From General Manager and Sommelier at Otto e Mezzo Bombana Hong Kong to an Assistant Director of F&B at Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River
When we heard that Marino Braccu, now former General Manager and Sommelier at Otto e Mezzo Bombana Hong Kong, is relocating to Bangkok, we were absolutely delighted. Naturally, we had to catch up with the busy man himself to find out why and what are the kind of things we can expect to see from this big change.
As the former General Manager and Sommelier at Otto e Mezzo Bombana Hong Kong, ranked #12 in Asia 50 Best Restaurants Award 2019 and the only Italian three-Michelin star restaurant outside of Italy, what made you move to Thailand?
That is a beautiful question to start. My choice to come to Thailand was not easy. However, I always loved Thailand and Bangkok. I have also witnessed and observed the growth in the hospitality industry in Thailand in terms of different concepts, styles of cuisine and quality. There are many great quality restaurants in Thailand these days. Of course, Thai food always has a high quality. Now the standard of the food scene in Thailand has elevated even more than before.
What opportunities did you see that inspire your decision to relocate to Bangkok?
It started off when Four Seasons reached out to me. Personally, Four Seasons is one of the companies that I admire. Part of it is that they treat my subject, which is F&B, very seriously. In combination with the elevated standard of Thailand food scene and the opening of the new Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok were opportunities that inspired my decision to relocate to Bangkok.
In the end, after five years at Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong developing a restaurant and winning many awards, including “The Art of Hospitality” at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in Macau and many other awards for the wine lists. I was at the highest point of my career as a General Manager for a standalone restaurant and reached the place where I wanted to be.
I thought it was time to look at a bigger picture. Four Seasons offered me the chance to be in Bangkok which is one of my favourite cities in Asia. We share the same purpose as we focus on quality. I would not have left my job at one of the best restaurants in the world for only a great opportunity. But a great project and people behind it inspired me to move to Bangkok.
What are the differences between Bangkok’s and Hong Kong’s hospitality and dining scenes that you can see so far?
It is very simple. Hong Kong is very much established in terms of high-level restaurants, diversity in food whether it is casual or fine dining. The Hong Kong food scene is matured and it is reaching its maximum of development.
Bangkok is getting there. What happened to Hong Kong ten years ago was when Michelin came to town and that attracted chefs from around the world to challenge themselves to reach the Michelin stars.
Now Michelin is expanding into more countries in Asia, for example, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Guangzhou. In the past, great chefs would normally come to either Hong Kong and Tokyo. Now, it is happening in Bangkok. What I have seen so far, for Bangkok, is that it is becoming more cosmopolitan and it has a significant improvement in dining scenes not only the arrival of Michelin star but also the ability to attract more international businesses like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This kind of people, who travel for business and leisure, look for good quality restaurants and Bangkok delivers them right now.
How would the cuisines in Thailand affect the wine pairing decisions?
First, you have to understand that decisions on wine pairing based on what kind of food you offer. Of course, there are some standards you have to follow, for example, that some food goes well with a particular wine.
Sommelier and chef need to understand each other. Sommelier needs to understand how a chef executes the food and that goes with wine.
We need to understand the food preparation process and even the source of ingredients that will have a big effect on food and wine.
In Thailand, there are many types of cuisine available and it does not only limit to Thai food. There are Chinese, Italians and many more cuisines that are popular in Thailand. Chefs also able to explore and have more fun with the ingredients. Each type of cuisines is different and that provides variety.
When you know the hand of the chef, you can really start a wine pairing which does not have to be obvious and at the same time, you do not have to try to be different from other people. For me, I think it is important for the sommelier to deliver a wine pairing that complements the food and does not overtake the food. The success of wine pairing with food is measured by the empty wine glass after the dish.
What have you planned to bring to the booming hospitality industry in Bangkok and Thailand?
I do not want to say I bring something to Thailand as it already has a lot to offer and is doing really well. I just bring myself with my foot on the ground. I aim to share my experiences with my team and guests. When it comes to my team, I have seen many great talents and that will be my pleasure to bring my experience and knowledge to add to them. Local talents are getting more knowledgeable. I am delighted to be working with them and help build their careers. People are a very important part in Thailand’s booming hospitality industry.
What kind of potential do you see for Thailand’s hospitality industry five years from now?
Thailand is considered to be one of the most growing countries in the hospitality industry in Asia. Thailand offers different concepts and has more various kinds of restaurants and foods from Europeans to Asian styles. I see Thailand placing itself in the top 3 in Asia when it comes to food and culinary destinations.
How are you adapting from working in an independent restaurant to working in a hotel?
Coming from a standalone restaurant to a hotel group is like looking at a bigger picture as there are different aspects, more people involved and bigger operation size. Though from my experience so far, I find myself functioning quite well. I have a great team and the way decisions are made goes in one direction. It is all about quality. When I was a General Manager, the first priorities were quality and service. Now I come to a hotel that has the same priority so that does not change much. It only changes in terms of volume of the job responsibilities from one standalone restaurant to more restaurants and bar for the hotel.