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23 July 2014

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London gets fizzical

(menu)

Champagne is London’s drink de choix once more and Andrew Catchpole discovers that the capital is overflowing with venues dedicated to the bubbly crusade


Fifth Floor - Fifth-Floor-Champagne-Bar---web.jpgLondon is currently bubbling over with a fantastic array of places to drink great Champagne. But, in a nod to the times, the bling appeal of big-buck names has been tempered, as bars and restaurants usher in a new era of individual boutique producers.

Certainly, you can still splash out in style. In The Savoy’s gloriously art-decadent Beaufort Bar, on the Strand, a bottle of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1996 will lighten your wallet by £3,997.50. However, if you cast your eye over the ‘Grower Champagne’ selection (Champagnes made by grape growers rather than the big Champagne houses) wines such as the Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny Brut NV from old Pinot Meunier vines are great value at a fraction of the price. Better still, the Beaufort also offers an unbeatable selection of Champagnes by the glass.

Similarly egalitarian notes reign at the St Pancras Grand Champagne Bar at King’s Cross, which boasts a tantalising 400 different wines from 35 Champagne houses. ‘We’ve long championed independent, smaller growers and people are becoming more adventurous, looking beyond the big names,’ says general manager Peter Alderin. Here you can indulge in six Champagnes, all at £10 by the glass, on the frequently updated ‘Champagne Democracy’ menu. So Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV sits cheek-by-jowl with the excellent, if rather less well-known, François Diligent Rosé Brut.

‘We’ve long championed independent, smaller growers and people are definitely becoming more adventurous’ Peter Alderin

Ripe for the picking

Xavier Rousset, Master Sommelier and co-owner of Texture in Mayfair, has put together a correspondingly far-reaching Champagne list for his restaurant. Propel your eyes beyond the temptations of the Champagne cocktails, and around 90 Champagnes lie in wait, again with an imaginative by-the-glass selection.
Refreshingly, Rousset lists all of his Champagnes alphabetically by producer, so that the diminutive producers Benoît Lahaye and Bereche et Fils are next to the rather more famous Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger. ‘This helps to encourage customers to explore the list and to try something different,’ says Rousset.
Of course, the bigger names are still making fantastic wines and London has no shortage of Champagne outlets dedicated to one house or another. Choose from the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar at Harrods, the Perrier-Jouët Champagne Bar in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, or the Krug Room at the Dorchester on Park Lane – a swish, private chef’s table where degustation menus are matched with rare vintages of the Champagne. Amuse Bouche - Amuse001.jpg---web.jpg

Rising with the bubbles

Another favourite is the Fifth Floor Bar at Harvey Nichols’ flagship store in Knightsbridge. Here, the airy décor, inspired by Emile Gallé’s classic 1902 Cuvée Belle Epoque Champagne bottle, leaves you feeling as fresh as the bubbles in your glass. This bar also brings you a wealth of Perrier-Jouët wines, and more than 20 other Champagnes besides. The Special Champagne Flight, offering four styles of Perrier-Jouët with canapés to match, is particularly good value at around £60.

If you are still looking for a big bang, in terms both of view and Champagne list, then the Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar is still hard to beat for a sky high ‘master of the universe’ vibe. The City also has a buzzing Champagne and cocktail bar in the shape of Dion, with outlets at Leadenhall Street and at St Paul’s, which has fantastic views of the cathedral and a drinks list that features many prestige Champagnes.

Back in fashion

Further west, a great addition to Parsons Green, and more latterly Soho, is Amuse Bouche Champagne Bars. Prices are very fair, with Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV at £8.50 a glass, Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV at £47 a bottle and Krug Grande Cuvée at £150 a bottle. Small-grower wines punctuate the list, too, and there’s an imaginative 16-strong Champagne cocktail list. ‘People are coming back to Champagne and sales have been steadily building. Customers now see it much more as a drink for any occasion rather than just for a big-spend celebration,’ says Amuse Bouche MD Nicky Turk.

'Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar is still hard to beat for a sky-high "master of the universe" vibe'

Final mention should go to Galoupet, an exciting new venture, comprising restaurant, bar and wine shop, which is just opening its doors on Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge. Galoupet will have one of the first Enomatic ‘Flute’ machines in the country, capable of preserving and dispensing a perfect pour of Champagne without losing the mousse.

‘We’ll have four Champagnes on the list for sampling and change these as our seasonal menus evolve,’ says operations director Shaan Mahrotri. ‘This means people can try otherwise expensive Champagnes that they wouldn’t normally be able to get by the glass and may not buy by the bottle.’

It’s another great stride in the evolution of Champagne. And with so many places available to try an array of more individual wines, older vintages and fizzes from independent growers, there has never been a better time to drink Champagne.

On the high street - five of the best Champagne merchants

Berry Bros & Rudd

Reliable list offering 195 Champagnes covering every conceivable style.

Corney & Barrow

A well-formed list, with a range of price points and several exclusive offerings.

Jeroboams

A mini-chain of eight shops offering iconic grandes marques, prestige cuvées and small-grower wines.

Majestic

Many outlets across London and a solid range with keenly priced deals.

Roberson Wine

A fine Kensington merchant with a good portfolio of premium Champagnes.

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