12 July 2009
100 Not Out...
Funny how quickly it builds up, isn't it? This time last year, The Lambshank Redemption didn't exist. Now I find myself penning this, the hundredth post. And they said it wouldn't last. Actually, they said nothing of the sort, probably because it's just my idle food-related ramblings, not a matter of any importance and / or interest to the majority of the world. But anyway, a few months on, and here we are at a milestone of sorts.
Happily, events in the real world - as much as my professional life can be considered "real" - conspired to provide a landmark meal for this small personal landmark: dinner at Laurent-Perrier's chateau. There are champagne occasions and then there are champagne occasions...
The purpose of the visit was to see the making of Laurent-Perrier's new Christmas gift / marketing device: a pewter "aiguiere" (or bottle holder to you and me). And then - woo hoo - to see it in action over dinner at their chateau. Mind you, the dining started 24 hours before that in Paris.
As the only UK visitor on the trip, and given Wednesday morning's early start, I'd been dispatched to Paris on Tuesday afternoon, where I was due to hook up with Anne-Laure Domenichini, Laurent-Perrier's director of Communication and "Relations Publiques" and a Belgian journalist, Koen. Both turned out to be fabulous company, witty, warm, well-travelled and, over a delightful fish dinner at La Cagouille, the champagne and conversation flowed. Both spoke impressive English - particularly Anne-Laure who, it transpired, had spent some 12 years living in Wolverhampton. And yes, she could even do the accent.
While my French isn't awful, like so many English people I'm terrified of looking an arse when I try and communicate, but they humoured my muddled attempts and were extremely helpful when it came to translating the restaurant's menu. While I can get through with the foodie basics, my knowledge doesn't extend to razor clams and chervil and the like...
La Cagouille is a fine restaurant. As befits a place offering catches of the day, the menu changes daily and is scribbled on a whiteboard. Bread though comes with delicious little clams and the simple quality of this appetiser was continued through the meal. Oysters were delicious and meaty, my Troncons de Turbot (no, I didn't need help translating THAT one) wasn't terribly attractive (hence no pic) but was meaty, moist and nestled in a sauce mousseline of joyous richness. Because let's face it, what hollandaise needs is more calories... That was all then topped off with new potatoes that glistened with amounts of butter that would have James Martin saying "ooh, steady on..." and the meal was finished with a clafoutis that pressed all the best pudding-related buttons and a couple of cognacs from the restaurant's impressive collection.
I'll leave talk of pewtersmiths and such like for my actual feature, suffice to say it was a fascinating day. Mind you, I will mention lunch which came from a company called classcroute.com, looked like a heavily-packaged airline monstrosity... and was utterly delicious. Decent bread, a lovely duck salad, an excellent piece of unctuous cheese (when was the last time you saw something like this
in a packed lunch?) and a decent chocolate and (I'm assuming) passion fruit moussey cakey thing. Obviously, we washed it all down with a couple of bottles of Grand Siecle. (If you're ever looking for ways of improving your Pret sandwich, I can heartily recommend 135 quid bottles of bubbly as the perfect accompaniment.)
It wasn't though a patch - obviously - on what was to follow. After a drive through the beautiful scenery provided by the Champagne region, the car turned left into a drive and before us stood the chateau. Before I'd seen it, if I'd been asked to describe the place, I'd have imagined something exactly like this.
I'd have also predicted a meal of glorious, old-fashioned, rural French richness. After some delicate little amuses in the drawing room - and more, perfectly chilled Grand Siecle - we were taken through to the charming dining room for more, perfectly chilled Grand Siecle and a nigh perfect simple meal.
To start, a warm salad of langoustine, fennel and some delicate little blue flowers the name of which I didn't catch. To follow, a perfectly-cooked chicken leg with a truffle risotto of madly generous proportions: seriously, look at the size of that slice. As you know, I hate waste and they kept bringing it round... It would have been criminal not to.
After that, a cheese plate of the kind erotic cheesemongering dreams are made of. Each was perfectly kept and perfectly ripe, all were, apparently, local and it seemed my meal had peaked at the right time. Only it hadn't. There was still dessert, of course. And what a dessert. It couldn't have been simpler - pain perdu avec Fraises Mara des Bois - but the soft, fluffy pain and the intense, so strong they're almost artifical forest strawberries combined into perhaps the best pud of the year so far. It was also perfectly enhanced by Laurent-Perrier's vintage rose, the rather exclusive Alexandre
Then, just as the evening seemed to be over, we were ushered back to the drawing room for liqueurs - including a 1973 Calvados - and cigars. Have I ever mentioned just how much I love my job?