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Posts tagged ‘Champagne’

All Aboard the Wes Anderson express – the film director’s reimagined carriage on the Orient Express sister train

Wes Anderson aboard his reimagined Cygnus carriage

As I sit at a white clothed table, take a sip of wine from a cut glass goblet and watch the countryside roll by through the train window, I feel as if I could be in a Wes Anderson film. Not just because trains are a recurring fixture in Anderson’s productions but because the carriage I’m travelling on has been revamped by the movie director himself. 

Paris-based Anderson dislikes flying and is a regular on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express so Belmond asked him to redesign a carriage on sister train, the British Pullman, which every year takes one of its vintage carriages out of service for a refresh, a spokeswoman for the luxury travel company tells me. 

The British Pullman loops through the English countryside

From the exterior, Cygnus (all the carriages have names rather than letters) looks the same as the rest of the coffee and cream coloured train waiting at London’s Victoria station. I had been greeted aboard that morning by a friendly, white-gloved steward and shown to my upholstered seat where canapes were waiting on the table and a flute of champagne swiftly poured.

“Are you a fan of Wes Anderson?” the steward asks. I reply that I am. But I am also an Agatha Christie and art deco fan and having been on the train a few times, including this very carriage, I’m curious to see the changes.

The walnut walls and overhead brass luggage racks have been kept intact to which Anderson has added his own touches. He’s brought in angular seating in place of the oversized upholstered armchairs; replaced the traditional, shaded lights with sleek art deco style lamps and the furnishings now all feature geometric prints.

Wes Anderson reimagined carriage with pink ceiling

What catches my eye the most though is the ceiling painted a divine pink. This sugary shade is one of the director’s signatures and it occurs to me that the green and pink colour scheme of the carriage is the same as showstopper pastry from Mendl’s bakery in The Grand Budapest Hotel as well as the main character’s costumes in Moonrise Kingdom.  

Since cygnus means swan, Anderson has played on the waterfowl theme from the marquetry on the walls to the shape of the champagne coolers in the private coupes – like all the British Pullman carriages Cygnus has two private compartments, seating up to four people, at either end. 

Tiny swan in the marquetry
Cygnus private compartment

Unlike the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the British Pullman has no sleeper cars, it is entirely made up of restaurant carriages and so offers day trips from London to various destinations in England and Wales. The inaugural journey for the revamped Cygnus was fittingly to the Welsh capital, Cardiff – Anderson’s middle name is Wales. Upcoming trips next year include Bath, Oxford and Blenheim Palace. I have chosen The Golden Age of Travel which involves a five course lunch onboard while looping through the Kent countryside.

From the tiny kitchen the chef and his team create impressive dishes including duck terrine, roast pumpkin soup, wild sea bass and pineapple upside down cake. The menu is served at a leisurely pace and perfectly timed to be spread out throughout the five hour journey. And all the staff are unfailingly personable and attentive.

Anderson has chosen the tableware for Cygnus, a modern bone china by Royal College of Art graduate, William Edwards who also works with hotels including the Four Seasons, Fairmont and Intercontinental. And the pattern itself – continuing the carriage’s green theme – was designed in collaboration with the owner of Cobblers Cove, Barbados.

Wes Anderson chose the William Edwards china

Like the VSOE, the Pullman is made up of salvaged vintage carriages from the 1920s and 30s. Cygnus was built as a “first class parlour” that was frequented by heads of state. During a break between the main course and cheese, I take a walk through to see some of the other cars. There’s Audrey where the marquetry depicts landscape scenes and Lucille where the inlays feature Greek urns. All the cars are filled with the sound of chatter and laughter. Belmond encourages passengers to dress up and most have which adds to the merriment.

Back in my seat the view turns to farmland with a smattering of oast houses with their distinctive cone shaped roofs that were traditionally used to dry hops. Further on, a glimpse of the sea and the beach huts at Whitstable signal that the train is looping back towards London.

We’re on coffee and chocolate truffles as we edge towards the capital. One last party comes to take a look at “the Wes Anderson carriage”. A train manager catches my eye as we hear the latest proclamations of “Oh wow!” With a smile he says: “Everyone is very jealous of you travelling in this carriage.”

