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August 2, 2012

Entry-Level Caviar Is My New Favourite Oxymoron

By Spear's

There are certain oxymorons one gets used to hearing: ‘customer service’, ‘responsible banking’, ‘military intelligence’. But I came across a new one in Tramp’s fabulous dining room the other week: ‘entry-level caviar’

There are certain oxymorons one gets used to hearing: ‘customer service’, ‘responsible banking’, ‘military intelligence’. But I came across a new one in Tramp’s fabulous dining room the other week: ‘entry-level caviar’.

The occasion was a gathering of journos to learn about Gourmet House‘s Iranian Beluga and Italian Sevruga. The lights were low, the long table heavily laid, the guests whipped up to a state of gustatory excitement not seen since René Redzepi discovered non-poisonous mushrooms in the back alley behind Claridge’s.

As waiters came round and dolloped – and I mean really dolloped, scooped, ladled even – caviar on our plates, we were told that this was the entry-level stuff: under £30 for 30 grammes, which is a little like discovering that Aldi have got a special on Yquem.

Further waiters came round with silver-dollar-sized blinis and the traditional condiments of caviar: fragments of hard-boiled yolks, creme fraiche, shallot shavings, then lemon halves. The first waiters reappeared and liberally heaped more caviar on the plate.

This first was Italian Transmontanus Sevruga caviar, which was much better than you had any right to expect at that price – salty, flavoursome and moreish. It’ll make a perfect present for a dinner party.

The second caviar was on a different scale, Iranian Beluga exported by the only company allowed to do so. It almost felt like the waiters had got the two price points confused so generously did they pile up the Beluga. ‘Are you sure you’ve got enough? Have some more.’

This caviar is anything but entry-level. Its eggs weren’t the largest – apparently they are larger in winter than summer, and these were fresh – but that’s not key to its quality. They had a hazelnutty taste and a long salty nose, the sort of flavour that tallies with memories of days by the coast when the water was whipped up by the wind. Who needs Proustian madeleines?

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Afterwards, we headed up to Tramp’s cigar terrace to continue the evening with canapés, which were in the main… blinis heaped high with caviar. Too much of a good thing is wonderful.

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