General Manager and sommelier of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana Hong Kong
Recently awarded at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Marino Braccu from 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana Hong Kong (the only restaurant outside of Italy that has 3 Michelin stars and with a wine list of 2,200 labels) talks about his Vino Condiviso philosophy and regional wine varieties.
You and Chef Umberto Bombana* just won the Art of Hospitality award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019, and 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana has been ranked no.12 in the list (no.13 last year). How did you work to achieve it?
The Art of Hospitality award was unexpected, and so the no.12 rank. Every year it becomes more difficult to move up in the chart, so we are very happy of what we have achieved.
This is the result of an everyday work to provide our guests a different experience: sometimes, dining in a 3 Michelin-star restaurant puts some pressure on, but our restaurant is a mix between the classic idea of an Italian restaurant and modern service. As we are located in a big metropolis, our clientele is dynamic. I simply ask my staff to make a memorable and warm experience for them by just being themselves.
You mentioned in your previous interview with Gastronauts Asia that you focus on regional varietals and small brands. How challenging is it for a small brand to approach Asia, and is the market ready to go beyond famous labels?
I try to promote small wineries and indigenous grape varietals because “small” doesn’t mean “bad quality”. We try to guide our customers through new possibilities and I can see that the market is getting ready as they ask me to recommend them different options more often, besides the mainstream.
For example, for me, Verdicchio is a good alternative to a Chardonnay selection (even though I slightly prefer Chardonnay) by glass, in terms of weight, importance and longevity.
It is a matter of research on my side and an increasing awareness among the wine drinkers. Sometimes, the work of a sommelier is similar to a chef: we work with distributors, guiding them to provide us what we think is worth having and what our clients love to drink.
You just led a journey through the 20 iconic regions in Italy at Uno Mas (Centara Grand@Centralworld, Bangkok). Can you tell us more about the event?
I set up a degustation with 16 wines representing all the 20 regions of Italy, covering North, South and Centre. Sometimes major brands promote what’s convenient for them, giving people the wrong idea of the real market in Italy nowadays.
I wanted to open their minds on which brands to drink in terms of quality and which grape varietals we have in Italy at the moment; I’m pleased with the great success we have had, especially among the people in the industry.
Vino Condiviso is a yearly exclusive charity tasting in Hong Kong with a special selection from you. How did you come up with the idea?
Vino Condiviso was born with the mission to help the kids and orphans in Hong Kong (which is the most important objective) by donating all the income to charity and showing people an alternative of what’s already available in the market. We selected 150 wines from 45 different importers in Hong Kong and had more than 800 attendants. Condiviso means “shared” in Italian, and we chose this name because we are glad to share the new selections with wine lovers, sommeliers and professionals, and we all participated with the same objective: to give back.
Would you like discuss new upcoming projects and new objectives for the future?
My passion became my job 20 years ago, so I want to go ahead with this wonderful journey. When I first came to Hong Kong from Australia I discovered Italian wine was not well represented: we have more than 600 grape varietals in Italy and I will continue to promote them. The most important thing is sharing: when a new product arrives, I immediately distribute it to other sommeliers and restaurants as exclusivity goes against our customers: they need to be able to find their favourite wines not only at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, but also in other restaurants.
I’m also extremely proud of my staff: we got very close and my aim is to grow their expertise so they are able to work not only in Hong Kong or in Asia, but everywhere in the world.
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