As the year closes and the festive season approaches, we have gotten back together with Simo Zbiri for our second collaboration. This time around, hospitality connoisseur, natural wine ambassador, and all-round gentleman Simo gives his very distinct take on evening wear. Honoring the classics, by making them his own.
The result is a collection of sophisticated designs that were favored by other men with outspoken characters like Bogart, Belmondo, or Bond. Always updated with modern accents, representing Simo’s love for adventure, open demeanor, and positive outlook on life. With our collaboration, the restaurateur follows in the footsteps of the great men who ruled the night before him, but not without stepping a little outside of the beaten path to leave his very personal mark.
We shot Simo in his natural habitat, hosting a wonderful dinner at Amsterdam’s oldest privately owned hotel De L’Europe, and sat down to draft a list of golden rules of hosting. To make this year’s celebrations, and all those after this one, a little extra special for anyone. A celebration that is just about that moment in time. In which every little detail – smell, flavor, sound, and the way you look – does its part. As if you were celebrating with Simo himself.
1. A perfect night starts in the kitchen where you share the first glass of wine.
Today we’re talking about your advice for a perfect night of celebration. Where does this night start for you?
If we talk about the perfect, or my personal ideal, celebration: it always starts in the kitchen. The same way we started our day here in Hotel De L’Europe. That’s how I have always done it. Whether this is in your home or even in your own restaurant, it always starts in the kitchen. When you have people over make sure they help you prepare the food if they feel like it. Or let them just join you with a glass of wine. The fun always starts in the kitchen. Make sure to not have everything prepared yet, as the kitchen is the best spot to officially start the night, have your first glass, listen to music, and catch up with your friends and family that you haven’t seen for a while.
2. A perfect night has an element of surprise.
This also applies to a night hosted in one of your (former) restaurants?
This was also how I approached it with my own restaurants. The moment a guest stepped through our door; it would feel like they are entering my home. I wanted everything to feel comfy. From the very beginning. This resulted in a lot of people becoming regulars once they had eaten with us once. Some people came in every week, it really became their spot, other people came in every month, or a few times a year. My goal was to achieve just that. As if they were friends that I would host in my home and make them enjoy a night they want to relive as soon as possible. For the restaurant that meant I wanted to change the menu and the wine list every week. For those who would be back the next week to experience something completely new. I think an element of surprise, experiencing and tasting something new, is also an important part of a perfect night.
This also sounds exactly like your personal drive to make every aspect of life more exciting, richer, and fun.
That is true. This sense of experimentation is also what makes the whole experience more fun for me. And when I’m having more fun, my guests are having more fun as well. It will make them feel more special. Any experimentation done by a host makes the night more exciting for the guest. Even if some things aren’t completely up their alley, they will have a night to remember. In my case this meant weekly experimentations in the food we offered, the wine we served, and the music we played. It is also the smaller details, like the music you play to your guests, that needs to evolve as exciting new things for your guests to enjoy. In the end this approach will result in a constant supply of new energy, new flavors, and a new love between the host and the guests.
3. A perfect night has an element of familiarity.
So, it’s a mixture of exciting novelty and perfect familiarity.
Exactly. When regular guests would step into my restaurants, they would mostly not even touch the menus. The same way you don’t write down a menu when friends or family come over to eat. When they would join us for a night, I knew what they liked to eat, I would know their palate when it comes to wine. I see it as the core of what I do as a restaurateur to remember these things and make it a fundamental approach in my work to make sure my guests enjoy themselves. It was also essential to train the people that worked with me to use this same approach. To not force things upon people but get to know them and serve them based on earlier experiences together.
4. A perfect night has a sense of personal style and personality.
Do you have a nice memory of one of your first encounters with people who eventually became regulars?
