enhance the enjoyment of wine?
The restaurant is understated, comforting and intimate, being designed to ensure that the food speaks for itself and the service is allowed to shine and show personality without any gimmicks which could detract from the experience. Our mantra is to welcome you into our home, allowing for the experience with us to be enjoyed in comfort, but with technical precision.
What style of wine do you find it hard to get along with?
Stylistically, I struggle a lot with natural wines.
What was the last book you read, and film which you saw?
In all honesty, due to my children, the book was “Paw Patrol” and the film, “Sing 2”!
What is the restaurant highest on your bucket list?
I have ticked it off already but to delve into the menus more it would be A. Wong which has truly phenomenal food. And if I can get there, Oncore by Clare Smyth, Sydney.
How long was the longest lunch you’ve ever enjoyed?
That would have to be my pre-marital lunch which started at 11am and finished at midnight (I think!)
What is your favourite cocktail?
Purely from memories of Italy when visiting my wife’s family, an Aperol Spritz.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
A few years ago, admittedly, when I played rugby I could squat 172kg.
Would you want your offspring to become sommeliers?
Not necessarily sommeliers, specifically, but involvement in the wine world – absolutely. There are now so many exciting avenues, but ultimately I want them to have a love and a passion for whatever they choose to do.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – 68 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 4HP; 0207 352 444; gordonramsayrestaurants.com;firstname.lastname@example.org