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Margaret Rand reports on a very special dinner in Paris, with each course matched to a different Krug cuvée
You’ve got to hand it to the Champenois: they know how to organise a party. They even know how to ship eight top-ranking chefs to Paris, hand them a Champagne, tell them to concoct a main course and a dessert to match it, set the whole thing up in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and make it seem like – well, a party.
The Champagne in question is Krug, and the cuvées in question were the range of current Krug wines: non-vintage Grand Cuvée, vintage 1998, vintage 1995, blanc de blancs Clos de Mesnil 1998, and non-vintage Rosé. And the chefs? Tim Raue of the eponymous restaurant in Berlin, who cooks Asian-accented food; Uwe Opocensky from the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong; Brazilian Roberto Okabe of Finger’s in Milan, which combines Japanese and Brazilian influences; Arnaud Lallement, the youngest Michelin-starred chef in France, who cooks at his family restaurant in Reims, L’Assiette Champenoise; Tsuyoshi Murakami of Kinoshita in São Paulo, and our very own Angela Hartnett of Murano.
The Ecole des Beaux Arts deserves a mention, too. It’s a building that sets one’s architecturally inclined friends drooling because of its unspoilt 1840s’ interiors. The room we were in was neo-renaissance crossed with St Pancras station: high, airy and with a glass roof which reflected the party, and was itself reflected in the mirror glass on some of the tables; there were classical statues, which were permanent, and big shiny inflated silver spheres, which were not. There was a DJ who looked like part KGB colonel, part nightclub dancer, and a roving saxophonist in Christian Louboutins. And then there were the tables.
Each chef had a long table, with seats round it, where they served their dishes and their allocated Champagne. The actual cooking was done in a separate kitchen, by Parisian catering company Potel & Chabot under instructions from the various chefs. Each table was dressed differently: glass candelabra on one (with electric candles), Oriental-style minimalism on another. The idea was that guests ate wherever they fancied, taking the different dishes in any order; and the organisation was such that there was always just room for you at a table, the Champagne flowed, the chefs had time to chat and the food was utterly, utterly delicious.
It’s true that Krug should be an easy Champagne to match with food. It has weight and breadth: fermentation in oak barrels, and an oxiditative style of winemaking, makes for a Champagne that is expressive relatively young. Angela Hartnett finds a spicy note in the 1998, her set cuvée, which she reckoned would go well with chestnuts and some smoky notes, and she was spot on: her tea-smoked guinea fowl with foie gras, cep purée and spiced chestnut velouté was one of the hits of the evening, meeting the smokiness of the wine halfway. The 1998 is still young, but the earthy flavours of the dish brought out the weight of the wine, and the balance of the two was lovely.
Tsoyushi Murakami’s tuna in a Kinoshita miso sauce, scallops in vintage soy sauce and assorted mushrooms and okra in a lime cup was perhaps more challenging, but very successful: the startling pungency of the miso sauce, in particular, was a great match for the acidity and tight structure of Grande Cuvée. It was also a dish rich in umami, and Krug is a very umami-friendly wine. Arnaud Lallement had mushrooms, too, in his dish of grilled turbot with vin jaune and gnocchi, but here it was the texture of the gnocchi that went noticeably well with the sparkle of the wine. As well as the turbot, of course: the sauce was winey and rich, the fish firm, and both were perfect with the firm wineyness of Grande Cuvée.
What texture might one expect chicken bones to have? The answer, since this is a dish from Uwe Opocensky, is that of foie gras: foie gras moulded into the shape of chicken bones, that is. Champagne would not be one’s first choice with cold foie gras, which tends to make any Champagne taste acidic (hot foie gras is another matter) but this was made to work by the mix of ceps, trompettes de la mort and chanterelles that came with it, and balanced the robust, powerful 1995. This is a wine of great depth: fresh, but with the roundness of fruit necessary for mushrooms. Uwe says that for him, it’s not so much about flavour combinations as the freedom, with Krug, to explore ideas.
Putting a dessert of lemon, shiso and jalapeño with Clos de Mesnil 1998 may be an idea, but it is also very much a flavour combination. This was Tim Raue’s table, and while the colours were bright, the flavours were subtle: an unexpected hit. It was neither too sweet nor too hot, and the creamy fruit of the Clos de Mesnil – all those wonderful white-flower notes combined with hidden power – suited a dessert that was spicy rather than sweet.
The only combination I tasted that to my palate didn’t work was Roberto Okabe’s dessert of eclipse of wild berries, which was essentially raspberries with chocolate, matched with Krug Rosé. Raspberries are always difficult with Champagne, and they proved no easier when put with chocolate. They made the wine taste lean and acidic, which it’s not, though it’s definitely a winey rosé rather than a fruity one, and it is still quite tight and young. An older Krug Rosé, with more roundness and richness, might have been better; but on their own, the raspberries and chocolate were absolute heaven.