Insights from Maciej Lyko, Head Sommelier at Launceston Place, London
"We are trying to keep a balance between very classic wines, and wines from less well-known regions" - Maciej Lyko
Launceston Place is a classic restaurant with a thoroughly modern menu. It’s Maciej Lyko’s job to offer wine that matches up to that.
“Free time doesn't exist in my life at the moment!” says Maciej Lyko, the head sommelier at Launceston Place in London, who is studying to become a master sommelier. “My fiancée, she wants to go for dinner or to go to the cinema, but I say, ‘I would love to go but I have to study now!’"
His professional life is equally full. It’s an exciting time at Launceston Place, a classically-inclined place (it was once a favourite of Princess Diana) that has recently updated its approach to food. Head chef Ben Murphy - one of Britain’s most feted young chefs - arrived last year, and his modern approach has rubbed off on everyone at the restaurant.
“Ben definitely turned it around and put some fresh energy into it,” says Lyko. “We tried to do basically the same with wine. In the past, 60 to 70 per cent of the wine list was based on wines from very well-established regions or wine producers, from Burgundy or Bordeaux.
“Now we are trying to keep the balance between very classic wines and wines from blue-chip producers from not well-known regions, such as, I don't know, Greece. We are trying to give it a little bit of twist and fresh energy to it.”
It’s not a challenge that is likely to phase Lyko. Like Murphy, who says he grew up on “chicken dinosaurs and smiley potato faces”, Lyko does not come from a traditional food and wine background. Born in Srem, Poland, he started his wine career at one of the country’s best-known wine merchants, Mielzynski Wine and Spirits. Five years later, he came to London to work at Maze by Gordon Ramsey for a year, before arriving at Launceston Place.
It’s an exciting place to work, he says. “it's quite challenging, because Ben likes to change the dishes on a daily basis, sometimes on a weekly basis, so we definitely need to be very alert,” he says. “But Ben's dishes are very interesting in terms of food and wine pairing, because he’ll create something very simple like a scallop dish, but here you're going to serve scallops with chorizo and elderflower gel, so we need to have a little bit of a brainstorm when it comes to food and wine pairing.
“When Ben creates new dishes, we need to catch up with him and take the whole sommelier team and just taste the wines with food. That’s important.”
Given its mixed culture, Launceston Place gets a variety of customers, from suited lunch parties to couples in the evening. The response to food and wine pairing is more uniform, Lyko says. “We’ve had great feedback,” he says. “The best has been to a wine that we serve with one of Ben’s signature starters, which is baked celeriac with Pecorino and mint. The celeriac is kind of green, so we're looking for something quite similar in terms of wine; we paired it with Grüner Veltliner from Kremstal in Austria, by Sepp Moser, which has this unique vegetable character.”
Whilst wine pairings are important at Launceston Place, Lyko is not interested in pressurising guests. “We try to have a very individual approach to our guests, we try to please our guests,” he says. “That's the most important thing. We are always there to give the advice to help out our guests. Sometimes they just want to have a look, or maybe sometimes even use Google instead of asking us, so we are also fine with that, you know?”
If advice is required, though, Lyko does have some favourites that he’s only too happy to point customers in the direction of. “I'm quite keen on wines from Santorini at the moment,” he says. “It's an amazing region, they have very long winemaking history. We have wine from Estate Argyros, which is a very, very good producer, one of the leading producers from there. It's based on a local grape which is called Assyrtiko. It has a beautiful mineral character, very refreshing, crispy, but at the same time, very elegant; it’s a very complex style of wine, so I really, really love it.”
What with his job and his studies, Lyko doesn’t have a great amount of time to think - but he’s not complaining. “It's my personal choice, I know,” he says. “I don't want to complain, because it's something that I was aware that you needed to put a lot of effort, energy, and time, into doing.”