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Published:  23 July, 2008

Michael Simms, Sommelier, Plateau Restaurant Bar & Grill. Interview - Josie Butchart

Plateau Restaurant Bar & Grill Canada Place Canary Wharf London E14 4QS Tel: 020 7715 7100

Michael Simms started his career at The De Vere Grand Hotel in Brighton, fortuitously leaving for a job at a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon the week before The Grand was destroyed by a terrorist bomb during the Tory party conference in 1984. He then moved on to the Ritz and after that The Savoy Group before joining Plateau. Plateau Restaurant Bar & Grill in Canary Wharf, which opened in October 2003, is part of the Conran Group, and chef Tim Tolley serves up a modern French menu. Plateau uses more than 100 suppliers through the Conran central buying office.

I hear you're also a movie star... Well, Plateau was chosen as the setting for one of the scenes in Batman, although they changed the restaurant completely (the only thing that stayed the same was the view out of the window!) and some of us were chosen as extras. My body went behind the actor Christian Bale. I say body because it was headless. My hand also appears pouring some wine; that's if if it doesn't end up on the cutting room floor. The best bit was that I met some old customers from the Ritz and the Savoy who were also extras.

You were head sommelier at the Ritz. Was that a glamorous gig? The Ritz was an incredible place to work, with lots of fabulous celebrities. In those days you usually only got to move up from sommelier to head sommelier if somebody died, but I was lucky and my predecessor semi-retired to Brown's because he wanted a slower pace.

Any amazing celebrity requests? Actually, a lot of them just drink water. Celebrities don't tend to order the most beautiful bottles, but Joan Collins would always recommend Bull Shots to her guests: a mix of consomm, vodka and seasoning. I would never have fresh chilled consomm ready, so I would be running all over the hotel looking for a bit of cold consomm to put in the Bull Shots. One man, who didn't have enough room for a cellar at home, would throw a wonderful party at the Ritz every Christmas and that's when I would open the magnums of Margaux.

Do you work closely with chef Tim Tolley to devise good food and wine matches? Chefs often simply don't have the time - it's a lot of work just getting the food out and they are always adding new dishes to the menu at the last moment. But after he's done all that I usually sit down with Tim. He's much more interested in wines than most chefs I've worked with.

What was the most challenging dish you've matched with wine? People say certain things such as chocolate, eggs, spices are enemies of wine, but actually certain milder spices go very well with wine. When I was at Vong it was fascinating finding matches for fusion food. One of the most challenging dishes was seabass with spices and a sweet and sour mushroom broth. Some wines went with the seabass and others went with the broth, but it was very difficult to get a wine to go with both until we tried Roederer Brut Premier and discovered that it was a surprisingly great combo.

How many wine suppliers do you have? At the moment I'm still working from the stock bought by the central Conran buying office. They buy from around 100 suppliers. As you prove yourself you are given more autonomy, but that stock is very handy. There's such a good selection you don't really need to look for many extras. Eventually, though, I will start buying a few different wines to distinguish Plateau from the other restaurants in the group.

What would you like to focus on first? South Africa has become much more exciting in the last few years. When they started all the hype I couldn't see what the fuss was about, but they are really terrific now. Argentina is getting better and better. Having said that, deep down at heart I find that French and Italian wines are the most versatile with food. Much as I love New World wines, they can be a bit heavy at times for the dishes we do. But that's a very sweeping generalisation!

What are your customers keen on? Here they are really interesting. Some people really know the unusual appellations and areas. A lot of people ask for wines from Stellenbosch. Not South Africa, Stellenbosch. Maybe it's a Canary Wharf thing. I've also sold more white Rhne here than anywhere else and I haven't had to push it - it's sold itself.

Do many people ask for advice? It's hard when someone comes in for the first time because you don't know them and they don't know you. The person who looks longest at the list is usually going to order a bottle of house red because they are lost and a little frightened.

Are customers ever disappointed by a wine recommendation? It usually happens when they've ordered a wine that they thought was something else, rather than when they've asked for help. That can be amusing. I was once serving a big table and they ordered Chteau d'Yquem to start. Quite a few people were having foie gras and, because the customer had ordered the wine with such panache, I didn't ask if he knew it was sweet because I didn't want to upset him. When he tasted it his face dropped. He looked at his guests and said: Mmm, this is great, but it might be a bit sweeter than you like.' I wonder what he thought it was

What would be your desert island wine? Champagne. It's the one thing you can drink on your own quite comfortably. It's refreshing and you feel slightly decadent with a bottle of it.