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Unfiltered: Molly Pepper Steemson

The head of wine for the “urban sanctuary” that is Sessions Arts Club and contributor to Noble Rot magazine tells Douglas Blyde about fishy photography, a distrust of aubergines and the pleasure of bathing…

What is a memorable recent bottle?

Four of us (all in our mid-20s) went out to dinner the other day and we brought an amazing bottle of 1955 Vallana Spanna. When our lovely waitress opened it she asked if it was any of our birth-year wine, which was brilliant but quite alarming.

Who inspired you to enter the world of gastronomy?

My grandma had me cooking with her since I could stand and my mother was an inimitable host – I just wanted to be like them. My paternal grandfather is a chef and my grandmother ran the hotel they lived and worked in. It came at me from all angles.

How do you apply your degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences to hospitality?

A liberal arts degree just asks you to be interested in things – that’s the application. Apathy kills.

Describe your list?

A collaboration overseen by Keeling Andrew & Co. I’m just the woman on the ground figuring out what works. The restaurant was set to open two years ago (at the start of the first wave) so we’ve spent the first few months just running down old stock and trying to find out what’s best for Florence’s food. It’s a work in progress, but my real standouts would be the wines we list from I Custodi – they were one of the first things I added to the list and they both work beautifully with the menu.

What areas are you likely to expand?

This year I’d like to focus the list more – look deeper into France and Italy and expand our offering from the early 2000s. Less breadth, more depth.

What is the most idiosyncratic and personal listing?

La Stoppa ‘Vino del Volta’. It’s a classic, non-classic-classic sweet, not-too-sweet, delicious perfect wine, and the only dessert wine I know which I could finish a bottle of on my own.

Where is the wine stored?

In a prep kitchen – it is equal parts charm and chaos.

How does the setting of the Grade II listed, art-rich building influence the enjoyment of wine?

There are a few things that I don’t think would be on the list without the building – the half bottle of LBV Port is one of them: a little nod to the judges who dined in the room before we did.

What has been a sublime wine match with a dish by head chef, Florence Knight?

The chocolate tart has been on the menu since the beginning, as has the Argyros Vinsanto. It’s not just the sweetness and acidity of the wine that works with the tart but also the texture and even the colour. A perfect pairing.

What does Florence enjoy drinking?

I think she’d say Champagne. So would I, and so would our GM, Thamsin.

 What ingredient never passes your lips?

Aubergines. Fibrous oily sponge food.

What is the “dead fish erotica” mentioned on your Instagram (@molly.pepper.steemson)?

I started taking photos of fish at work and at fishmongers quite a few years ago. Then I started bringing it home and putting them on the internet. Fish out of water – slimy, beautiful, gross. I love that it’s someone’s job to arrange a display of fish first thing in the morning.

Are you still a DJ?

I feel like I abandoned all my extra-curriculars in the face of the restaurant opening. Seems like time I start getting them back.

Tell us something else surprising about yourself?

I don’t shower, I bathe. At least one bath a day. Sometimes two.

What is the most moving piece of music you’ve ever heard?

It has to be country, probably Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio” or any song from Emmylou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl”. The last Schubert piano sonata always gets me without fail. I love a sad song. Lou Reed’s “Sad Song” – that’s a sad song.

What would you do if you suspected someone ordering a costly bottle wouldn’t be able to foot the bill?

Absolutely nothing.

Sunrise or sunset?


Vodka, tequila or baijiu?

 Tequila? If pushed? But whisky, really.

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

Somewhere along the southwest coast path – the Atlantic and the cliffs and the rolling hills and windswept trees are pure drama.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

Piedmont – good food, delicious wines, not too far from the rest of Europe.

Sessions Arts Club – Old Sessions House, 24 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0NA;

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