New Year at Kitchen Table

New Year, the most challenging of yearly holidays. Expectations are great, but the execution seldom a success. Restaurants are packed, serving only pre-determined (expensive) menus, queues are a killer, and there is always someone who gets too drunk (if not from your party, then from the table next to you). So I have “skipped” New Year quite many times and not put too much expectations on the whole thing. Its always the expectations versus the experience that spoils it for me. Why do we expect so much from New Year?

This year, we however had some great plans. We had our trip to London booked, and one of our favorite restaurants, Kitchen Table, organised a special dinner for New Years eve. Yes, it was “expensive” but that was unavoidable that evening in a city like London. With Kitchen Table we knew it would be a well arranged event; a dinner with drinks and champagne in a small intimate group. After a “catastrophe” New Years dinner a few years back, when we had to hold on to our (unfinished) plates at a restaurant in San Francisco (they wanted to squeeze in as many seatings as possible), we wanted to make sure no one would try to usher us out before we had raised a New Years toast. And yes sir, the event was wonderful! It was the type of dinner you talk about for weeks before and after; and fast all day to avoid food-coma.

As I mentioned in the last Wineweek, Kitchen Table is a fine dining restaurant in the backroom of Bubbledogs, a unique concept restaurant in London serving gourmet hot dogs and grower champagnes. Kitchen Table has only 19 seats at the bar surrounding the kitchen. So you are watching the chefs at work while you eat. You can also chat and ask questions to the chefs (now and then, as not to disturb their work too much). The restaurant(s) were founded by James Knappett and his sommelier wife, Sandia Chang. James and Sandia both have impressive CVs working with world known chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller (Per Se) and Rene Redzepi (Noma). James and Sandia can both be found working at the restaurant every day (the restaurant is open), so you really get a good picture on how they have built their success. Last Year Kitchen Table got its first star, and I can say from experience that they really deserve it.

So what did we have for dinner then? 14 courses of bliss. For example: Fresh oysters with horseradish; mushroom cracker with olive; oven roasted chicken skin with mascarpone and bacon jam (Mmm…bacon); cauliflower with curry and peanuts; salted, oven baked beetroot with Creme Fraiche and lemon; pasta with white truffle, hazelnut cream and pumpkin; sourdough bread with roasted aubergine. For dessert we had chocolate praline with licorice ice cream and frozen grated beetroot; vanilla fudge with white truffle and pear with sorrel granite and yogurt. And the list goes on, we were literally stuffed (and very happy) after eating all that food. This was actually the third time we were at Kitchen table, and even though every time has been great, this time we thought that all the courses were equally great (as opposed to last time some being great and some only good).

As one of would expect the drinks there are also good. The welcome cocktail was however a slight disappointment, a fairly ‘ordinary’ cocktail and I would have preferred a welcome glass of Champagne. We did remedy that when seated by ordering a bottle. We first opted for the Savart Premier Cru but Sandia informed us that we would be served that at midnight so a quick change and we instead went for the Eric Rodez Cuvee Des Crayeres. Eric Rodez has a background working at Krug so good knowledge of making champagnes from there. This cuvee, an equal mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is one of his basic ones and to be honest I was a bit disappointed. The color was promising, pale yellow-goldish. The nose was fresh with orange and notes of buttered toast, and a bit floral. The flavor was fresh with hints of fresh figs and citrus. The finish was however a bit short. Not a bad champagne but still not as good as I have come to expect at Kitchen Table. At midnight we had the Savart Premier Cru – this was a really pleasant surprise. Lovely nose with apples and mineral in it. The wine had a very high acidity and clear fruit in the flavor. The freshness was almost overwhelming but really a great champagne that I am eager to try more of and also other cuvees from Savart are on the list of things to try.

All in all, a wonderful New Year, the best in a long time (maybe ever). Definitely worth the investment, late night and slight hangover the next day.

An Evening of Bubbles

It is not a secret that I love sparkling wines (or in that case one of the worlds worst kept ones). Champagne, Cava, Cremant; I love them all (when they are well made). Why am I not mentioning Prosecco? Well it’s just not my style, but I am not saying it cant be a great experience for someone who is fond of fresh and fruity wines. To celebrate New Year’s eve, I thought about sharing some thoughts from an article I read in a Swedish newspaper: tips for drinking Champagne and how to pair a three-four course meal with only bubbly. What a wonderful concept! Why restrict your Champagne only to an aperitif when you can enjoy with every course of your meal.

The article was written as an interview of Richard Julin, the most known Champagne critic in Sweden. While I do not always agree with Richard, I do think he is a very interesting personality, and the person to follow if you are interested in Champagnes. He has an amazing sense of smell, some say it is even scary. In 2003 he attended an event in Paris where participants had to guess 50 different Champagnes (producer and vintage) just from their smell. He placed 43 (out of 50) and the second best, the Sommelier world champion, placed only 4. He has also been featured on Norwegian TV sniffing people blindfolded to guess their age, gender and country of origin. Creepy, but he actually was able to recognize a pregnant 43 year old German woman almost to the detail. Richard is said to have a “photographic memory” of scents. If he has once smelled a wine, he can remember it. He is a Champagne fundamentalist; a man of the opinion that even the worst Champagne is better than the best “other” sparkling wine in the world. Here is where I disagree with Richard, but moving on, he had some wonderful tips for New Year and I would like to share them with you!

1. You should have a right glass when drinking champagne. Tulip shaped.

2. Don’t drink the champagne too cold. If you have had it in the ice bucket, its too chilled. Take the champagne from the fridge, wait 5 minutes, then pour. Its better to pour a little bit at a time and refill to make sure the champagne does not get too warm in the glass.

3. When it comes to food, Champagne goes well with food that has salt, fat and acidity. Avoid bitterness, sweetness and spiciness in foods and if using vegetables pre-cook them instead of having them raw.

Richard has also some interesting concrete suggestions. For example Pata Negra is a creamy and salty ham that fits well with the acidity of champagne. For a main: truffle ravioli with safran sauce; and for dessert cheese (instead of something sweet).

He ends the interview with stating that one gets a nicer drunk feeling from Champagne because it is pure. I am not sure if one should take this last sentence seriously (I think he is actually joking), but I do agree that Champagne is a great drink for all occasions (and all courses of the meal). Perhaps I will go with his suggestion and ask the Sommelier tonight to match my dinner with a flight of Champagne. And there is no better place for that than Kitchen Table, a restaurant in London that specializes in growers Champagne.