Ali Nia (pictured left) tells Jennie Milsom about his vision as newly appointed partner and general manager at the Drunken Butler restaurant in Farringdon, London, and why hospitality is fundamental to Persian culture.
How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
My first job in hospitality was as a kitchen porter at a small place called Havana in Germany and it introduced me to an incredible industry. I made the move to front of house four weeks later – it's the best thing I've ever done.
You've worked at top restaurants all over the world – what have been the highlights over the years?
My time at Restaurant André – André Chiang's former two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore – was definitely the highlight. To work with and serve so many different cultures, under the incredible creativity of André as head chef, was probably the best work experience of my life so far.
How positive do you feel about the London restaurant scene as it emerges from lockdown?
It has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone in hospitality, pretty much across the board. But it makes me proud to see the industry come together, closer than it has ever been before. London has some incredibly talented people working in hospitality. We will adapt.
London has some incredibly talented people working in hospitality. We will adapt
What did your time as general manager at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay teach you?
It gave me the opportunity to work alongside Jean-Claude Breton, who is a legend in the world of front of house. It was remarkable to discover that even though we are from two different generations, with different backgrounds and perspectives, one key lesson rings true: if you are humble then you are at your best.
How would you describe your management style?
When I was five years old, my mother taught me to swim in the ocean. I had to learn to keep my head above water and calm even as the waves pushed me up and down, safe in the knowledge that my mother was always there if I needed her.
I like my team to be adaptable, to find ways to cope and succeed at whatever the day throws at them; to make their own mistakes and learn from them – but to always know I am there for them if they need me.
How did you imagine your new role would be, working alongside Yuma Hashemi?
To meet someone from my own country who is working at this level of hospitality was the only missing puzzle piece in my career. Yuma is an instinctive person like me. He has a creative mind without boundaries – again like me. We would like to continue taking the restaurant to the next level. Meeting Yuma has been one of the biggest gifts I have been given in my life.
Can you tell us about Persian cuisine and Persian Sundays at the restaurant?
Our restaurant is French with Persian influences. Yuma and the team are incredible and the food is not like any I've seen before. We're a small, intimate restaurant, so our relationships with our guests are really important. Hospitality is fundamental to Persian culture. On Sundays we like to throw a ‘mehmooni', which is basically a dinner party in your own home. This is the feeling we like to create in our restaurant.
What are you most looking forward to over the coming weeks?
My baby! My wife is expecting our first child, so I'm sure that is going to keep me busy alongside my work.
As for the restaurant, we've got lots of exciting plans in place. Operationally, we're looking at how we can evolve the service and experience to make it even more like coming into our home. We've also got a number of special events planned, which will really showcase what our restaurant is all about; be it through our unique food, our special wine lists, or the people who make up our extended restaurant family.
What is your longer-term vision for the restaurant?
We have a very ambitious team. All of our staff are hungry to achieve more and are very much willing to learn. We want to push boundaries and continue to create an experience like no other in London.
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