Find and book great restaurantsFind a Restaurant
Search for exciting venues and eventsFind a Venue
If you need advice or help finding venues or event suppliers, use our free helpline service.
Champagne is not what you’d automatically pick to drink with Chinese food, but Krug Grande Cuvée is a sensational match with dishes at Michelin-starred Hakkasan. Chris Losh reports
Ask most people when they’d drink Champagne and the overwhelming majority will say ‘as an aperitif’. You might get one or two suggesting it’s nice with certain starters; a few forward-thinkers might even suggest the odd main-course match, but they would be few and far between.
So the chance of being able to drink the same Champagne right the way through a seven-course menu – taking in everything from scallops and crab to pork – would seem pretty slim. And even less likely if the menu in question were at Hakkasan, which serves some of the most wine-challenging dishes in the capital.
‘Any wine is difficult to match with our food – not just Champagne,’ says Christine Parkinson, wine buyer for Hakkasan and Yauatcha. ‘Our food is based on Cantonese cuisine, so there’s a lot of sweetness, while sour and vinegar notes really exaggerate any acidity in a wine.’
For Parkinson, the wines that work best are whites with a good bit of age and breadth on the palate, and which have a balanced but not overt level of acidity. It’s a description that sums up the flavour profile of Krug Grande Cuvée, so she had high hopes that it would work throughout the meal at our Krug tasting lunch.
Champagne can be a great partner for food, says Parkinson, but it’s not universal. It has to be a certain type of Champagne. Krug has three big advantages when it comes to food matching. First, it is one of the more full-bodied Champagnes, so it’s not going to be easily overwhelmed by dishes with a bit of weight to them. Second, although it has weight on the palate, the wine’s honey, dried apricot and bread flavours up front morph into a fresh citrussy finish, supported by broad, but contained acidity. And third, it has a very fine mousse.
It may seem arcane to talk about the size of the bubbles, but it’s a big factor. Champagnes with large bubbles get in the way of the food, whereas a delicate mousse slides effortlessly over the palate and titillates the tastebuds.
So, given Krug Grande Cuvée’s credentials, how did it fare with the challenge of Hakkasan? Our first dish, scallop shumai, was – for Hakkasan, at least – relatively simple: a steamed scallop sitting atop a prawn, wrapped in shumai pastry and topped with flying fish roe, accompanied by two chilli dips, one sweet, the other hotter and more savoury.
By the time this arrived, our first glasses of Grande Cuvée had been sitting around for a while, so our tasting panel’s leading proponent of the Champagne, honorary chairman Rémi Krug, suggested we order a fresh, cool glass to do full justice to the dish. This would also enable us to compare the effects on the food of both a warmer and a cooler glass of Krug.
The scallop dish involved two experiences, depending on whether you used the chilli dips or not. With the food alone, the honeyed nature of the Champagne played well with the sweetness of the scallop, but with the chilli, the cutting edge of the colder, fresher Krug was necessary to see off the heat. ‘It works very well whether you have the chilli or not – but in a different way,’ said group wine buyer for the Tate galleries Hamish Anderson.
Next up was soft-shell crab, deep fried in a light batter, and served with what looked like breadcrumbs but turned out to be a Singaporean dish of deep-fried condensed milk and butter.
Though there were some aromatic and spicy notes, the key flavours were sweetness and richness. Once again, the sweetly fruited elements of the Champagne worked well, the toastier elements sitting nicely with the savoury parts of the dish. It was a very good match that brought out the creamier elements of the fizz.
This was followed by pi pa duck, served with a sweet hoi sin sauce that would challenge any wine. It was a delicious dish, though Parkinson pointed out the sweet sauce tends to make red wines taste unbearably dry, yet most whites struggle to stand up to the roasted duck breast.
The Krug coped manfully with the duck by virtue of its depth, the warmer glass performing particularly well. It may not have been an ideal match with the sauce, but very little would be. ‘This destroys most Champagnes, especially non-vintage,’ said Parkinson. ‘You have to have maturity and richness.’
The next dish, tofu in a chicken, pork and scallop stock, was one that our tasters had not been looking forward to. Yet not only was it warming, cheery and delicate but it was a first-class match with the Krug. For the first time, the food, beautifully understated, let the wine really sing. As Anderson pointed out, it was the sort of combination you could easily enjoy all night.
The sha cha silver cod was next – a large fillet of fish baked in Chinese rice wine and honey, served with an aromatic dipping sauce made of dried shrimp, chilli and yellow bean. There was a hallmark mixture of flavours in here – sweet, salty and savoury, with earthier notes from the mushrooms on which it was served. The Champagne successfully cleaned off the richness of the food, adding a surprising note of ginger on the finish. A good match.
It was a similar story with the shredded abalone. The dominant elements here were a Chinese pastry base (rather like doughnut) and a highly flavoursome duck, chicken and scallop sauce with which it was served – and which the pastry soaked up in highly moreish fashion. It was rich and filling, and the Champagne needed the full weight of its stone fruit-flavoured palate and citrussy finish to hold its own. As with the other stock-based dish, the tofu, this was a great partnership.
This was followed by the taro dome, a series of vegetables and nuts in a pastry basket. The purer flavours posed no problem for the Krug.
We were all concerned about our final course: the braised minced pork with handmade noodles was finished in an XO sauce – a spicy fish and chilli creation – and was very strongly flavoured. Incredibly, the Krug matched it for weight, and allowed the spicier flavours to come through on the finish without being overwhelmed.
So, can you match Krug and Asian food? Emphatically – if surprisingly – yes. Indeed, there may be no other wine in the world that can sit with such a variety of different foods.
Fried soft-shell crab with red chilli and curry leaf
Pi pa duck
Braised homemade tofu in superior broth
Sha cha silver cod
Shredded abalone and yellow chive in toban
Braised minced pork with handmade hakka noodles
8 Hanway Place, W1. Tel: 020 7927 7000
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2007