June 05 2011
The Brasserie du Boulingrin sells a lot of oysters. Its art-deco interior has also witnessed the consumption of a lot of steak, enough fish soup to fill a lake, and more than a few wheels of cheese. I have eaten there often; and Monsieur Ragot, the maître d’, welcomes me as a long-lost friend every time.
What Boulingrin sells more of than any other brasserie, however, is champagne, partly because of its splendid, reasonably priced list, but mostly because it is the best-known brasserie in Reims, the town that has crowned more than a few kings of France in its awesome cathedral, and spawned a monk, Dom Pérignon, who in turn (according to the French, at any rate) spawned the multibillion-euro business of posh fizz for which Reims and its environs are renowned.
I love Boulingrin; the food is good, not exceptional (although the oysters, to which the Gannet is very partial, are first-rate) – but I like sitting there, among the French, affecting their knowledgeable attitude as I order, resisting that pathetic, very Anglo-Saxon excitement at even being in a restaurant, pretending that decent food is my birthright. (Actually, the problem with bistros and brasseries in London is not the food, which is often better than in France – try Les Deux Salons, Racine or Galvin Bistrot de Luxe – but the diners: they simply don’t know how to behave. There is not nearly enough Gallic shrugging going on.)
I was in Reims to visit Laurent-Perrier, the great champagne house in Tours-sur-Marne; more specifically, I had been invited to taste some of the bonnes bouches that Valérie Marchandise, Laurent-Perrier’s chef de cuisine, has created for this year’s Taste of London, the annual restaurant festival in Regent’s Park which takes place in two weeks’ time (June 16-19).
Laurent-Perrier’s champagne and food-matching masterclasses are some of the most stimulating and enjoyable ingredients of Taste. Hosted by the charming BBC Radio 2 presenter Nigel Barden, they treat champagne properly: not as a humdrum wedding tipple, but as a great wine, whose aromas and nuances deserve thoughtful pairings with food.
Marchandise would agree with that. Her matches for Laurent-Perrier’s range start with thin slivers of Parma ham and tuiles of grilled Parmigiano Reggiano to accompany the Ultra-Brut, through a seabass carpaccio to match the 2002 vintage, and truffle and Parmesan cannelés (little cakes) for the opulent, delicious Grand Siècle. If you want to learn to eat and drink like the French, I can think of no better place to start than Regent’s Park. Santé, et bon appétit.