Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

IWFS Kuala Lumpur Visit to Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace September 2016 - Day Two

Art Underground - the Cellars of Champagne Pommery
Sunday, 25th September 2016 - Reims

This was a bit of a lie in (well, 8am) which was most welcome after the assault that was the previous two days. Well, the madness that was CDG at least - yesterday was most pleasant. So we enjoyed a leisurely wake up in the spacious and bright Mercure room to our Cafe 21 instant coffee breakfast, a slow shower and quick dress and down for swift breakfast then back up and business and grab the bag for downstairs and on to the bus. Breakfast itself was the normal ham and cheese baguette with a strawberry jam croissant and coffee.  The breakfast was on the mezzanine floor and it was crowded - weekenders I guess - the following day was far less so. Consequence was that the single working lift was also busy with everyone looking to get up or down (mostly down for some reason). Seem to recall one dopey mmeselle who kept pressing the button and not giving the lift a chance to move - had to shout at her to stop. I did it in English so she probably didn't understand a word. But I think my tone and black thunderous face conveyed the message because the lift moved. Bloody French. 

Champagne Pommery Art
On reaching the lobby, many of the Members were already sat waiting for the bus. Clearly the fear of perdition had been put into everyone by the idea of getting fined for lateness and everyone clearly seemed keen to avoid such sanction. Quite right too. Outside looked bright and sunny so after a few "Good Mornings" I went for some fresh air. It was indeed a glorious day, sunny but crisp in the slight morning chill.

The Mercure Hotel overlooked a canal river on which were some moored boats. Across the river was a spaceship style stadium, all rods and spikes, which made a somewhat bizarre view in the morning sun. But all this faded with the joy that was the arrival of a proper long 50 seater bus on which we all could sprawl ourselves and spread out nicely. 

The President prepares to decapitate the Fizz
I seem to remember an earlier time of getting on the bus than the 10.45 on the schedule - I think perhaps we left a bit earlier to avoid the early morning rush and get first in the queue. It took the bus about ten minutes to get to the Pommery gate where we got off and walked up the grand promenade to the main entrance where Dear Leader quickly sorted out our tickets and tour guide. 

Lenglui and I had visited Pommery on a trip in 2014 but had not gone down to the caves - the lift was not working then and the steps were pretty steep. This time we went for it, and were well glad we did. The history and art hidden there is amazing and the lighting is bright enough to enjoy it all without overpowering the majesty of the place. Like Ruinart, the caves are chalk based which means that it keeps an even temperature no matter what the weather is like up above. It is a cool humidity which is perfect for keeping the corks from drying out and thus letting the priceless booze get ruined by oxidation. Seems Mme Pommery was a great lover of art and had commissioned various luminaries to develop projects for display throughout the winery. As you enter, for example, you are greeted with a huge champagne wire cork stopper and an elephant standing on its trunk. Yes. And all through the cellars and caves, sculptures leap out in shadow and light from the walls impassively defying you to take a decent flash-less photo of them. Again, we thanked the man who invented elevators and the good Mme for having one installed. 

The amazing tasting room at Pommery
Dear Leader must have signed us up for the full package because after the tour we got whisked past Trunky the Elephant into a private room to sip the fizz. This room was delightful, light and airy and with some amazing paintings and photos around the place. Also hearing stories about old wines and treasures being bricked up during World War II and still being discovered. We were also made to gather outside in the courtyard area where President David was invited to decapitate a bottle of fizz with a ceremonial sword (which he did quite expertly). Drifting around the room checking the art and photos whilst most members sat and sipped Mme Pommery's best was charming. There was a great sense of history about the room, a timeless quality that you felt would outlast most of us passing through and gaping at it all. Quite humbling in some ways. Sharpens a sense of one's insignificance in the whole scheme of the world and its turnings. The sight of massive opulent wealth can have that effect. Ultimately, all of us serve some higher process we feel is necessary to be perpetuated beyond our lifetime. Or not. Kind of depressing, if you allow it to be so. Where's that bottle?

Lydia and Edna

The Pommery Gate Gang
We made our way back to the gate to meet the bus for transfer to lunch and took some group and small group shots - beautiful sunlight for shooting. We were told the location was a five minute walk up the road, but it was resolved better to all stay together for this first re-boarding of the big bus. The five minute bus drive became fifteen as we circled around Pommery's twice with our driver being unable to spot the entrance to lunch. Finally some sharp eyes on the bus spotted the signboard of the place and we unloaded for a gentle stroll up the driveway that was the Domaine Les Crayeres. 

