How can champagne be used to create a summer tasting menu? Seafood is an obvious candidate but as food and wine writer Lucy Bridgers found at a recent Billecart-Salmon event at the Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar in London you need to choose your flavours carefully.
Lucy writes: "Given the recent gloomy weather, the invitation from Billecart-Salmon to match Champagne with summer food had an obvious appeal. The event was being organised with Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar, so seafood was likely to feature. I hadn’t heard of this restaurant, so did some research and discovered that it’s in the extravagantly refurbished Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place, just along the Embankment from the Savoy.
Massimo is a large twinkly room, decorated with mosaic tiles, with a similar period feel as Bibendum in Michelin House on the Fulham Road and the oyster bar in New York’s Grand Central Station. Very glamorous. We sat at the bar watching seafood being freshly prepared – Italian ‘crudo’ (a Mediterranean equivalent of sashimi) – seemingly an ideal choice for the Champagne. They had devised a series of five small ‘plates’ to complement a selection of wines from the Billecart-Salmon range.
The first combination was oysters served with the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru non-vintage – creamy, gently citrussy, with a tangy saline finish. The three different oysters had varying effects on the wine. The saltiness of the Colchester natives overwhelmed the salinity and complexity of the wine, whereas, the Loch Fyne and Irish Rock oysters worked better, particularly the Irish. Despite being meaty and powerfully flavoured, it gave the wine some space, and together they worked towards a deliciously zesty mineral crescendo. (I didn’t have any of the shallot/vinegar dressing as I wanted to preserve the pure flavours.)
This was followed by mackerel ceviche (with lime, ginger, fresh red and green chilli and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil) served with Extra Brut non-vintage. A great wine: very dry (zero dosage) with a savoury complexity, yet with plenty of broad, ripe fruit and complex developed aromas (we were told it was based on the 2007 vintage). It cut a swath through the fatty richness of the fish and comfortably handled the ginger and chilli flavours.
Then came a new Billecart-Salmon release, Sous Bois (100 percent vinified in oak). Oaky it certainly was, but it did have a tasty dry vinous character. The wine came into its own with the food, red mullet salad and tuna tartare. It was particularly good with the mullet – pan-fried and served cold with black olives and an orange-infused fennel salad which had the unexpected effect of lifting the wine, making it taste more aromatic (and masking the oak). This was a great match. However, I was less keen on the tuna which had been dressed with lemon juice, fleur de sel and some rather dominant extra virgin olive oil – too rich and mouth-coating for the wine to handle.
The fourth wine, Nicolas François Billecart 2000, was the star of the evening, with layers of richly satisfying complex aromas: toasted brioche and a whiff of marmalade on the nose, caramelized citrus on the palate and amazingly fresh and mouthwatering after more than a decade. It was paired with 'chilled caviar spaghettini and prawns in tomato water'. It didn’t need this kind of elaborate dish. As is the case with many great wines, the simpler the food, the better. This was the penultimate plate, so could have been treated like a cheese course and served with some aged hard cheese like Parmesan (it was an Italian restaurant) or Comté or with cheese soufflé.
We finished with a small dessert of red fruits millefeuille and Billecart-Salmon Rosé non-vintage (dry and fresh with aromatic red berry fruit and a hint of minerality). It was much too dry but, for some reason, the French often serve brut Champagne with desserts. Perched at the oyster bar and admiring the delicacies on display, I couldn’t help thinking that crab or lobster would have been a more flattering choice.
However, these dishes demonstrated the scope offered by good quality Champagne, particularly with fish and seafood, but it’s better to keep things simple so not mask the complexity of the wine.
If you fancy trying these ‘crudo’ and Champagne combinations yourself, on June 12th from 6pm Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar will be offering these small plates with Billecart-Salmon Champagne (£35 pp with a glass of the Blanc de Blancs; £55 with all five of the Champagnes). Tel 020 7998 0555."
Lucy Bridgers attended this event as a guest of Billecart-Salmon.