Niels Sluiman brings a wealth of experience to Jonah’s having worked in some of the world’s most outstanding Michelin star restaurants including Pre Catelan in Paris, La Cote St Jacques in Burgundy and Sat Bains in the UK. Niels has recently stepped up from 3 years as Head Sommelier at Jonah’s to take on the role of Food & Beverage Director.
Over our 90 years of operation, Jonah’s has won many awards for both the dining and wine list offering, in which Niels has played a significant role. Having been awarded 3 Glasses in Australia’s Wine List of the Year awards for over 8 consecutive years as well as being inducted into the Wine List Hall of Fame by Gourmet Traveller Wine.
Find out more about Niels, what led him to Jonah’s, and what his plans are for the future:
1. Where are you from and what led you to Sydney?
I’m from the Hague in The Netherlands. When I moved to the UK for work, I was selling a lot of high end Australian wines which sparked my interest to travel to Australia. On arriving here I thought I would probably stay about six months and I’m still here all these years later. I loved Sydney because it was so close to the Hunter Valley and the food scene in Sydney is really buzzing.
2. What were you doing before you became a sommelier? Did you ever have dreams of doing something different?
All my life I have been in hospitality. Growing up my family owned different businesses where they had bars and hosted concerts so it was natural for me to stay in the industry. I did study economics for a period before I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to go back to hospitality.
3. How did you discover your passion for wine?
When I made the shift from economics I went to Ireland for a break between my studies. When I was there I met a sommelier who was so passionate about what he was doing that it inspired me to go down that path. This is when I decided to go to wine school.
4. Who have been your most inspiring mentors throughout your career so far?
Working alongside Master Sommelier Laurent Richet and Sat Bains in the UK was an amazing experience where I was exposed to their wealth of knowledge around food and wine. This was definitely an influential period in my career.
5. What makes Jonah’s restaurant different to other establishments?
Jonah’s will be celebrating 91 years of operation on Australia Day 2020. This is a huge milestone for us. To me what makes Jonah’s special is its unique location. Perched high atop the cliff overlooking Whale Beach, there is no other view like it in the world. Pair this with the quality of food, wine, and service that we offer, and that is what makes the ‘Jonah’s experience’ unique.
6. What is one of your proudest achievements since working at Jonah’s?
Definitely winning Best Wine List in Australia awarded by Gourmet Traveller Wine. The wine list at Jonah’s was already one of the best in the world when I started but I have been able to continue to improve it over the years and put my fingerprint on it. Working with Riccardo Molfetta as assistant sommelier made the job enjoyable for me and I couldn’t have done any of it without him.
7. What are your goals for the future of Jonah’s restaurant in your new role?
My goal is to maintain the high standard that we already uphold for ourselves. I want to continue working closely with local food and wine producers and maintain our great relationships with suppliers so that we can continue to deliver our high quality food and beverage offering.
8. When managing a restaurant, what does it take to create a strong team in the front of house?
It’s always important to trust the team around you. I can only do so much myself so it’s important for me to be surrounded by strong team members so that we can work together to deliver the most positive experience possible to our guests. Serving exceptional food and wine keeps the team motivated and proud of what they’re doing. Having such a diverse, international team at Jonah’s makes it fun because we all get to learn something from each other’s different experiences.
9. What is your favourite dish on the menu at Jonah’s right now?
The goats cheese tortelloni is one of my favourite dishes. It has classic flavours inspired by Executive Chef Matteo Zamboni’s Italian background. In my opinion you also can’t get better than the Jonah’s rib eye. It would be difficult to find a better quality meat these days. It’s dry aged with beautiful flavours and marbling.
10. What would be your favourite wine at the moment?
Delamere Block 3 Chardonay from Tasmania is made in small batches and is beautifully paired with our lobster dish. We are one of the very few restaurants to stock this wine in Australia. Also the Shiraz from The Kinnear Robert Stein Mudgee. This wine is also made in small amounts and when the winemaker Jacob offered me a taste I immediately loved it for its velvety, silky characteristics and complexity.
11. If you had to drink one last wine before you die, what would it be?
A Domaine St Prefert magnum Vielles Vignes Clairette from Chateauneuf Du Pape in the South of France. The wine is made by Isabelle Fenando who has been recognised as one of the best wine makers in the world which is extremely impressive given that she is from a highly competitive, male dominant region.
12. What might we catch you doing in your free time when you’re not at work?
Taking my 18 month old son Lenny out somewhere! We are planning to go to the new Sydney zoo soon. Occasionally I go to wine tastings in the city as well but it’s hard to find the time these days. You also might find me playing tennis with friends.