Convention has it that Indian food isn’t well accompanied by wine. A sweet white at a pinch perhaps, though most certainly not red. But sommelier Sunaina Sethi at Michelin-starred Trishna in Marylebone has emphatically disproved this belief. One half of the super duo who run two of London’s most esteemed Indian restaurants – she and brother Karam are also behind Gymkhana in Mayfair – Sue [Sunaina] stumbled onto her career path a few years ago while seemingly established on the banking straight and narrow. Still in her early 20s and between jobs, she temporarily stepped in as a favour to her brother to help run the front of house at Trishna. A few weeks in, she realised she had found her calling as a sommelier, and the financial world lost a promising management consultant.
"There’s such a range of spices in Indian food, and so much scope to play around with different flavours” — Sunaina Sethi
Young, pretty, Asian and female, Sue remembers the first professional tasting she ever attended, held at a grand hotel in Liverpool Street. “It was Bordeaux,” she says. “I walked into this private room and there were about fifteen men, all over the age of 50 in suits and I was the only girl. Everyone was lovely but there was the initial shock on both sides.” Then there are the customers who ask to speak to the sommelier and are visibly surprised when Sue sidles up to their table. “At first they might think, ‘are you sure you know what you’re talking about?’ But then you just have to win them over.”
After closing for a refit, Trishna is now back up and running and Sue is excited to share her latest finds – especially wines from unexpected regions. “Croatia is my number one at the moment,” she says. “And Greece has a bad reputation but there are so many fantastic wines coming from there.” Bold new dishes have meant Sue’s been able to experiment, and it’s the tasting menu with wine matching that shows Trishna at its best. Expect Austria, USA, Croatia and even India on the same wine list as France and Argentina. Her selections are never tame, preferring as she does wines that bring their own additional flavour to the table, rather than just complementing what's already there. Sue encourages people to “be adventurous,” when choosing wines for spicy foods, an approach she picked up from her wine hobbyist father. “There’s a preconception that you need something really sweet or really heavy to overcome the spiciness,” she says. “But there’s such a range of spices in Indian food, and so much scope to play around with different flavours.” Sue recommends steering clear of reds with too much acidity or tannins that might clash with smokier flavours, and a bit of sugar isn’t a bad thing, but aside from that, she says, “there really is no right answer.” Though if there was, we think, Sue would probably know it.
Things we loved about Trishna: the paneer, the wood-panelled interior, the wine pairings and the unabashed spice.
Trishna is at 15-17 Blandford Street, London, W1U 3DG.
Text by Ananda Pellerin