Walking to Les Parc Des Crayeres
Dear Leader had billed this two star Michelin as "One of the top restaurants in Champagne. Extensive wine list and deep with classics. Relais and Chateaux elegance." And it was indeed a stunner. Walking up and through this statuesque building filled with art and glass display cupboards and out on to a verandah overlooking a huge park was a standout. The skies had dulled slightly from blazing to pastel blue, but this took nothing away from the green grandeur of the place. The park was a vast expanse of verdant lawn, and if I'd had a three wood I would have happily tried to whack a golf ball straight down this magnificent fairway (how do you say "fore" in French?). As it was, we all settled for sitting at tables on the verandah ahead of lunch with glasses of delicately firm and sunlight bright Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Premier Cru Champagne and nibbles of deep fried cheese wafers and prosciutto ham. Delightful. Lots of photos got taken. There was a menu being passed around but naturally it was all in French and no one really knew what it all meant. Google Translate was a total saviour and allowed Dear Leader a better idea of what wines on the Crayeres list would be good matches. 

Lenglui Ho Leng hor?
Domaine Les Crayeres bills itself as "an entire estate in the heart of the Champagne area. The Park and terrace were constructed under the supervision of Mme Pommery and continued by daughter Louise. Inaugurated in 1904, it survived WW1 German artillery and WW2 occupation by the British RAF and US Army, though suffered substantial damage. The Castle was restored from 1947 to 1955 and purchased by the Gardinier family in 1980. It comprises a Relais & Chateau hotel, a British style "Winter Garden" Bar, a Brasserie ("Le Jardin") and our venue for lunch the "Le Parc" Gourmet Restaurant. Chef Philippe Mille joined Le Parc in 2010 who got his first Michelin star in 2011 with the second getting awarded the following year. The Hotel features regularly in the top global Travel awards with many wins over the years. 

We repaired inside to a room with three tables for all of us and parked ourselves where we could (there would be no fixed seating for the group throughout the entire trip). 

There was a change of champagne - we now got a 100% Pinot Noir Benoit Lahaye to start, which was all macho bubbles and acidic citrus whack between the cheeks.The balance across all of these and the lowish alcohol was fabulous. 

First out for the food was an amuse bouche of sharply sweet tomatoes, tiny croutons and creme fraiche, and what tasted remarkably like ketchup (surely not in a 2 star Michelin?). It made for a good salt and spritzy blitz across tongue and cheek, though this all threatened to kill the tongue when sipped with the fizz.

The  next out Terrine de Foie Gras was solidly firm in texture with a good bite through the thing and nicely cold without feeling chilled and frozen. Darn good with the Brioche and a great foil for the Champagne, cutting the acidity to release almond and hazelnut in the mouth. The accompanying crunchy mushroom chutney was very full and earthy, and getting paired with the sweet prune and (what felt like) balsamic vinegar was a brilliant expression of contrasts. But it was the Brioche that brought all these elements into wonderful focus, having that light white smooth and crusted carbo to give foundation to the whole. Most excellent. 

Terrine of Foie Gras - wonderful with Brioche and Butter
The Brioche disappeared fast so I turned to the table bread and butter to finish off the Terrine. Yet again this proved to this peasant that there is no greater match on this planet than good bread, excellent butter and a slab of pate with a glass of wine, and the ambience of the surroundings help to raise the gastronomic heights to which this combination takes me. Lenglui also passed me the remains of her Brioche which I devoured. My notes say "Butter on the FG + Brioche = F**k me." Res ipsa loquitur - the thing speaks for itself. 

Salmon in Butter and Herb Sauce
The service proved supremely efficient with regard to setting and clearing cutlery and plates. All young and well dressed (mostly) men, hugely polite and well versed in knowledge of the hotel and wines. And speaking English. No more need for Google Translate. Maybe. And the choreography of both food and wine service was excellent - all wines were poured ahead of the food which came out hot and on to the tables across all tables in less than three minutes. Fantastic. And never was a glass left empty - felt totally wine sated at the end. 

The Smokey Brown Quail - yum
Our white for lunch was a 2009 Chablis 1er Cru from Domaine Francois Raveneau. Bit of a stinky nose at first, but o what a taste of heaven after a little while in the glass and decanter. Tropical soft fruits with banana and melon, nose like a breath of Maltese spring air with notes of acacia honey and walnut, and liquid honey to finish. As said, time in the glass enlarged the mouthfeel - big, big wine. My note says "ho chiak" which is Chinese for "outstanding". Dam straight - one excellent glass of wine.

