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.
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.
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.