For pricing and to book see: https://www.belmond.com/trains/europe/uk/belmond-british-pullman/

Krug puts the Fun into Fungi with champagne and mushroom trail

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Krug x Mushroom dish at Jaan

Krug has launched an exclusive champagne and mushroom tasting trail across top restaurants in Singapore from now until September 30th as part of its latest single ingredient showcase. Chefs at five eateries in the city have created mushroom focused dishes designed to pair perfectly with Krug Grand Cuvee, a champagne blended from over 120 wines from more than 10 different years and aged for a further 15.

“We want to show the individual character of the champagne,” Moet Hennessy brand manager Lucie Pugnot says of the collaboration which sees Krug select one ingredient for chefs to work with. “The first year we chose the simple potato, then last year the humble egg. This year we chose the mushroom which is also familiar but multifaceted.”

The beauty of this fascinating fungi is that it comes in many varieties, including the luxurious truffle, with some types only available in certain months. So the Krug mushroom dishes may evolve according to what produce is available on the day.

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Chef Kirk Westaway at Jaan

“The mushrooms keep changing throughout the year and we are all about what’s in season in Europe, particularly in France and the UK,” says Kirk Westaway, head chef at Jaan. So while we sampled the very last morels of the season in his exquisite langoustine with Hollandaise sauce course, this month the dish will segue into grey and blue chanterelles. It’s part of a six course menu matched with three types of Krug champagne including the Grand Cuvee.

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Krug x Mushroom dish at the Tippling Club

Similarly at Tippling Club, chef owner Ryan Clift has moved on to girolles sourced from a small farm near Lyon in France along with black truffles as part of a six course menu. “I like to lightly sautee the girolles in butter and add salt at the end,” he says. “Mushrooms should never be seasoned until the last minute – if you add salt at the beginning you draw out the moisture and lose the caramelisation.” A surprisingly delicious component on the plate is a cocks comb which has been confited and pan fried to crispy perfection.

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Chef Ryan Clift at the Tippling Club

At the fine dining Song of India restaurant Manjunath Mural is presenting a platter for two people including a tandoori chargrilled portobello mushroom stuffed with Roquefort cheese and spiced with two types of cardamom, chilli and a tamarind foam, matched with a half bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee. “The cheese pairs well with the champagne and I think Indian spices also go very well with it,” says Mural and we have to agree.

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Krug x Mushroom dish at Song of India

“We have a lot of very good mushrooms in Japan,” says Hashida Sushi’s Chef Hatch who is originally from Tokyo. “I chose the shitake because it is juicy and has good flavour.” The chef has cleverly transformed the four day fermented mushrooms into an ice cream served with tempura vegetables in a stunning mix of hot and cold on the same plate. The Shitake Ice Cream comes as part of an omasake menu and vegetables featured in the tempura will change according to produce available.

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Krug x Mushroom dish at Hashida Sushi

At Atlas you can enjoy a glass or bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee with a gourmet snack befitting its gorgeous bar area. “As an Italian, when I was growing up mushrooms to me meant porcini,” says executive chef Daniele Sperindio. As such he has used porcinis to make a rice “bark” crisp and as the basis of a “Mont Blanc” paste topping along with blue foot mushrooms from France and Singaporean king oyster mushrooms. The result is a striking and richly flavourful canape.

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Krug x Mushroom dish at Atlas

An added amusement, and unique to the Lion City, is that diners can collect stamps for a Forest to Fork “passport” after they sample the dishes at each restaurant. Krug lovers probably don’t need any incentive to try the entire trail but even so the first 10 people to collect three stamps stand to win a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee Edition 163 and for all five stamps, the first five win a magnum.

 

The Original Champagne Charlie

Some 30 metres beneath the streets of Reims lies a labyrinth of chalk cellars housing millions of bottles of champagne. These ‘crayeres’ – limestone mines originally dug in the 4th century purely for materials – form a natural habitat for storing the French fizz. The caves’ temperature, humidity and tranquility are perfect for holding the bottles while the wine undergoes the secondary fermentation that will turn it into champagne.