Yes, I remember this particular time when a friend of mine warned me that her parents would come to dinner and that I needn’t be offended if they wouldn’t return afterwards. This obviously triggered me beforehand. So, when the moment came, this elder couple stepped in, and they looked incredibly chic. A lot can be said about the Dutch, but it doesn’t happen too often that people look like this when they go out to dinner. I really liked this a lot! Our first contact was very nice too, I gave them a hug, as they were the parents of my friend, which they didn’t expect. We chatted, we laughed together. And that set the tone for what the night needed to be: them; being a very stylish chic couple, me; acknowledging right away that we shared a person that we both loved and us; getting to know each other as the night progressed. As a host and as guests. It was so exciting. Guests who bring a sense of style, a sense of personality into the interaction — these are the guests that ’demand’ service and great quality, without being nasty (!), and in turn get the best of me as a host. And after that first night, they became Friday regulars all the way until I sold the place. The story embodies what I was striving for with my restaurant and I feel very proud about it.
I suppose this also demands for your personal taste to be fully developed.
This means that when you work with me you really must be open to getting to know your own personal taste in dining. As a team we would always be around tasting new flavors, talking about them, exchanging ideas about what we were doing. This is necessary for your guests to feel special. You need to be very aware of them and be specific with what you offer them, why, and how. That’s what I want to experience as a guest too: I want to feel super special, and all of these elements are crucial for me to feel this way.
5. A perfect night has the swing. If it doesn’t, you'll know, try again next time!
How does this apply when you are on the receiving end as a guest?
I’m clearly a very demanding guest, anywhere. I want the complete service: the attention of the waiter, sincere recommendations and overall, just really good products. That can be obnoxious sometimes, but in my eyes, this is how it’s supposed to be. Being a restaurateur, or a great host, is a matter of either you have it or you don’t. It’s like jazz. Either you find the swing, or you miss it completely. There isn’t really anything in between. Some people think money can buy everything, including what is necessary to open a restaurant. But they will always fail in the end. Hospitality, being a restaurateur, is a matter of a lifestyle. It’s a noble profession. So, it’s not for everyone. And that’s fine of course. But some people seem to be confused about this. You can learn parts of it: being aware of what it takes is the start in the process, but some people are just born to be a host. And some are not. Everything I do in hospitality is based on an absolute sincere love for it. There is no other way for me to be anything else.
6. A perfect night ends with friendship.
How does the perfect night end?
The perfect night doesn’t really end, I suppose. I love it when people just stay, even when they have long finished eating. They should call their friends and eventually it ends on the dance floor, or whatever functions as the dance floor in that moment. That’s what happened in our spot most of the weekend nights. It was reflected in the music too: you start with some jazz, into something bluesy, and into some really funky stuff as the night progresses. We had turntables in our restaurant, before it became somewhat of a trend, to do it right. The end should be about dancing, together, as the finishing touch of the interaction that has evolved throughout the night. Between the host and the guests, but also between the guests themselves. The perfect night out ends with new friendships. Or a new spark within old friendships.
7. A perfect night is always driven by passion and love. Always intimate, always personal.
To sum it up: a perfect celebration is a night based on a loving interaction, with the host sharing what he or she loves and the guests receiving it and eventually becoming part of it.
That’s exactly how it is. It’s almost like therapy even, you get a cross-section of society as your clientele. You meet all kinds of people from the very happy to depressed. The bad and the good and everything in between. Once they step into your establishment, they become the same. As a host you will give them the same kind of love. Once they are seated at their table and they feel that their neighbors receive the same love, something interesting happens. If you do it right as a host everyone will forget about time, where they are, the world outside — it needs to be all about that moment in place and time. Enjoying themselves, feeling good about themselves, enjoying the food, and becoming part of the atmosphere they’re in. It’s not one dimensional, with the host only sending and the guests only receiving. It’s them becoming part of the atmosphere you have created and serviced as a host. An atmosphere that should be about a certain passion and a sense of love. A perfect night always needs to feel very intimate and very personal.
As part of our collaboration, we created some exclusive and small-batch natural wines together to celebrate the festive season.
A special thanks to De L’Europe Amsterdam for hosting us all. Established 125 years ago, the 5-star hotel is a place to embrace our city’s rich heritage for those with an appreciation for authenticity, luxury, and culture.
Get inspired by Simo’s curated collection. You can taste our festive limited-edition wines at the House of Atelier Munro in Amsterdam.