“Like a home that’s dressed for the best party of the season,” explains Martin Brudnizki of Matteo’s, the new London hot spot inside Annabel’s, for which Brudnizki designed the interiors. First founded in 1963 by the late Mark Birley, Annabel’s gained fame and notoriety as a place where the aristocracy mixed with an eclectic bohemian and artistic crowd. Then, in 2007, the iconic mayfair club was bought by restaurateur Richard Caring, who renovated and reopened the Georgian mansion as a multi-floor, 26,000-square-foot embarrassment of riches, to much acclaim. At the end of 2019, Matteo’s opened, a glitzy Italian restaurant with heaps of old-world charm. Nostalgic yet decadent, the menu sings with a wide selection of antipasti, primi and secondi dishes, presented with charm by the all-Italian immaculately dressed-in-white-tie dining staff. Standouts from the current menu include the beef filet carpaccio served with horseradish and black truffle; the homemade rigatoni pasta with tomato and creamy aubergine; the whole sea bass served Acqua Pazza style; and to finish the diabolical tiramisu, or for a more modern twist, the plump nutella bomb. All of this is paired with the world’s largest privately owned collection of Dom Pérignon champagne and a wine list that runs over 30 pages. We spoke with Clement Robert, the head sommelier and wine buyer across the Birley Clubs, to understand exactly how this alchemy takes place.
What might surprise people to know about what it’s like as the Head sommelier in a private members club? It may surprise people to know that at Matteo’s specifically, we have the largest selection of Dom Perignon champagne that exists in a restaurant globally!
When you meet someone at a party, how do you describe what you do?Ah! Depending who I meet, but half of the time I introduce myself as the “Wine Guy” of the Birley Clubs. In more formal context, my official job title is “Group Head Sommelier and Wine Buyer of The Birley Clubs,” which can be a bit of a mouthful!
People I meet are typically asking the question: “OK, and what is it you do exactly?” I run the wine program across the Birley Clubs: buying, creating and maintaining the ever-growing wine lists, hosting wine events, including our successful wine dinner series at Annabel’s, and of course training the staff to ensure we are all aware of the finest and rarest wines on the market.
With a 30-page wine list at Matteo’s, when a guest asks for your advice how do you begin to narrow it down? What key questions do you ask?Our role is to make a vast selection of wines available at Matteo’s more digestible for members and their guests. The last thing we want is for the offering to come across as intimidating. The first question we ask is: what do you usually like to drink, or what kind of wine are you in the mood for? If the member does not have a go-to wine, we tend to ask of they prefer lighter or fuller wines. If this is something the member is unsure about, we then propose three to four options that would go well with their food with various prices and nuances of style. Each recommendation is tailored to our members to ensure they have a very special experience every time.
Give me a bit of background on how you first went about putting together the wine list at Matteo’s? We wanted to build the most exciting and impressive Italian wine list in the world. We identified, and have curated, a selection of wines that we consider to be from the greatest producers of wine in Italy. At Matteo’s, there is a focus on two main regions that produce some of the highest-quality wines in Italy: Tuscany, with the largest collection of Sassicaia and Piedmont, with 350 Barolo.
What are some of the unusual and rare bottles on the list that you are most proud of? Our fun vertical of Soave Pieropan. as these wines are fascinating and incredibly hard to come by; the rose gold Dom Perignon, which is the rarest and most expensive wine ever made by Dom Perignon; and the1955 Brunello di Montalcino Biondi Santi, which came straight from the Estate.
What are some of the hardest to find and source bottles on the list? The whole collection of Monfortino was challenging to source but very worthwhile! Additionally, the most famous and arguably the very best Barolo available in Matteo’s took us six months alone to put together, as we sourced everything from Italy directly.
It is more common for people to drink less alcohol or not drink at all, what are some of the non-alcoholic options you suggest for guests? I am tasting and exploring more non-alcoholic options, which look and taste similar to wine. I am yet to be 100 percent convinced by these replacements products, and we of course will only select the best for our members when they come to market. I feel that a great quality juice, or a very well-made non-alcoholic cocktail are the best alternatives in Matteo’s.
What is the most unusual request you’ve had from a member? During a wine dinner, a member asked the waiter put some ice cubes in her glass, which contained the most-expensive and one of the greatest champagnes ever produced. It was unusual but she absolutely loved the champagne, and she drinks all her Champagne with ice. The wine producer was so relaxed about it and said, which was so true and spot on, that it is all about “the way we like it”.
As well as the food, drinks and design – service is so important to the restaurant experience. How do you make sure you stand out? Having the right staff is crucial to delivering the highest level of hospitality. We put a lot of energy and time into recruiting the best staff and training our team to the highest level. Knowledge is obviously one of the most important factors in delivering a very slick experience, but at the core of Annabel’s, it is most important that our members and their guests have a fun and memorable experience.
The restaurant scene in London has changed so much over the past few years – what trends do you foresee and what are your predictions for the future? I do think that guests are, more than ever, looking for “an experience,” not just “a good meal.” The service and the ceremony of it is so important. Combined with the ambiance, design of the restaurant, unique dishes, and of course exceptional wines are all a part of this overall experience.
What does success look like? For you personally and for Matteo’s?Seeing the restaurant full for every lunch and dinner with exceptional bottles of wine open on most tables. And seeing my sommelier chatting our members and guests sharing their passion for great wines, but also highlighting the unusual and fun wines.