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Published:  23 July, 2008

Gearoid Devaney, Head sommelier, Tom Aikens. Interview: Josie Butchart

What is the best aspect of your job? I love what I do. My first chef-sommelier instilled in me that being a sommelier isn't just a job, it's a way of life. It can be hard work, but the other side is that it is interesting and inspiring. You either love it or you hate it.

...and what is the worst aspect? I don't like counting bottles on the first of the month for the stock-take. That's something to delegate down the line asap!

What did you learn from working in Bordeaux? Coming from Ireland, it was important for me to see the vineyards, as it's not something I grew up with. It really makes a difference down the line if you have had hands-on experience working in wine production. It's very tough but it stands you in good stead.

Do French sommeliers still exert a strong influence on the London restaurant scene? I think so, which is both good and bad. What's nice now is that in a lot of the top restaurants in London, such as The Square, Gordon Ramsay and Chez Bruce, the sommelier isn't French. It shows a change in attitude and also that wine service is now becoming more international.

Has this change influenced the spread of regions represented on wine lists? French sommeliers are actually very adventurous. They love the fact that working in London gives them the option to discover more and be more open.

How did you get involved with Tom Aikens? I've known Tom for a number of years and he and Laura got in touch with me while I was working in Paris to say they had found a site and to ask if I would be interested in joining them. It was a great opportunity to start with a new opening - to work towards creating something rather than going in somewhere already established and taking over someone else's list.

What do you like about Aikens's cooking? He's got a classic background but he's very imaginative and innovative; it's very exciting to work with his food. There are different things going on in every dish, which makes it more difficult for me. His menus change all the time; dishes will come off and evolve and his lunch menu changes daily.

Do you sit down together to discuss the list and find matches for new dishes? He pretty much leaves it up to me. Obviously we sometimes try some wines and food together. Tom's got an interest; his father was a wine merchant so he knows what he likes: particularly the Rhne and Languedoc, aromatic whites and spicy reds. He generally prefers French wines.

What's the main theme of your list? The majority is French, but there are a lot of interesting wines from around the world.

Do you find any regions particularly exciting at the moment? It's not like there is anywhere new to discover anymore, but I'm always finding new things coming out of the Languedoc and Roussillon. Even within the Rhne there are still exciting wines to be found. I think with Italy and Spain you can always find things that you didn't know about in the smaller appellations. People are also starting to rediscover Germany, which is nice, and to try some of the different styles of Riesling.

What do you think has prompted the renewed interest in Germany? I've been doing German wines by the glass. You can be more experimental with wines by the glass; there is less risk for the customer.

Why did you initially decide to list German wines by the glass? I wanted to find matches for various dishes and to try to get people to experiment. It's part of the dining experience when you come to a restaurant like this; the customer expects something extra. The top producers in Germany have always produced fine wine, but unfortunately those wines have been confused with mass-produced German wines of a certain style. Many fine German wines are bone-dry and rank among the world's best.

What do you expect from your wine suppliers? I've got suppliers who are very flexible and help me with mixed cases and good delivery times. I really like my deliveries to be in by 11am. If someone arrives at 1pm, in the middle of service, it upsets the chef, which doesn't make my life any easier.

Any strange requests from customers? No, I'm beyond surprise. I've already served Chteau Latour with ice and coke, and after that you can pretty much handle anything. At the end of the day I'm only there to help, not to dictate.