Sunday, 8 January 2012

Laurent-Perrier dinner at The Greenhouse

Forgive me, dear reader, for being too late off the mark to inform you of the glittering offer Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant The Greenhouse and Champagne house Laurent-Perrier devised for the festive season. The best I can do is recount the experience and hope they have a repeat performance in 2012. In December, The Greenhouse ran a bespoke five-course menu, with each dish matched by its flavour profile to a different Laurent-Perrier Champagne.

Invited to try the menu for size, I seized the opportunity, stumbling upon the restaurant's Zen-like wooden decking festooned with climbing plants almost by chance. Navigating its verdant path, I felt instantly transported from the stresses of city life. And once within its warm clutches, glass of Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut in hand, any worries I may have been harbouring dissolved with the first sip. Launched in 1889 – the year the Eiffel Tower was completed, the super dry Champagne has become a favourite with super models due to its zero sugar count. Guided into the round, glass-fronted, private dining room filled with a sprinkling of bright-eyed fellow food and wine bloggers, we were welcomed by L-P UK's managing director David Hesketh MW, who regaled us with a brief history of the house.

Like the famed widow Clicquot, Veuve Laurent-Perrier ran the Champagne house for many years, with the Veuve only being dropped from the Laurent-Perrier name in the '60s. Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt bought the house on the eve of the World War II in 1939, and continued to produce still wine during the war years, but production had dropped dramatically from 600,000 bottles to just 12,000 before the war. Mid story, we were invited to try an amuse bouche of warm hens egg with cobb nuts, which surprised and delighted in equal measure. Deconstructed into a creamy foam with the yolk at the bottom, the crunchy cobb nuts brought texture, and the foam richness. With this playful dish, head chef Antonin Bonnet was firmly flexing his culinary muscles, whetting our appetites for the courses that followed.

Continuing with the tightly-woven Ultra Brut, we were presented with an exquisite, ethereal plate of apple cider marinated mackerel with a dusting of powdery horseradish snow and pickled radish, which rested on the fish like a dislodged cornea. The potent flavour of fish was assuaged by bites of the cold snow and crunchy radish, culminating in an elegant whole. Mackerel devoured, we moved swiftly on to a glass of the acclaimed 2002 vintage, Champagne's best in decades. A lovely expression of the vintage, it showed toasty notes of biscuit, butter and brioche, with a smooth and rounded palate. To match, was a plump slice of swan white Atlantic cod served with leek fondu and smoked potato in a Champagne and yuzu sauce, which, though expertly cooked, failed to enchant like the previous dish.

Adding to the theatre of the evening, our next Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle – named after the reign of the "Sun King" Louis XIV, was ceremoniously poured from a gleaming silver aiguière cradle. Housed in a jet-black bottle in L-P's signature 17th century shape, the house's prestige cuvée is a 50:50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend of multiple vintages – on this occasion '96, '97 and '99. More like a still wine than a sparkler, it displayed aromas of honey, hazelnuts and almonds, its character complex, refined and multi-layered. Harmonizing with rather than overpowering the wine was a serving of meaty Scottish lobster, its spine seemingly brushed with red paint. Swimming in the creamy lobster bisque were delicious discs of earthy cep ravioli and a solitary chicken oyster.

We then moved to the sweet end of the flavour spectrum with a zingy pre-dessert of pineapple sorbet and coconut foam, which recalled a Piña Colada cocktail in food form. Making for possibly the most harmonious pairing of the evening, the tropical pudding was matched with Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec, an off-dry style steadily creeping back into fashion, the softness of its slightly sweet palate serving as a reminder of pleasures past. With 40g of sugar per litre, this sweeter style is not to my taste, but it paired undeniably well with the sugary sorbet.

The final flourish came in the form of an exquisitely crafted rhubarb and apple millefeuille served with a teardrop-shaped scoop of pear sorbet. Resting under a white chocolate shard glinting with a fleck of edible gold paper, tiny balls of apple took the top bunk to the pink rhubarb's bottom, separated by a paper-thin layer of crisp, crunchy pastry. The intense tang of the sour rhubarb was softened by the Milkybar-like layer of creamy white chocolate. To pair, we were treated to the houses's signature wine and Victoria Beckham's Champagne of choice – Laurent-Perrier Rosé, which showed delightful notes of summer fruits, from redcurrants to raspberries. Feminine and yet full bodied, L-P Rosé more than merits its elevated reputation.

Before we made our way into the cold London night, we were offered a selection of petit fours, including an especially cheeky chocolate shaped like a perfectly pert breast with a gold nipple. It was great to see Antonin having fun on the plate, and proving that Michelin-starred restaurants are allowed (and should be encouraged) to have a sense of humour. Injecting Asian influences into classic French fare, dishes at The Greenhouse are painstakingly thought out and artistically executed. The fact that I didn't even register I was drinking Champagne throughout the meal rather than still red or white wine is testament to the triumph of the pairings and proof that sparkling wine can be the thread upon which a whole meal is spun.

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