Emily Rookwood wanted champagne with her dinner – but has she poured more than she can drink?
YOU WILL STRUGGLE to find a woman who professes not to like champagne, so you can imagine my surprise at hearing such a declaration from the striking blonde Russian sat opposite me in the lounge of the Lanesborough as we waited for our Laurent-Perrier master class. I am pleased to report that the exception reverted to the rule four hours, eight courses and several vintages later.
Hosted by Alexandre Caujolle, the charming director of food and beverages at the Lanesborough, in the hotel’s recently launched and even more recently Michelin starred restaurant Apsleys, guests were treated to a perfectly conceived tasting menu designed by world renowned chef Heinz Beck. Each course brought out the subtler notes in the eight showcased champagnes.
Laurent-Perrier, established in 1812, is one of only a handful of family owned Grand Marque Champagnes and the House has a very distinctive light, fresh style. The predominance of fish and seafood on the menu enhanced this House characteristic, revealing the intelligence behind each skillfully crafted course: the Grand Siecle prestige cuvee (a rarity among cuvees as it is multi-vintage) with its delicate stream of fine bubbles and hint of brioche in the aroma complimented both the langoustine with potato and black olive dust and the risotto with oyster and champagne; the zero dosage Ultra Brut, crystal clear with a delicate, fresh taste allowed the sweetness of the blue lobster, papaya, mango and avocado with delicate basil dressing to shine through; the extremely rare, golden and honeyed 1982 vintage was robust enough to be served with a lamb variation.
Of particular note was the 1996 vintage that accompanied the fifth course of translucent fillet of cod, served with ”Spellos” beans. Widely regarded as one of the best in recent memory the 1996 displayed that year’s hallmark characteristic of pronounced acidity yet very ripe fruit and was a delight to drink.
There are distinct advantages to having an expert at the table: a little careful schooling quickly leads to a greater appreciation of the champagne and the odd insider tip that inevitably emerges can be invaluable: while most will have already quaffed their 1996s, those who haven’t are in the lucky minority – I have it on good authority that this vintage won’t reach its peak for another ten years or so.
Lessons in the subtleties of weight, dosage and relative nuttiness (or naughtiness as the second Russian in our party preferred) came courtesy of David Hesketh, the Managing Director of Laurent-Perrier UK and distinguished Master of Wine. In him we found a man with a vast knowledge of the Champagne business, its history, major players and above all the produce. Able to answer every seemingly unanswerable and obscure question fired by my guest across the private dining room – separated from the main space with retractable shutters affording private diners the luxury of privacy without denying them the atmosphere of the hustle and bustle – Hesketh was an exemplary tutor.
The whole evening was a treat. Impeccable service in beautiful surroundings, world-class food, generous quantities of champagne and this priceless morsel of advice from a very wise man: Ladies, if a man arrives at your door with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier welcome him with open arms. If he arrives with two, his intentions might be questionable. Gentlemen, always take a magnum.
The 8-course Laurent-Perrier Champagne Master Class hosted by the Lanesborough is priced at £250 per person plus service charge. Upcoming evenings include a Krug Champagne tasting evening and a Cristal and Caviar tasting evening. Contact the Lanesborough for further information.