Xavier Rousset: Pearls of Wisdom

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sommelier, Restaurant

Xavier Rousset, co-owner of Texture and 28-50
Xavier Rousset, co-owner of Texture and 28-50
Certified as a master sommelier at just 23 years old, Frenchman Xavier Rousset now co-owns Michelin-starred restaurant Texture in Mayfair, London and wine-focused mini chain 28°-50°.

When Agnar [Sverrisson] and I opened Texture in 2006 the London scene was quite different​. No table cloths and relaxed service wasn’t nearly as fashionable as it is now, in fact we thought we were very bold not making the front-of-house staff wear ties. Now nearly everywhere plays down formality.

Some people have better palates than others​, but anyone willing to learn can gain a very good understanding of wine. I was taught – you’re not born with it. You need to read books, travel and talk to wine makers, but, most of all, you need to taste.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to wine service​. I don’t like it when restaurants serve wine in what I consider to be a water glass. That might work in rural areas of France, Spain and Italy, but not in a city.

My biggest bugbear with the industry is​ that we’re increasingly getting people that start on Monday as a commis and by Saturday they think they’re ready to be a head waiter or GM – that’s not how it works.

I became a master sommelier at 23 when I was working for Hotel du Vin.​ The older generation always say the same about the younger generation, but I believe many of the people coming up through the ranks lack dedication these days. I studied very hard at that time of my life – I was totally dedicated to my profession.

Preserving the reputation of a restaurant​ that’s well-established is without doubt the toughest aspect of my job – I don’t think there’s a single restaurateur that would disagree with that. It all hinges on having the right staff.

At our restaurants we’re very aware that we can’t do everything.​ For example, we don’t do cocktails at 28°-50° because that’s not our strength – if we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it well.

All staff need to like what we do and be passionate about our restaurants.​ It’s difficult to detect that in the recruitment process before they start working for you – some people are very good actors. It’s not hard to pretend for half a day, but after a month you can’t really pretend anymore.

We opened our most recent 28°-50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen on Maddox Street​ in Mayfair last month, which takes us up to three restaurants – four if you include Texture. It’s a good site with more space than we’re used to, so we’ve added a seafood bar. It used to be an office block; it was great to work with a blank canvas, but quite expensive!

I met Agnar at Le Manoir​ [aux Quat’Saisons, near Oxford] but it was hard to get to know people there as the teams were so large. We decided to do the project that would become Texture over a meal at The Ledbury [Notting Hill, London]. We realised that we both wanted to open an independent venture sooner rather than later and that we wanted to create a restaurant that brought the front and back-of-house closer together.

The French restaurant scene hasn’t changed a great deal since I left​. There are some young chefs doing exciting things in Paris, but it’s a very conservative place – the French like eating traditional French food.

I’m very interested in the new wave of specialist wine bars and restaurants.​ I really like Vinoteca, 10 Cases [Covent Garden] and 10 Greek Street. They care about the details that I think are important.

I enjoy being a restaurateur, but I do miss having total ownership of a wine list​ – that’s one of the great joys of being a sommelier. I have a wine buyer at 28°-50° and a head sommelier at Texture who both have a lot of freedom, but I do look at the lists regularly and work with them on the selections. To be the boss you have to relinquish a bit of control.

When we launch in a new area we always make sure we eat in the places nearby first​ – it gives you a good understanding of what works and why. With a new restaurant in Mayfair, we’ve been going to Goodman and we also like Brasserie Chavot.

When I go out with my sommelier friends we will always drink wine unless we think the wine list is crap​, in which case we drink lager. So if you ever see me drinking lager in a restaurant then it’s not a good sign.

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