I was really interested to meet Severine Sloboda (above), the first-ever sommelier to be appointed by The Gannet, one of Glasgow’s most progressive restaurants. She is also Glasgow’s only female sommelier. The appointment is significant for other reasons too, one being that there are only two other restaurants in the city to have such a person on staff. I find that astonishing.
Severine, a Parisienne who trained with the top names in Paris and London, hosts The Gannet’s new series of wine dinners. She works closely with co-chef-patrons Ivan Stein and Peter McKenna and wine suppliers Alexander Wines of Glasgow, L'Art du Vin of Dunfermline and De Burgh Wine Merchants of Dalkeith.
I attended the February wine dinner, where the food was paired with carefully-chosen - and sometimes surprising - Southern Hemisphere wines. Of the exceptional six-course “journey” my favourite was Shetland squid with ink puree, confit wing and chicken juices, paired with a Pinot Gris from Snapper Rock, Marlborough, New Zealand 2016. Although the Scrabster-landed cod, onion, herb puree and mussel emulsion paired with a Chardonnay from Jordan Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa 2015 almost pipped it to the post. Also on the menu was Borders lamb loin with cabbage-wrapped shoulder, white bean and hasselback potato and cumin sauce, matched with a stunning Chilean single vineyard 2016 Carmenere. We started the evening with a delicious sparkling vintage – vintage – Stellenbosch Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel brut 2015.
Judging by Severine’s engaging and informative descriptions, it was clear much expert knowledge had gone into the wine choices.
But why do so few Glasgow restaurants see the need for a wine expert, as opposed to a wine waiter? After all, Edinburgh has many more.
Severine tells me she found it extremely difficult to find a professional sommelier job when she first came to Glasgow from London. That, surely, is an embarrassment for the city which prides itself as having one of the most progressive independent restaurant scenes in the UK (though it hasn’t had a Michelin Star since Gordon Ramsay pulled the plug on the one-starred Amaryllis at One Devonshire Gardens in 2003).
Major respect, then, to The Gannet for landing Ms Sloboda, a true professional in her field – and for upping the ante.
Her mother has run the Nicolas wine shop in Paris’s upmarket 7th arrondissement near the Champs Elysees since Severine was 10 years old. She says she was “submerged” (I assume not literally) in wine from that young age, and went on to train at the Institut du Vin du Savour Club under Georges Lepre, head sommelier at the Ritz. Her first job as head sommelier was at Adam Byatt's Trinity restaurant in Clapham, London. In 2008 she became head sommelier at Angelus near Marble Arch, founded by chef-patron Thierry Tomasin, himself former head sommelier at Le Gavroche. She came to Glasgow directly from London, where latterly she had been with upscale eateries Corrigan’s Mayfair, and Buddha-Bar in Knightsbridge.
“I was surprised to fine the wine scene is Glasgow is not quite there yet,” she said, adding: “Though from what I learn from our diners, I am sure that Glasgow is keen to drink better.” (Continues after photo ...)
She reckons that is already changing, as food flavours become ever more nuanced and sophisticated. “It is incomprehensible to me that people are so keen to develop their palates with ever more sophisticated dishes, and menus that declare the provenance of almost every ingredient and supplier, yet they don’t have anyone to properly explain the subtleties of the wine they are drinking with it.
“That said, I do notice that our diners are very keen on world wines, and want to learn more.”
I can’t avoid the burning question of whether appointing its first sommelier is a move to encourage the Michelin Guide inspectors to give The Gannet a star (it already has a Bib Gourmand). But Peter McKenna, who co-founded The Gannet with fellow chef Ivan Stein in 2013, dismisses my suggestion thus:
“That is not anything that enters our psyche. We simply wanted to give customers a rounded experience.
“We shied away from appointing a sommelier for the first few years, but then we thought, ‘let’s just do it’. It has set us apart, and the feedback has been really phenomenal.
“We introduced our wine dinner series with Severine because our diners are as passionate about wine as they are about food.”
The restaurant is now able to offer any of its wines by the glass thanks to Coravin, a preservation device which allows the pouring of a single glass from a bottle without having to remove the cork. A 125ml glass of Gevrey Chambartin 2015 will set you back around £17.40.
So welcome, Severine, and let’s toast the raising of Glasgow’s gastronomic reputation.
· For details of The Gannet’s monthly wine dinner series, visit thegannetgla.com or ring 0141-204 2081.