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The Interview: Dawn Davis

Published:  23 July, 2008

Have you always wanted to work in a restaurant?
Not really. My big plan was to become an actress and join RADA, but I didn't really like the people at the university drama group - they were too precious. So I chose rugby instead, which was a good move. We won the girls' rugby university final at Twickenham two years in a row. I played flanker and then winger, which means you have to run a lot. I don't have the time now but I'm still fit - restaurants are the best diet plan. Forget Atkins - just serve lunch and dinner, finishing at two in the morning.

You've worked in some excellent places in London.

I've worked in some mad places. Zuma is probably my favourite. We had no idea how popular it was going to be when we were setting the place up, and suddenly it went mental. I'll always remember Mju, because it was the first major restaurant I worked in. Under Tetsuya it was fantastic, but I found it hard too. I'd drop food on people's heads - without them noticing. At Boxwood, the next restaurant I worked at, I knocked a whole bottle of wine over a table when Gordon Ramsay was walking past.

Why did you decide to work for Gordon?

At Zuma it was a question of whether the wine worked with food or not. With Gordon, wine is important in its own right. As it turned out, I didn't get on with the head chef at Boxwood. He's strong-willed, I'm strong-willed; we were bound to clash somewhere along the line. It was a relief to move to The Square, although I'd never dealt with that level of Michelin service, nor with so much Bordeaux and Burgundy. These wines are out of the reach of people of our generation.

How does The Ledbury differ from other Platts-Martin restaurants?

We're halfway between the neighbourhood places and The Square, which is for business diners. But lots of the people work in Mayfair and live in Notting Hill, so half the customers I didn't like at The Square I suddenly think are the best people in the world here at The Ledbury. They don't come with a business card; they bring the family, or their girlfriend.

It's noticeable that the reviews have mentioned you and the wine - not just the head chef and the food.

Yes, although they don't always get the wine right. Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand became Nautilus Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia in one article. But the reviews have been fabulous. The only slagging we've had so far is from Michael Winner. He trashed us, probably because we didn't get the red carpet out for him. But, as someone wrote on the board downstairs, I'd rather be a loser than a Winner'.

Did you build the list yourself?

Three quarters of it is mine. Nigel puts his 10 cents in. If I like a wine and it's not his style of wine but he can see that it's well made, then he's fair. Bordeaux, Burgundy and American paid reserves came from The Square, via London City Bond and Smith & Taylor. It was fun putting the list together, but it's not so great now that I get 550 calls a day from suppliers. At some point you have to draw the line and use people who you know and who know your palate. You get all these voice messages saying, This is so and so; I'm phoning you back for the 50th time just to see if I can make an appointment.' It drives me up the wall. If they left me in peace I'd probably get back to them. Phone me once, send me a nice e-mail. It's usually the people with the worst lists who harass you the most, anyway.

The food is similar to that at Tom Aikens, in that there are so many ingredients on the plate. Is it hard to pair?

Take leeks, frogs' legs and watercress mayonnaise - they're all going in one direction, towards Riesling from Gottelmann, Breuer or Dnnhoff; Terlaner Classico (2004, 27.50) or 2004 Pinot Gris/Viognier from Heartland (25) if you want more roundness and ripeness. It's probably not as challenging as Tom's. I don't know how Gearoid manages it.

What's the strongest area?

I'm pleased with my Aussie whites; I think I've got those spot-on, with a balance of different areas and grapes. I've just started grouping regionally for Australia, which I like. The reds are good, too - 1999 Barossa Shiraz from Glaetzer is fantastic. Some of the Glaetzer wines might be big and slappy-in-the-face, but they're still properly made and not as big and powerful as people make out.

The Independent's Tracey McLeod said your list is expensive. Is that fair?

I don't think so. The prices aren't as low as La Trompette's, but we're not as expensive as Gordon. If you want to buy cheap wine, stay at home!

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, London W11 2AQ, Tel: 020 7792 9090

After studying social anthropology at Edinburgh University, Dawn stayed on in the city, earning money as a waitress for two years. She moved to London in 2001 to work for Tetsuya Wakuda at Mju in Knightsbridge, having been bowled over by his food on a visit to Sydney. The following year, Dawn moved to nearby Zuma restaurant and then on to Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Caf in 2003. The year after that, Dawn was employed by restaurateur Nigel Platts-Martin to set up The Ledbury. However, because building work was delayed, Dawn spent a few months at The Square restaurant in Mayfair. The Ledbury finally opened in April, with Dawn as head sommelier. The group of restaurants under Nigel Platts-Martin comprises The Square in Mayfair, Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, The Glasshouse in Kew, La Trompette in Chiswick and The Ledbury in Notting Hill.