Pub crawl? pfft! How about a Champagne Crawl instead?
London has the longest champagne bar in the world, situated in St. Pancras Station. Searcy’s runs the bar in St. Pancras but it’s not the only champagne bar they have, they also have a series of champagne bars across the capital, in such diverse locations as train stations, upscale malls and even across the street from St. Paul’s cathedral.
I was invited to partake in a champagne crawl one early summer evening and happily, it wasn’t raining, although if it had been, we probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway, the champagne was flowing. Searcy’s wanted to show off their rather chic bars as well as the great champagnes they offer. Who says champagne should just be for special occasions? We started out crawl at The Village in Westfield Mall in West London. The Village is full of shops like Prada, Gucci and Dior, I mean who doesn’t need a glass of champagne after that kind of credit card workout?
The Searcy’s in Westfield is curved around the foot of the escalators and to start off our evening we had a Ruinart blanc de blanc aroma profile game to play. I had been to the launch of the Ruinart aroma box back in March so I tried not to participate but it was a fun experiment to do again, this time I didn’t do so well but it had already been a long day for The Winesleuth (I’d just arrived from Brighton). This particular location has not only a bar area but also a separate cocktail area with tables and banquetttes partitioned off from the rest of the mall so you can sip in peace.
All of the bars have extensive champagne lists and the prices start at £8.50 for a glass of house NV. When you consider a pint is what? Almost 4 quid nowadays, why not splurge a bit now and then on a nice glass of champagne? I like the layout of the menu, various glasses available by vintage, blanc de blanc, rose, and multi-vintage to name a few designations. They also have an extensive list of vintage champagnes as well as small growers and of course all the big names (Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon, Moet,Vueve, Ruinart) with plenty of prestige vintages as well as various sizes up to a Balthazar (16 bottles/12litres) of Laurent-Perrier NV (available for a cool £1000 even). They also thoughtfully have various champagne definitions sprinkled throughout the menu.
The bars do have a small selection of finger foods and since it’s summer we had strawberries and cream to go along with the blanc de blanc – delish! Before we knew it, it was time to board the champagne bus! We had our own bus to get us to Searcy’s in Paddington Station where we were going to be sampling the delights of decanted champagne.
It was a little bit odd to be drinking champagne in the Paddington Station food court but after the first sip, it was surprisingly easy to forget we were in one of the mainline train stations of London. Searcy’s is championing the cause of decanting older, vintage champagne. Their reasoning being, that wine’s been in that bottle a long time, it needs to breathe! At Paddington we had Billecart-Salmon 2004 and 1998 both decanted and straight from the bottle. Interestingly, I preferred the 2004 decanted, it was smoother and softer then the undecanted 2004. However, when we got to the 1998’s, I thought the undecanted one showed better, still tasting fresh with nutty notes and candied fruits flowing out of the glass. Searcy’s has this amazing confit du vin which is like a white grape jelly only better! It was fantastic with both the soft cheeses and the champagne, gotta get some of that for the house.
That night was the occasion present the Billecart Presentation Set which is a decanter in the shape of the original 1818 Billecart bottle and a bottle of the 2004 Extra Brut, available at Harrod’s, retail £150. Here’s a short vid of the 2004 being decanted.
After that it was back on the bus, this time heading off to to Searcy’s at One New Change across the street from St. Paul’s in the City. I should mention that on each leg of our journey we were giving little mini bottles of POP (and black straws) to keep us, er, hydrated. I have to say the POP ’04 Grand cru was pretty good but that could have been the Ruinart and Billecart talking by then.
At One New Change, a bit of food and wine matching courtesy of Neil Phillips, The Wine Tipster. We had the Rene R Lalou Mumm Cuvee 1998 with a variety of seafoods at various temperatures, the aim being to show how the same champagne has a different character depending on the temp. It is true that the colder it is, at least for champagne, the better. Too warm and the champagne seems to lose it’s lustre and sparkle.
To end our evening we went up to the roof which has spectacular views of St. Pauls as well as the uncompleted London Shard, under a full moon, for a strawberry dessert and lots of Balfour Brut Rose, courtesy of Richard Balfour-Lynn who was there to share his sparkling with us.
A big thank you to Searcy’s for organizing the champagne crawl and if you’re feeling decadent the next time you’re passing through the mall or train station, go on, have a glass of champagne, you know you want to…