INTERVIEW - Head sommelier and General Manager Marino Braccu and His Vision on the Asian Restaurant Industry Landscape

On July 30th 2019, we interviewed Marino Braccu, Head sommelier and General Manager of 8 ¹⁄₂ Otto e Mezzo Bombana restaurant in Hong Kong. Read more to find out about his career achievements and highlights in complementing perfectly Chef Bombana’s culinary creations and enriching the guests’ dining experience.

Marino Braccu

Marino Braccu. An iconic name into the wine panorama of Hong Kong. Head sommelier and General Manager of Otto e Mezzo Bombana is a great achievement in such a competitive challenging world. Which are the values and basic concepts of Your wine list at Otto e Mezzo?

The core concept of the wine list is based on the respect of worldwide wine culture. We wanted to underline and go in deep on Italian wineries, which offer more than 600 varieties, each of them with its own unique and typical characteristics. Such wide variety allows Italy to gain the worldwide leadership on wine art.

During these past few years we have been creating a path, whereby client can discover geography, history, peculiarity and above all the pleasure of enjoying wines that remark 100% the terroirs they come from.

How did the wine list change and modify during the years?

The growth of our wine list during these past few years was focused on making customers discover the history, the past and the present of Italian wines, by presenting bigger and smaller wineries, which engaged in the mission to offer whole quality, peculiarity, genuineness and above all high digestibility. 

We offer wines that are pleasant to be enjoyed, with acids and minerals, in order to enhance tasting in deep, by keeping final taste fresh and neat. We offer wines produced with rationality.

Coming from Sardinia, I guess You had a best preference for wines of Your region. Which are the other choices of the list? Mainly Italian or also coming from the so-called New Worlds?

With reference to the list, we’ve been the first ones in Asia to split Barolo and Barbaresco in 11 different principalities, offering 450 references.  Tuscany, Piedmont, Sardinia and Sicily deliver high-end quality , even by the smaller winemakers.

As soon as I arrived in Hong Kong, I immediately saw a lot of room for improvement: there was a lot of Chardonnay, which is excellent, but absolutely not representative of Italy.

We helped several suppliers to develop and grow and be recognized by Chinese and French sommeliers, who were simply astonished and enthusiast to see such novelties on HK market. They supported quality wine makers even if minor producers. We’ve always been seeking for maximum excellence and quality, without looking to the label or brand, but looking only for quality and Italian representativeness.

How important is the choice of tableware for a sommelier?

The choice of the right glasses and goblets is essential and it shows the accuracy and professionalism of the sommelier. A good sommelier has to care about every single detail. The whole staff is well aware to serve the proper glass for each kind of wine. A lot of restaurants underestimate this aspect but we are continuously paying great attention to this, in order to deliver quality both in wines and its serving tools – glasses and decanters.

We can’t avoid mentioning to Michelin stars. They’re usually associated to the Chef, but the guide actually judges the restaurant as a whole – staff team, location, service on the table, tableware…and so on. The greatest challenge is to be able to be in compliance with such strict rules, while still be able to build-up your own identity with innovative style. As Head Sommelier and GM, how did You live such pressure?

As head sommelier and GM, I lived this experience with maximum effort: both with great pleasure and adrenaline, without too much pressure on this aspect, just like a challenging game, to be faced and won with audacity and the right common sense.

I guess Michelin guide is important and reliable, stars mainly represent food, while Chef is the artist, but all components around complete the masterpiece. The dining room of Otto e Mezzo shows character and quality at international level. It’s been growing during the years, by turning into a real family as we work closely together 14 hours per day. We’ve always been seeking for a common balance between dining room and the kitchen, by reaching altogether those goals that are internationally recognized worldwide.

The whole work before serving clients on the table can be perfectly harmonized or ruined at the moment of real service at dinnertime. Kitchen and dining room are working together as a team with a continuous exchange of ideas and comments or not?

Staff needs to work very well behind the scene, in order to obtain best results during service. Hong Kong is a high-speed city and nobody is waiting, therefore we need to offer maximum effort with passion and proud for our job, with full respect towards clients.

The creation of a wine list requires very high skills: as sommelier, as manager and organizer. From sourcing process  up to the logistics of such ‘live’ products as wines, everything requires a 360° overview, in order to make it work properly. Do long expertise and daily engagement together with personal skills allow to be able to achieve such important goals or is it also important to have a proper training with an expert sommelier?

The creation of a good wine list has been a gradual growth.  We needed a lot of management work behind the scenes but it’s been a choice by heart, first, and then by mind. The management part handles logistics, re-orders, suppliers, new products and it takes a lot of time. The whole work is then finalized in the last step: service on the table. Wine must be sold as a sensorial experience, not as a pure product. The experience of sommelier is devoted to wine without pressure, with a friendly approach to clients, who can choose to select labels by himself or to follow our advice. Our staff completes the own experience of each client.

You’ve been working for many years in Asia now. How has the way to propose wine been changing during the past few years?

With reference to old wines: Barolo wine makers were not many before the Eighties, while now we’ve been drinking the best Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino over the last 10 years. Wine does not need to be extra aged to be good in quality. We only purchase wines from wineries where wine maker monitors the whole process of production offering maximum quality and taste. Therefore we never follow trends: wine must be good on its own. Either it be biological, dynamic or whatsoever, it does not matter: it has to deliver good flavor on palate and fulfill the table with elegance and taste.

Clients of Otto e Mezzo come from all over the world and they’re able to recognize good quality, while appreciating a high-end dining experience. Whenever I want to let clients approach a new terroir, I never propose an extreme niche producer, but I make him know the wine in its most genuine status and structure. Modernism and classicism sometime match together very well, while they don’t in some other cases. Whenever I let someone drink wine for the very first time, I help him drink with awareness , offering a great wine, featuring good acidity, rich in minerals and full bodied.

Did you adapt Yourself to local taste or do You somehow “impose” some specific labels as per the Italian tradition?

Taste of Asian clients is not different. There are some wines the public got used to more easily, because they had arrived earlier in time: fruity with low acidity levels.

In the past 5 years as Head Sommelier of Otto e Mezzo, I could perceive that clients drastically changed their approach to wines. People are more refined and well aware of their palates by trying to improve their way to drink. There are no stereotypes to defeat: just a good job combined with high-quality products make things work really well and let people achieve the great results we could see here.

Mr Marino, it’s been a honor and great pleasure talking with You. Thanks a lot for sharing Your experience and good luck for Your new upcoming challenge in Bangkok!

Thanks to You for letting me talk about my work in Hong Kong , which made me grow and improve to be ready for my next step!

Thank you Mr Marino Braccu for your time and for sharing with us such precious insights on your industry.

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