Even if, like me, you have been wise/lucky enough to make your hobby your job and therefore spend most of your time talking about something you feel passionate about for a living, there is no doubt that some days are simply better than others.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a perfect example of one such day – our Director Dave, our Queen of Reserves Niki and I were very kindly invited to travel down to Highgate, London and join another 13 lucky so-and-sos from the trade in experiencing the new concept cooked up by the LVMH marketing bods’ fertile minds: The Krug Institute of Happiness. (I know, I know, you probably already hate us. However, do read on, it gets better!) .
Inspired by the discovery of a document dating from the very early days of the Champagne House and showing Joseph Krug’s ideal that his wines should provide pleasure and joy to those who drink them, the Institute of Happiness is the attempt to provide guests with a complete experience where every sensorial aspect contributes to creating a higher level of contentment. A few days before the K-day, we were sent questionnaires asking what our favourite film, music or sweets were – needless to say this was enough to sharpen our curiosity and we couldn’t wait to get there.
Michelin-starred Viajante’s chef Nuño Mendes, one of the pioneers of the pop-up restaurant concept, was the gifted artist preparing the food for this fantastic lunch, and his concoctions were indeed happiness-inducing and a great pleasure to eat .
The tone was set as soon as we arrived. On a cold but gloriously sunny winter day, we arrived at one of the most impressive private homes in London, a Grand-Designs-like concrete and glass affair bathed in light and overlooking Highgate cemetery with Waterlow park on one side and Hampstead Heath not far off in the other direction. Greeted and ushered upstairs to the kitchen, we found ourselves a glass of champagne in hand standing on the balcony in the sun and watching calm and affable Nuño whilst he prepared some of the most thought-inspiring and delicious canapés we ever tasted– ice cream on a crispy chicken skin (much better than it sounds with an amazing depth and length of flavour) or Black olive cake with yeast and crushed potatoes were two of the best. Krug Grande Cuvée was free-flowing from magnums and this played no small part in the rapidly rising levels of happiness in us.
An hour and one more set of stairs later and we were in the dining room, sitting at long, convivial tables with a hugely talented pianist playing inspired versions of all our favourite songs in the background while we started on the starter of Cured Lobster, Spring Onion and Consommé with Spruce bark accompanied by Krug 1998. This is the second time I have had Krug 1998 in the last few weeks (sickening, isn’t it?) and I must say I am hugely impressed with how well it is drinking at the moment. Full bodied, rich, creamy with hints of honey, marzipan and truffe to name but a few flavours, it is stunning. The lobster was one of the most delicate yet flavoursome seafood I ever tasted and the Spruce bark infused snowflakes were fabulously fresh, somewhat nutty and utterly different.
The fish course of Halibut with seaweed sofrito and seafood rice broth matched by Krug 2000 was a study in Umami taste and complementary textures. Krug 2000 is a voluminous, round champagne with a dominant citrus flavour – I expect this is only at the start of its drinking life and that it would benefit from a couple more years in bottle, but the match was just great.
Moving on to the meat course and the Aged pigeon buried under fallen autumn leaves with Krug Rosé. In my personal and professional life, I have long been an advocate of Rosé champagnes with meatier birds, and ever the typical Frenchman, I was glad to be proven right here. The gamey flavour of the pigeon matched the savoury, sparkling Grand-Cru Red Burgundy style of the Krug Rosé, and the various thins or “fallen Autumn Leaves” brought in a great texture to the dish.
As my colleague Niki commented on the attention to detail – one of the waiters had just noticed she had the sun in her eyes and promptly planted himself on the balcony with an umbrella to shelter her so she could be more comfortable, our Pianist asked for a few minutes of attention as he played a medley of songs he had arranged so the whole would be greater than the sum of its part, much in the style of Krug’s master blender concocting his Grande Cuvée. The raw energy and musicality of young Stephen Ridley were outstanding and we were all blown away by the performance.
Finally, the dessert arrived and with it we were back on Krug’s flagship wine, the Grande Cuvée. Milk. “A return to the beginning, happy memories of home! Beautifully simple and fresh yet once again showing Nuño’s amazing touch when it comes to delicate flavours and textures, this was incredibly satisfying. The chocolate truffles that accompanied the coffee weren’t bad either! But sadly it was time to get back to real life and leave the world of Krug for our perhaps more mundane existences.
From this absolutely fabulous afternoon I take away a few things: first of all, the elegance of Nuño’s cooking. Flavours are never intrusive and don’t “explode” but instead they just perdure and stay with you for an impressive amount of time. This delicacy and length are probably consequences of much of the main ingredients being cured rather than cooked. All the dishes were beautiful and the constant attention to textures made them vastly satisfying and rewarding. Second of all, the absolutely amazing ability of all Krug’s wines to marry food, and how complex and simply delicious they are. Krug 1998 is drinking absolutely perfectly right now, but my feeling that I shan’t refuse a glass of Krug in this lifetime was greatly reinforced.I guess if one HAD to find something to moan about, a flaw to the afternoon, it could only be the fact that we are now all spoilt and would be only too happy to drink nothing but Krug for the rest of our days. That, alas is unlikely to happen any time soon, but our hosts can hardly be blamed for this!
Niki Clarke, Customer Reserves manager: “the whole day was very surreal and left me a bit speechless. The Rosé was a knockout and something to savour. The Institute of happiness did not disappoint in any way!”
Dave Smith, Lay & Wheeler Director:“For me the venue, lobster and Krug 98 were the stars. I feel a little guilty not to include the amazingly talented pianist but somebody’s got to lose!”