Review: Champagne + Fromage
Fiona Hicks finds an authentic French bistro in the heart of London
I start many of my restaurant reviews from a standpoint of ignorance. This is not false modesty. In fact, in writing them, this sense ignorance is only compounded. There so many edible delights of which I have been shamefully unaware and my newest obsession, Champagne + Fromage, is a case in point.
Just down the road from the Royal Opera House, I must have walked past this tiny eatery a thousand times. Part shop, part bistro, it is a real hidden gem. As part of the French Bubbles company, it not surprisinlgy boasts one of the largest Champagne lists in the city, all served up with decadent portions of cheeses and other French fare – but more on that later.
My guest and I arrived early on a Friday evening and the place was rammed. Interestingly, it was full of gaggles of women. The odd few men did trickle in as the evening continued, but the ladies certainly held court. Champagne, cheese and chatting is clearly the panacea for the week’s hardships.
We kicked off our own wind-down with a glass of Waris Larmandier Cuvée Sensation. I often feel that tasting notes in wines, Champagnes and other beverages is largely down to the power of suggestion, but even I was hit by the zing of this cuvée. Light, dry and zesty, it was instantly refreshing.
The restaurant’s knowledgeable (and authentically French) manager, Remi Costecalde, delighted in telling us that all of their Champagnes are sourced from small, family-owned producers. There is of course a time and a place for good old Bollinger, but trying something different is really rather exciting (not least because it will enable you to blag an expert opinion at some dinner party down the line).
Of course, Champagne + Fromage is as much about the cheese as the crus. We began with a board of three fromages, selected by the bistro’s expert staff. I would love to be able to tell you the names of these, but sadly I was too busy scoffing them to pay attention. I did however pick up the phrase ‘triple cream’, which should go some way to explaining how divine they were. As my guest said: ‘This has ruined all other cheese for me. For ever.’
Continuing our tapas-like approach to the meal, we opted to share a cured meat selection, a soup and one of Champagne + Fromage’s signature Tartines. I am not a huge meat-eater, and yet the generous portions of Jambon Corse, Lonzo and Coppa slipped down very nicely. The meats were both satisfyingly salty and delicately fragrant – the subtlety of flavour enhanced by the accompanying glass of Brut Rosé.
The Tartine was also a testament to the power of pairings. A chewy (but crucially, crispy round the edges) slice of traditional French sourdough was topped with sweet figs and almost sour Fourme d’Ambert. Without wanting to trivialise it, it was effectively cheese on toast. Seriously, seriously good cheese on toast.
The heavniess of the cheese and meat was offset by the fresh Velouté de Courgette. This cold soup had a wonderful depth of flavour (the menu cited coriander, but I’m sure I also detected a hint of basil), and the tart yet creamy balls of goats cheese contrasted perfectly.
In true French fashion, the volume of food we had consumed was not huge, and yet the richness of the dishes had left us feeling perfectly replete. We were going to opt out of pudding, until a horrified Remi convinced us otherwise (although, to be honest, it did not take that much persuading).
There pudding menu comprises only two dishes, both of which we sampled. The Fondant au Chocolat was decadence in pudding form. A rich, almost bitter sponge encasing a sweet molten centre, the whole thing was studded with tiny bits of Bleu des Basques cheese. That’s right: cheese and chocolate together. The second dessert, Strawberry Gazpacho, is clearly designed to balance the first. Juicy and light, it took every ounce of willpower not to slurp it in one. Our puddings were served with a glass of Lacroix Champagne La Reservé, which was a sweeter Champagne with creamy finish, again expertly recommended by Remi.
I realise that after this barrage of positivity, I should probably suggest some area of improvement to even the tone. The thing is: I just can’t. Everything – from the artfully worn interiors, to the enthusiastic servers, to the unapologetically decadent food – was just as a French bistro should be. Now that I am a little less ignorant, I suppose I could complain that I’ve become a little too fond of fine Champagne and cheese.
Quel dommage.Champagne + Fromage (22 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7DD) also offers a delivery service. Cheese, French food and Champagne can be delivered directly to a home or office within an hour. For more information please visit www.frenchbubbles.co.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
“A GRACEFUL walk is a great asset, for sometimes it can create an illusion of beauty where little exists.”The Lady. Pleasant Exercises for Grace. 2nd April 1931