London’s Blandford Comptoir and Reims’ Le Boulingrin

Two restaurants in London and Reims bring new effervescence to the champagne and oysters pairing

The bar at Blandford Comptoir, London
The bar at Blandford Comptoir, London | Image: John Carey

Nothing says celebration quite like a bottle of champagne, and nothing shouts, “We look jolly nice, but we’d be even better with a glass of fizz” more clearly than a plate of oysters. Hold fire on the lemon juice and shallot vinegar: the fresh acidity of a fine blanc de blancs is all the frisky little bivalves need by way of adornment.

Xavier Rousset, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons’ former head sommelier, was co-founder of Texture and 28°-50° and has now opened Blandford Comptoir in Marylebone. He knows all about such matters. As I sat myself at the counter, a £30 special caught my eye: six Maldon oysters, a plate of sea bream crudo, three raw Sicilian red prawns and a glass of Pierre Moncuit’s blanc de blancs.

The salty tang of oysters mingled blissfully with the fruit of the chalky soils on which Moncuit’s Chardonnay grows: “minerality” is an overused word in winetasting circles, but entirely apt here. The fizz was a fine foil, too, for the bream’s light, citrus-spiked dressing and the voluptuous sweetness of the prawns.

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The rest of lunch was equally accomplished: a bracing Picpoul with a soothing assembly of seared scallops and foamy velouté, perky with peas and broad beans; and a Saint-Chinian with rosily cooked rump of lamb, happily surrounded by borlotti beans and a thin, rosemary-rich jus.

Rousset’s new restaurant offers a well-chosen champagne list, but few places can match the selection of 50 (17 of them also available in magnum) at Boulingrin, a splendid brasserie in Reims, à deux pas from the city’s lovingly restored food market. I chose a terrific bottle of Delamotte Blanc de Blancs – an underrated house affiliated to the legendary Salon – and, just to keep it company, a dozen of Daniel Sorlut’s Spéciales de Claire No 2 from Marennes, plump and sweet after two months’ affinage in fresh water.

Boulingrin is everything you might want in a brasserie: clubby and convivial, with waistcoated waiters, handsome burgundy banquettes and sinuous art nouveau trimmings. My rather sybaritic solo lunch continued with half-a-dozen langoustines and mayonnaise, then a splendid tranche of roast sea bass with chervil jus, fried onions and – unusually for France – a purée of parsnips. The Delamotte coped admirably with it all.

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Champagne and oysters are an undeniably extravagant way to start a meal – actually, the Gannet never denies extravagance – but it is surprisingly parsimonious in dietary terms: six sparkling oysters and a coupe of blanc de blancs are a mere 150 calories. Festive indulgence or new year diet plan? You choose.

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