Alex Kirkwood, who was recently appointed general manager at Aria after several years as the fine diner’s head sommelier, started his career front-of-house at top-tier restaurants such as Quay, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Momofuku Seiobo. But it was in 2009, when he began as bar manager at Aria Brisbane, that Kirkford became heavily involved in the restaurant’s wine program. He was promoted to head sommelier not long after, then in 2012 moved to Sydney to launch Chiswick and work with Matt Moran’s Aria Sydney team. In 2016 he was promoted to head sommelier at Aria Sydney, and he’s been instrumental in evolving the restaurant’s reputation as a first-rate wine-drinking venue, with a broad focus encompassing large winemakers, smaller producers and cult drops.

Kirkwood will work closely with executive chef Joel Bickford to launch Aria Wine Bar in the second half of 2021 – part of Aria’s “rebellious” new approach to food and wine that’s already seen collaborations with younger players such as world-leading bar Maybe Sammy. He’ll also continue to lead the venue’s award-winning wine program.

What’s your new job title?
General manager and wine lead.

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Why did you decide to join Aria in the first place, and why have you chosen to switch roles?
I started with Aria back in 2009 as bar manager for Aria Brisbane’s opening, and at that point of my career, that was an enormous jump from where I was working. My opportunities for growth in the company have always inspired me to keep striving towards new challenges. This was the natural step in my career, as my love for fine dining and this restaurant paved the way for me to take on the role.

Do you have anything fun or new that you are going to implement in your new role?

The biggest focus in the next six months will be implementing and driving progressive steps in the service and [menu] offering in the dining room, but also the development, build and launch of our wine bar.

How will your experience as Aria’s head sommelier feed into your role as general manager?
With the quality and size of the beverage program at Aria, a GM with such passion towards all aspects of our guests’ experience – and in particular wine – will only continue to drive us forward. The aim is to only further strengthen the beverage program and ensure we are continuing to strive towards excellence each day for our guests.

What else have you got planned for Aria?
Big things – but I have no intention of giving all our secrets away just yet.