Ambience at Le Parc Des Crayeres
It was being matched with poached and lightly salted Salmon and lightly fried macedoine of what felt like carrot and celery and chopped cabbage. The salmon was melt in the mouth texture yet retaining fantastic taste and wonderful in its creamy butter parsley sauce. There was also a sprinkling of croutons on the macedoine which was oily salt carbo genius against the soft vegetal crunch. The combo was superb - perfect poached salmon and salt parsley sauce against (possibly) duck fat saute confit of vegetable and garlic croutons. Total crackerjack of a dish. 

2009 Domaine Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru
Great choice of a wine to pair. Lot of both delicate and large tastes in the dish which needed quite a versatile wine. The Chablis was brilliant - big enough to tame the sauces yet broad enough to allow lots of lighter notes to shine against the fish. To repeat - most excellent. 

Bread and Orchids. And Ice Bucket. Empty.
Next wine up was a 1999 Volnay from Domaine Michel Lafarge. The label said "Vendange Selectionnes"  - selected grapes - so one would expect a cut above the Village. And indeed it was - smoky, vibrant, intense and powerful. Dark forest fruit, plum, and conspicuous by the absence of any cherry on the nose. Forward tannins, chewy cherries in the mouth, nice integration between fruit and tannins. Long finish and a fabulous drop of deepest masculine Burgundy. 

Winston and The Money
It was being paired with quail which (my notes say) had been done sous vide (so as to retain those intense and rich smoky brown flavours of the bird) and then I guess lightly seared for the crispy skin. Result was a total smoke bomb of taste and succulence in the mouth. The bird itself was firm and well seasoned and stood up well to the smack and whack that was the Volnay. Actually, the Volnay would have stood up to a curried mutton or a charging bull - darn powerful this boy…  There was garlic mash and more vegetables with the dish but these got left untasted - we were pretty full by this time. 

Lenglui had opted for the alternate pork dish, of which I had a taste from The Money. It was stunning - wonderfully prepared and seasoned meat, and with amazing taste and texture. Hugely intense pork flavours, lightly enough seasoned and with an amazing gravy. Total match with the Volnay which loosened up a bit to let silky and sleek textures come through. Stellar, stellar, stellar, stellar - my food and wine match of the year. 

Light and fluffy Souffle
Out came some delicately cut cheeses in a whipped creme fraiche kind of gunk ahead of dessert. It tasted okay, but came across as a bit of a stomach churner after all the previous - milky goo can be a gas bomb to the mildly lactic intolerant so regrettably it went uneaten. 

Li Dong and Lenglui chomping on the Minardises
Dear Leader had ordered a fourth wine, which the label named a 2013 Remy Bouzy Rouge. This was all fresh light wild cherries, both on the nose and in the mouth. More New Zealand in structure - lean, taut, nicely integrated acidity and tannin, though leaning toward the austere and perhaps not enough fruit to make it for the long term. It was a total contrast to the Volnay, kind of Old School v New School. Put me in mind of a front row Rugby player - powerful, forceful, take no prisoners. There's power and intensity in the Remy, but was not immediately clear what food would pair well. Beef, probably - default for all Burgundy. 

Lengjai chomping on the, er, Minardises
The finale was the Souffle and - wow. So much going on in this thing. Got air, light texture, hot and cold, crispy apples, sweet and sharp sour, mint. All sitting in a perspex bowl of hot water which kept the thing nicely hot. It came with Valrhona chocolate sprinkled with Ginger sugar which was inspired and brought out the deep cocoa - magnificent. There were some crunchy bits which gave necessary texture to the chocolate, though the wafer was a bit snuzz and forgettable.

Le Booze. C'etait magnifique. Oui.
Outside of my nit picky little digs, this was an unforgettable lunch - food and wine and ambience and service. Great wine matching by Dear Leader. That is the beauty of these group trips - the pooling of the funds help all of us try wines that would normally be out of reach to most. Absolutely delightful. Would happily come back but need to close your eyes to the bill. We didn't see it but would have even if we had. 

