Sommelier of the Month - Peter Sinden

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
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  • Name: Peter Sinden
  • Date of birth: 27th January
  • Place of birth: Sydney, Australia
  • Eye colour: Hazel
  • Height. 6' 2"

Peter was born in Sydney Australia and moved to the UK in 1978. After three years working in publishing as a copywriter, his career path veered off into conservation building.

"I grew up in Australia where wine knowledge and wine appreciation is second nature in all regions. I was treated to some gorgeous wines there - ones you seldom see in Britain. They keep the best for themselves! Have you heard of Vat 9 Shiraz by Tyrrell's in the Hunter, for example? Exactly. My point."

The English Restaurant

We bought a wreck of a building in 1994 in Spitalfields, which, though on the edge of the City of London, was still a dilapidated area in those days. Peter painstakingly restored the building, using traditional methods and materials, and making use of salvage where possible. A mid-Victorian pub being pulled down near St Paul's provided the pitch pine interior of our original coffee house, and oak panelling from Hawksmoor's Christ Church at the bottom of the road lined what would eventually become the dining areas. Skip dipping became an essential pastime! We started with a flat for the family, then designed and fitted a shop-front around the whole of the ground floor, before tackling the interiors. The 1670's, Wren-period panelled room on the first floor was patiently restored as a private dining room, complete with open fire.

The Market Coffee House opened on 10 September 2001, (inauspiciously) the day before 9/11. It traded successfully for 10 years and work continued behind the scenes in the hidden parts of the building. This included digging out and under-pinning the basement to form a modern restaurant kitchen, building a staircase from basement to first floor, prettily ornamented with hand carving, and topping off with a magnificent roof light. The English Restaurant opened in 2011, operating on two floors plus kitchen, with a capacity of up to a hundred. There is an independent bar, booth seating in the main restaurant and private dining areas upstairs with space for up to fifty people.

We have 25 staff, headed up by our General Manager, Kevin Doherty, and our Head Chef, Jean-Paul Martin. We take pride in holding on to our staff longer than many restaurants, thus limiting staff turnover and all the disruption this entails. We are both fairly hands-on, with Peter often fully occupied with maintenance issues, visits to the meat market at Smithfield, plus trips to France to buy wine for the restaurant. Kay deals with the book keeping, staffing issues and menu matters, and we both perform the vital role of chief food and wine taster!

As the name suggests, The English Restaurant offers traditional, classic food. We cook everything from fresh ingredients making all our own stocks, ice creams, sauces, condiments. Our menu changes frequently, with the seasons, though we always offer certain dishes, like our signature Steak and Onion Pudding, Oyster Fritters or Hot Chocolate Fondant. Our chefs are accomplished and have gained valuable experience in top restaurants around Europe. Probably the most difficult aspect of staffing our restaurant has been to find chefs who can actually cook, given London's proliferation of chain restaurants where cooks are often only required to re-heat prepared food or are working to tight guidelines laid down by executive chefs from on high. The English Restaurant offers daily specials which allow our chefs to experiment with new dishes, or be inspired by exciting ingredients that become available from the markets (Smithfield, Billingsgate or Covent Garden) or other sources. Last autumn for example, our quince trees in France had a bumper crop. We brought everything back to London and our chefs made vast quantities of quince jelly to accompany our cheese plate. We also served the quinces poached in spices with roast pork, a wonderful combination, especially with a glass of our Vouvray from Laurent Kraft.

Peter's wine and food pairings

From our current menu, our suggestions might include:

As an aperitif.
Kir Royal made with Monmousseau's Brut Etoile and one of our Cremes from Marius Bonal, Aveyron, France.

Oyster fritters with tartar sauce.
Sauvignon de Touraine, Plou et Fils, "La Croix du Pin"

Steak and Onion pudding, cabbage and bacon.
Marcillac, les Vignerons du Vallons, Cuvee Reservee, or "Fellowship" London Porter from Redemption Brewery (Tottenham)

Claret jelly with Chantilly cream and shortbread.
Saumur, Louis de Grenelle, "Acajou", sparkling Cabernet Franc

Kir Royal made with Monmousseau's Brut Etoile
And one of our Cremes from Marius Bonal, Aveyron, France (as an aperitif).

