At the helm of one of London’s most famous restaurants, Thierry Tomasin is a passionate custodian of The Savoy Grill’s impeccable reputation.
He talks to Sommelier Edit about his love of the job, his team and working to make every day special for his diners.
Thierry Tomasin says he “would have played rugby” if he hadn’t caught the hospitality bug. “Hospitality is incredible,” explains the Restaurant Director of what is possibly one of London’s most famous restaurants. “We are not waiters; we are not sommeliers; we are salesmen of pleasure. We are here to say to guests, ‘Sit down and let us run the show for you’.”
Only the man with the enviable job of running the iconic Savoy Grill, and star of ITV’s series, The Savoy, could come out this that sentence in his softly, lilting French accent. He admits openly that he never expected to stay in the UK, when he started at Le Gavroche 32 years ago. “It was wonderful to work with Michel and Albert Roux, and Silvano.” (Silvano Giraldo, then famed manager of Le Gavroche). “I didn’t want to stay for more that a year. It was so difficult, a three Michelin star at the time,” Tomasin reveals, “but Silvano knew how to keep you. They had a fabulous wine list, my God, it was incredible. I could travel, buy en premier, taste the best wines…sell them… We created a small wine family with the guests and the sommeliers there.” He adds, “I gave my notice four times but left after 12 years.”
From there he went on to run Aubergine, in London’s smart borough of Chelsea, for Gordon Ramsay and then to open his own place Angelus, renowned around a decade ago for Tomasin’s carefully curated wine list and the spectacular Foie Gras Crème Brûlée. “I decided to stay,” he says, “because British people know what they want but they are prepared to listen. In France they are not as open, if you are in Bordeaux you only drink Bordeaux. British people have amazing wine cellars they buy the wines to drink when they are ready. 32 years on, I still love it here.”
To see Tomasin in action is a master class in the subtleties and sophistication of the very best maître d’. Effortless, never gushing, he puts guests at ease as soon as they take their table. He says, “My father always said that you have to look someone in the eyes, but I always have my eyes somewhere else in the room. It’s a skill that you have to learn. It’s not easy and you have to be there all the time for the customer and that the team know when to engage and when to step back. I feel like a submarine with the periscope up; listening without looking, anticipating the guests next move, next desire.”
He openly admits the responsibility of working in such an historic place. The expectation that a visit to such a beacon of service and celebration in the world of hospitality sets the bar high.
“It can weigh heavy on my shoulders, but I love it. I feel lucky and privileged to help keep and create all those memories, I love it!” Tomasin’s enthusiasm for his job is palpable, “I mean The Savoy Grill has been here since 1889. A lot of guests only come once in their lifetime – for a celebration, an unforgettable occasion – we are here to keep those memories alive. And ensure that standards never slacken. That each visit is as special as the last. It gives me goosebumps to be a part of those moments.”
Tomasin says he never gets bored of the theatre of prepared a flaming rum baba at table or placing a perfectly pink, beef wellington in front of expectant diners. “It might be the same plate of food for some but each person does it differently, it’s not a factory here, every occasion needs to be adapted to.”
Even talking about his role, the ebb and flow of each service, you can see his excitement and desire to deliver a unique experience for each visitor. “Being part of the team that can deliver an unrepeatable experience at table is amazing,” he concludes, “the lunch or dinner might not be a special occasion, but you are always aware that something just happened – that by looking after that party you have contributed to a moment that will be talked about and remembered.”