Le Parc Les Crayeres Lunch Menu
Terrine de Foie Gras en gelee de ratafia de Champagne Chutney de girolles et prune en aigre douce

Saumon confitaux agrumes, Choux vert au poivre Timut

Supremes de caille de Pel et Der en robe de fleur de courgette
Pommes fondantes et courgettes

Chaource foisonné a l'huile de noisette
Coulis de cresson, des de brioches craquantes

Souffle chaud a la pomme
Sorbet Granny Smith

Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Premier Cru Champagne
Benoit Lahaye Champagne NV
2009 Chablis 1er Cru Domaine Francois Raveneau
1999 Volnay Domaine Michel Lafarge
2013 Remy Bouzy Rouge

Lenglui and Li Dong in the Parc

Sze Wan, Jaya, Rajan and the distracted Stephanie on the Verandah

Tony and Vanessa

Li Dong and Lydia

Lenglui with flowers and Champagne
Back on the bus to digest lunch in the hotel room ahead of a revision to the schedule and dinner in a local Reims brasserie legend rather than a trek out to Epernay. Which made sense - why trek out and back to somewhere when good and solid were on the doorstep? We lazed and rested and watched news and football on the TV. 

What booze, boss? Perusing the Wine List at Brasserie Flo
The bus drive to the Flo Brasserie took about five minutes and we got dropped and led to an upstairs room and long table. Flo Brasserie is one of the older and leading eateries in town and seems to make the lists of Tripadvisor and all the other "where to eat" webbies. This marketing clearly works - the downstairs was packed and the upstairs also, with our group sharing the room with one other table of six. 

Les Escargots
The deal was that we could go for either the Brasserie Menu (two dishes for Euro28.50) or the Flo Menu (three for Euro35.50).  Since we were all a bit stuffed, we went for the Brasserie and figured to share. Choices for first starters were Duck Foie Gras, Snails in Chablis, Onion Soup with goat's cheese or Oysters. Choices for second mains were Charolais Beef tartare, Griddled Salmon with vegetables, Roasted Guinea Fowl and Hanger Steak with chips. No one went for dessert. Lenglui did the snails and the beef while I tried the soup. 

Les Huitres - yumyum
There was some champagne going round at the start, though I have no note as to what it was. Half a memory of it being the Veuve Cliquot. Certainly one of the standards. Water was in plentiful supply and I was chugging big-time on the Evian avec le Gas to try and stimulate the reserves that were ballooning inside the intestines. Phooo…. lot of bloat. It was also quite stuffy in the room so the big bay window was necessarily opened to let in a good flow of cold evening air. Problem was, yours truly was sitting directly in the draught this created with the door through which the food and service had to come. Can't win sometimes, eh?

Hangar Steak in the Gravy Sea
Given most of us were having the beef, Dear Leader suggested the 2010 Chateau Montus as a good firm red to match the beef. This is an 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon offering from a winemaker by name of Brumont from the South West of France. We don't see much Tannat over here, though it is quitee popular as both a varietal and blending grape in Uruguay and Argentina. It was not quite as muscular as a Bordeaux though still with sufficient oomph to tackle the somewhat overtenderised and large chunk of steak that was swimming upstream against the sea of gravy on the plate. 

David, Pitt Lee and Suzuki
To be frank, the Flo felt a bit… ordinary.  But coming on the back of lunch at Le Parc Les Crayeres anywhere would probably feel ordinary given the calibre of the place. Always a context, eh? But it was the same with the food and the wines - solid, but ordinary. Getting very particular by the look of things. And people seemed to be leaving a lot of the food on the plates this evening - either the portions are quite large or the stomach cannot take the continual stream of food and wine that it seems to be getting force fed. I got the Fatty Liver Blues.

Jaya and Sze Wan
After dinner, some people sensibly walked back to the hotel to take some night photos and walk off dinner - we took the bus and the remainder of the night seemed to refute the finding of the previous evening as to the effect of Champagne on the McIntyre system. Positively trombones in the ether. Guess this makes it official. Yes. 

Vranken Pommery
5 Place du Général Gouraud, 
51100 Reims, France 
Tel: +33 3 26 61 62 63 

Le Parc Des Crayeres
64 Boulevard Henry Vasnier, 
51100 Reims, France
Tel: +33 3 26 24 90 00 

Brasserie Flo
96 Place Drouet d'Erlon, 
51100 Reims, France

Phone: +33 3 26 91 40 50


1 comment:

  1. Gods man, you are getting long-winded ;)

    Another very good read, sir, thank you. I have not been to Les Crayeres, but enjoyed Mille's food very much when he visited Singapore a couple of years back.

    It's a shame you couldn't check out my wife's favourite restaurant in the whole world, the Assiette Champenoise in Tinqueux, now a three star Michelin. I would have loved an update of how they have been doing since the promotion a couple of years back.