Heidsieck, the champagne house that landed on the map when founder Florens-Louis Heidsieck presented his wine to Queen Marie-Antoinette, owns 47 of these chalk pits. Unlike some of the neighbouring champagne houses that own chalk cellars, Heidsieck is not open to the public, so the crayeres have a gentle, ethereal quality, enhanced by the ‘cathedral’ style in which the caves have been dug out.

HEIDSIECK caves.pngEvery corner turned reveals another enticing stack of bottles and magnums. At any one time there are 20 million vessels of champagne stored here. While the legal minimum period for second fermentation is 15 months, Piper-Heidsieck bottles are stored in the crayeres for at least 24 months and its more expensive Charles Heidsieck label (created by a descendant of Florien, nicknamed Champagne Charlie by the Americans) for a minimum of 36 months. Wine maker Regis Camus believes this allows the fruit and body of the pinot noir to fully develop in the blend.

Maison Piper-Hiedsieck is unique in that it has two labels produced by one winery and one wine maker: the award-winning Régis Camus. As the vinification process for both is the same, the different identities (crisp and citrusy for Piper, richer and fruitier for Charles) come through the blending. Which is where Régis’s skill really comes in.

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The Heidsieck’s winery, a paean to gleaming stainless steel a few minutes outside Reims, is where the blends are created. Shiny vats contains the grapes harvested from one of 200 villages in Champagne that supply the Heidsieck house. Each village grows either pinot noir, pinot meunier or chardonnay grapes, the three varieties – two red, one white – that go into making champagne. Camus explains, “When we build the blend, pinot noir will be the structure, pinot meunier will be the cement and chardonnay the decoration.”

He and his team taste between 20 and 30 of these still wines every day. He can tell which wine is destined to be a ‘Piper’ and which a ‘Charles’ and which has the potential to make a vintage. And he is not making the decision based on how the wine tastes that day, but how he predicts it will taste in the future. “It’s like a teacher taking care of four-year-olds. After a few weeks you have an idea of who is going to be creative, who will be good at maths…” he laughs. Although he does concede when pressed, “It’s the heart of the job and the most difficult skill to pass on to someone else.”

PIPER-CHARLES 07_950.jpgUnusually, and driven by Camus, Heidsieck places a big focus on its regular brut rather than the star attraction vintages. “In my view a champagne house should be judged on the style and consistency of its non vintage,” Camus says. “It is quite easy to produce a good vintage with superb wines, but much more difficult to produce a consistent style in each bottle of non vintage every year.”

Especially tricky when dealing with the nerve-testing wine-growing conditions of the Champagne region. With weather that can involve frost, relentless rain or scorching sun – all of which can ruin the grape crop – having a good year is in the lap of the gods. “People in Champagne pray to St Vincent – patron saint of winegrowers!” smiles Camus. To pre-empt poor harvests, champagne houses need to keep a good amount of wine from their best years. “When you have a lean year you need to beef the wines up. The only way to do that is to use reserve wines,” says Régis. “We have a very large and rich collection of reserve wines which enables us to feel calm in meagre years.”

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[UPDATE This article was first published in 2010. In 2011 Thierry Roset replaced Regis Camus as Chef de Cave for Charles Heidsieck so that Regis could focus full time on Piper-Heidsieck.]

The best champagne for a sparkling Christmas

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Some 30 metres beneath the streets of Reims lies a labyrinth of chalk cellars housing millions of bottles of champagne. These ‘crayeres’ – limestone mines originally dug in the 4th century purely for materials – form a natural habitat for storing the French fizz. The caves’ temperature, humidity and tranquility are perfect for holding the bottles while the wine undergoes the secondary fermentation that will turn it into champagne.

Piper-Heidsieck, the champagne house that landed on the map when founder Florens-Louis Heidsieck presented his wine to Queen Marie-Antoinette, owns 47 of these chalk pits. Unlike some of the neighbouring champagne houses that own chalk cellars, Heidsieck is not open to the public, so the crayeres have a gentle, ethereal quality, enhanced by the ‘cathedral’ style in which the caves have been dug out.

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Happy New Year!

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Wishing a safe, peaceful and happy New Year to my fellow travellers, love Thomas bear from BA’s Concorde Room with a glass of LP.

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