But isn't beer the new wine? The recent surge in beer's popularity has not passed us by. We stock a range of craft and keg beers on tap, many from the UK but also from Belgium, Germany and France. We also serve bottled beers, many of them from Breweries around Europe, including Delerium, Westmalle, Chimay and the like. We have a Welsh beer called Cwtch, which apparently means "cuddle" alongside those quirky little cans from the Beavertown Brewery, Bloody 'Ell, Neck Oil and Gamma Ray. Our bar manager, Dane Turnwald, is a dab hand with cocktails and we stock numerous whiskies, gins, vodkas, brandies, and a few weird additions like Kamm and Sons, distilled in England from ginseng and Manouka honey, or Aperol made in Italy and served with sparkling wine in an Aperol Spritz. Have you tried a splash of Picon, orange liqueur bitters in your lager for a Picon Biere?

Peters's Q&A

What do you think makes a great sommelier?
Energy and enthusiasm of course for the whole world of wine, and a capacity and willingness to transmit this to the customer. He or she must express themselves clearly and without jargon and never condescend to or patronise diners and drinkers. The customer must be allowed their simple pleasure in wine - that must be what we all strive for. Skilled food and wine pairing adds immeasurably to the confidence and pleasure diners experience when eating out in a good restaurant.

Describe your typical day at work.
As owner, I do a little bit of everything and stay just behind the scenes. I will go once a week to Smithfield Market at 6am to select the best cuts and get the best prices, but of course we also have many suppliers of daily fresh foods for the kitchen from all the London markets. I collect wine from my store (we import all our own wines from France - about 10,000 bottles a year) and drop it off in the restaurant cellar. I will focus on one or two building or maintenance tasks in the restaurant kitchen, bar or dining areas. I will collect all the waste cardboard in my van - we recycle tons of the stuff!

I always eat proper lunch in the restaurant, usually catch of the day, which might be whole sea bream or sea bass or the like, all cooked very simply, which I love. "Le patron mange ici", as they say, and this is an effective way of monitoring standards of food quality and front-of-house service. I might invite a friend or colleague to join me for a sociable or business lunch together. I usually take a post-prandial walk around the area to take a look at what the competition is up to - a harmless diversion. I do more maintenance and repair work before, usually, driving home to Kent. My wife and I still keep a flat over the restaurant, and I sometimes stay the night there.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?
We have an all French list, which narrows the choices somewhat. The parameters are of course red and white, sweet and dry and all between, but also medium- to full-bodied. Our French visitors especially like the medium-bodied Loire reds, and the Brits order Clarets and Burgundies with their steaks and suet beef puddings. We might recommend a Cote du Rhone with game, and there is a wide choice of dry whites from all regions to accompany seafood and fish. For easy inexpensive drinking we have a wonderfully approachable Marcillac (SW France) house red and Sauvignon de Touraine. We love pudding wines in the restaurant, and even have a demi-sec sparkling Saumur red which goes beautifully with our chocolate fondant.

You do sometimes get some very eccentric wine choices. Last week three guys came in for breakfast, ordered eggs royale and a £90 bottle of 1995 Clos du Clocher. Some style!

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
I go to the trade fairs, in London and in France, where my nametag describes me as "importateur". I also travel in all the major wine regions and go and talk to winemakers. This is by far the best way: to actually taste and know the wines and the people who make them.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
Chardonnay, which once was oversold, especially the heavily oaked Aussie version, then got very unfashionable, is finally creeping back in. When people say they hate Chardonnay, you need only ask them if they don't like Chablis then!

French wine generally, which doesn't market itself at all well, is due for a comeback. They had rested on their laurels and allowed quality to slip but our nearest neighbour makes truly wonderful wine which is highly competitive - we ignore it at our peril!

I am a champion of French sparkling wine from the Loire especially. It is underrated. Champagne is great but too dear for everyday drinking. French sparkling is made with EXACTLY the same method - bottle aged and fermented on lees for up to three years or more. I cannot fathom why mass-produced Prosecco, which uses the tank method, has taken over quite so much. It is a triumph of marketing.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Pinot noir, of course, but also Fer servadou, a personal favourite.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Old claret or Burgundy with pheasant or steak and onion pudding.

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?
My friend, who is Korean, orders Sancerre with everything, even fillet steak.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
Customers should be prepared to tell us anything, and in general they do. We once had a customer reject a very good old claret from our cellar because it was too cold. This was frustrating because he'd not ordered a starter so there was no time to "chambre" the wine. Sadly the wine was wasted. Older wines in particular can be corked, and we always accept the judgement of the customer on this. We always offer an alternative.

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
George Osborne, so I could explain to him why VAT at 20% is so unfair to the restaurant industry.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
My advice is to visit the wine regions in person and in all seasons, to talk to the winemakers, to taste and buy wines "sur place".

Where do you see your future career path?
To make the restaurant as good and interesting and rewarding as it possibly can be, for customers and staff alike, and finally to get some recognition for this. To continue to seek out and buy and ship from France some truly great wines.

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