It’s common on these occasions to get carried away with hyperbole, but for all the talk of this being an amicable split, this genuinely does seem like the end of an era.
Parkinson joined the company in 2001 before the first Hakkasan opened in Hanway Place, London. It picked up a Michelin star within 18 months and, in the almost two decades since, the group has grown to include myriad outlets in the US, Middle East, India and China.
In that time, Hakkasan acquired an enviable reputation not just for the quality and innovativeness of its wine lists, but for the thoroughness of its staff training. Sommeliers and bartenders wanted to work there because they knew they would be better for it; prospective employees knew that anyone with a Hakkasan background had superlative wine and food-matching knowledge and a respect for the profession.
Parkinson was central to that, organising weekly tastings and fostering an environment where a love and understanding of wine was encouraged. But so too was creative thinking, as their unconventional wine list showed – splitting wine up by unusual categories such as Purity, Blends and Genius without a Chateau, rather than just by geographical area.
It was intended not to be the definitive ordering document, but to start a conversation with the highly-trained and enthusiastic staff who understood exactly what it was trying to do. It was the perfect synergy of wine-buying, creative flair and long-term training. And it worked.
Hakkasan won overall Wine List of the Year in Imbibe’s Wine List of the Year awards in 2011, with the judges praising the list for the fact that it encouraged customers to ‘look at wine in a different way’.
They followed this up in the same competition in 2013 with Group Wine List of the Year, before being forcibly retired from Wine List of the Year to give other venues a chance.
Parkinson has also won big in Imbibe’s Personality of the Year Awards down the years, picking up the magazine’s Restaurant Personality of the Year award in 2011 and Industry Legend in 2019, where she commented that she saw her role as ‘making hospitality a top career of choice.’
She has also grown over the last decade from being a regular participant at the Sommelier Wine Awards, to becoming the competition’s Head of Judging, with the ultimate say on medals.
Parkinson’s departure marks a turbulent few years for the company. Two years ago Hakkasan’s staff were shaken by a wave of redundancies across the business. Chefs, marketing teams and several key wine staff were unexpectedly dismissed, including Diana Rollan, a ten-year stalwart of the company who has since gone on to be head of wine for D&D London.
Yet this, arguably, is a bigger shock since Christine Parkinson has been there since the start and is so heavily identified with the company.
A huge presence across the on-trade, whether amicable or not, her departure leaves a sizable hole in the Hakkasan drinks operation.