The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Notes from Hong Kong

Posted on | October 14, 2010 | Written by Josh Rubenstein | No Comments

Editor’s note: We’ll be featuring conversations with the wine wheelers, dealers, movers, makers and shakers both here in the US and abroad. Today, we’re lucky to have Josh Rubenstein from IWM HK sit in conversation with one of Hong Kong dining’s most influential Italians, Danilo Nicoletti.

Danilo Nicoletti, General Manager of 8 1/2 (Otto e Mezzo) photo courtesy of:

Danilo Nicoletti is General Manager of 8 1/2 (Otto e Mezzo, one of Hong Kong’s premier Italian restaurants.  Originally from Ventimiglia in Liguria, Italy, Danilo’s prior engagements at Domani and Ritz Carlton’s Toscana have made him an institution in Hong Kong fine dining. Moreover, Danilo has been instrumental in bringing wines from iconic Italian producers like Radikon, Gravner and Bea to his wine list. Danilo is without a doubt a leader in the HK Italian wine community.

What turned you on to a career in food and wine?

My father and uncle ran a small family restaurant in Ventimiglia, so it has always been a part of my life.  I attended school for maitre d’ training and service management, which also helped me to learn English and French.

What do you love about your job?

I love the opportunity to “change the weather.”  We can always manipulate our space and offerings so that every experience at 8 1/2 is a new and memorable experience.  It can be a new dish, artisan wine or serve—or we may add new art to the décor.  I love being on the scene every day

What to your thinking makes a wine program great?

It’s like making a great salad.  You always need your greens and can add interesting varieties of tomatoes and unique surprises like papaya.  Having the right selection in the best price points—for me it’s $600 – $1500 HKD ($75 – $200 USD)—will make the program most attractive.

How would you describe the Hong Kong wine scene to readers abroad?

Hong Kong is the door of Asia and it has taught me to have an open mind.  We have food and wine choices without constraint.  When I began in HK, my vision as a GM had to change from selling only food and wine.  I see how we have to find other sources, like ambiance, service, furnishings and artwork to wow our guests.  In HK it’s very important particularly, for many guests prefer to bring their own wines to restaurants.

What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?

I have a French culinary background, so simple fresh bread, beef Bourgogne and Burgundy is best for me.  I recently have been enjoying Domaine de la Vougeraie.  If I go white, I will favor something Italian, like a Ribolla from Friuli’s Collio region.  Radikon is a personal favorite.

What advice would you offer for someone considering a career similar to yours?

Do it with heart and common sense.  You cannot learn passion.  Be friendly to everyone, and on Sundays be sure you’re wearing tee shirt, shorts and sandals to relax


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