The Buyer caught up with Piotr Pietras just before he headed to Argentina to perform memorably in the Best Sommelier in the World competition where he went through to the semi-finals. Here we find him doing his day job at London’s Launceston Place where he gave Douglas Blyde a hint of his sommelier talents with his own personal wine and food matching.
Beyond sedately flower-footed, gaping picture windows of the 1839 townhouse-turned-restaurant, head chef and head sommelier team, Raphael Francois and Piotr Pietras are designing enlightened culinary combinations on its 30th anniversary.
French, Francois was head chef at New York’s Le Cirque, and London’s Connaught alongside Hélène Darroze. Polish, Pietras raised the profile of the five-star City Park Hotel and Residence in cobbled Poznań, Poland (a city known for its whisky show), enhancing cellars into purportedly the country’s most substantial. He followed this with roles at Corrigan’s, Mayfair, and Ramsay’s Maze. Applying structure to creativity, noticeably both Francois and Pietras studied hotel management before branching out in to their specialist areas.
Pietras can now add being one of the top 16 sommeliers in the world to also being a 28 year-old Best Polish Sommelier 2015 and third UK Best Young Sommelier 2015. He believes his upbringing in Poland, a country bereft of furrowed prejudices predominating mature wine markets, has allowed him to develop, ‘with passion’, an unrestrictedly curious approach when it comes to Launceston Place’s AA notable wine list.
While choosing from the £55, three course ‘market menu’, I evaporate not wine, but beer in the form of a £6 serve – in wine glass – of Inedit, which ably magnifies the close bead scented with coriander and orange. Famously styled by Ferran Adrià and sommeliers, Ferran Centelles and David Seija, it cancels stickiness of a complementary hot chocolate and marshmallow shot, which would have been better at home on more wintry a night.
At what is becoming a rare sight in London – a linen-wrapped table – picked out by a carousel of eyeball lights, close to a cheese trolley topped with a sloping Perspex lid evoking Sky Garden’s roof, an earthy amuse of frozen horseradish which thaws into root heat on the tongue, conceals mackerel tartare, beetroot and dill. It is a first strike lucky, struck flint of a dish.
Starter proper sees a little kitchen mannerism brought to the dining room: three prawns, translucently “on the way from sushi,” says Pietras. They are plucked by manager, Stefano Pipoletto, with long tongs from a small cauldron of cardamom and apple broth to a landscape of perky passion fruit, celery and curled apple. Sourced from supplier, Enotria, is an Oregon Pinot Gris (Omero, 2013, £57/bottle), certainly more Gris than Grigio, it louchely brings the dish body and ‘pear’ scents.
Providing sufficient fight in bite with the tarragon in ‘Simplissime’, is a clear potato foam-capped blue crab meat dish with, just added, joyously blatant shell stock reduction. With this Pietras is proud of new discovering, dry, indigenous Assyrtiko from Santorini (Argyos 2014, £12 per 125ml, supplied by Clark Foyster). Evoking sweetless Viognier, it is the product of pre-phylloxera vines, 150 years old, forced in the rain-free island to gain moisture from the air.
“A generous wine for generous tarragon,” appraises Pietras.
With the main act, venison fillet, partially sous-vide, but still bouncy, with cranberries and Jerusalem artichoke purée, Pietras pours a 13 year-old Bordeaux blend from 300 year-old Stellenbosch wine and olive estate, Morgenster. Lourens River Valley, from Enotria (£55/bottle) is alive, refined with a smoked pancetta verge, “to balance the saltiness” of the Marmite-like sauce, “and spice the dish up,” says Pietras.
Meanwhile, flocculent cod, with clams pesto packed into shell, and pak choi finds balance in 1997 Vouvray from Marc Brédif (£13 per 125ml, supplied by Fells & Co). This Chenin Blanc sees ‘no oak’, and has developed an intriguing clean vegetal note, not unlike the pak choi, with as long a finish as a peak era Castro speech.
The bespoke knife for the venison, as with cutlery overall by David Mellor, and logo-free wine glasses by John Jenkins, including, for the Chenin Blanc, a white Rhône glass, its shape said to “help maintain temperature” , are a product of Britain – “to support Britain”, says Pietras.
Before moreish pudding of strawberry sponge with ragu and pistachio with crisped nuts, a pre-dessert of cucumber foam, pear and house-blend Portobello gin contrives to re-awakens the appetite.
Pietras serves Croatian Graševina (aka. Welschriesling) Krauthaker, 2011 (£15/100ml) also from Enotria, enriched by noble rot. The complex string of letters on the label apparently corresponds with the German scale for trockenbeerenauslese.
“I follow the rule that sweet wine must always be sweeter than the dessert,”’ says Pietras. It is precisely marked as 12.7%, “despite half a percent leeway allowed on labels in Europe.”
As ‘Like a Virgin’ incongruously washes from speakers like perhaps tainted wine from a hijacked tanker truck, Pietras returns with a meaningful spirit from home. A 37% proud, ‘Krupnik’ herbal honey drink comes from the North of Poland, “like me”, says Pietras. Served in tulip-shaped chimney glasses, it is more reviving than ristretto. Pietras also shares his growing interest in Polish vodkas, particularly vintage Vestal.
Francois’ fully-formed, bright plates and Pietras’ thoughtful matches proved impressive enough to see my partner leave a tip more at home on the Monopoly board. At 30 years, Launceston Place, feted, so often, as Lady Di’s favourite, although the windows must have worn some disguise in her epoch, and arguably the most food-focussed of the 35 restaurants strong D&D empire, has now quite possibly, become one of ours.