It shows the regard in which we hold Champagne in that we so often use it to describe an aspirational lifestyle. By which, we normally mean hobnobbing with celebs at openings or private members club, dining at the finest restaurants, and travelling first class.
It's amazing that what is essentially a bottle of alcohol has so many positive connotations attached to it. I mean, when did you ever hear anyone talk about a Pinot Noir lifestyle, or Sauvignon Blanc? The only other good appropriation of alcohol to describe someone that I can think of is lager lout. And that is hardly complimentary.
But Champagne has pulled off the unique trick of becoming more accessible, yet remaining exclusive. And a key factor in this has been the emergence of Champagne bars as a venue in their own right. A relative newcomer to this game is The Champagne Bar in One New Change – the posh new shopping mall next to St Paul’s.
The Champagne bar is brought to us by Searcys; the group that has the sister bar in Paddington Station and are also behind 40/30 in the Gherkin. Occupying a corner inside the first floor of the mall, The Champagne Bar is elegant and vibrant. The bar itself sits at the centre, adorned with champagne glasses (what else?) and encircled by cream leather high stools. Dark brown wooden floor tiles are offset by light brown furnishings, which are broken up by exposed dark brickwork. Soft mood lighting completes the affect, which is almost romantic, although the Northerner thought it felt more like a hotel bar.
The staff are incredibly charming and knowledgeable, which is just as well given the extensive drinks menu. Eschewing the cocktail variations of the fizzy stuff, we took their advice and sampled a few champagnes by the glass. Given that we prefer the dry stuff, our charming host recommended the Brut – Lanson Black Label to be exact, which was a delicious drop – dry and biscuit-like. We then went on to the Vintage stuff. The Lanson Gold Label Vintage 1999 is 49% Chardonnay and 51% Pinot Noir, and was quite stunning. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call our palates sophisticated, even we were able to detect the honeyed finish. Delicious.
The Northerner then tried another Vintage Lanson Gold Label Brut 1999, while I gave the Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvee NV a whirl. Both of which were very good, but paled in comparison to the stunning Gold Label Vintage we’d tried earlier.
To eat we had a few of the nibbles – chorizo, caprese, almonds, French sausages - which were lovely, if not a little small in plate size. We also shared the roast duck with mash, which was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, and compensated for the sizing issues of the platters.
As expected, the Champagne Bar isn’t cheap, but with drinks by the glass ranging from £8.50 to £13.50, it’s hardly extortionate. But perhaps I’ve worked in the City for too long.
The place where the Champagne Bar doesn’t quite work is in its location. A lovely little bar is made to feel not quite so special when you are sitting across from the likes of the North Face, Eat and Banana Republic. This is by no means denigrating those aforementioned shops, but it reminds you that you are in a shopping mall, which is not an experience that works for everyone. It might have been better if it were on the ground floor next to Jamie Oliver's new place, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to think that.
Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong, and that the Champagne Bar is playing its part in making Champagne accessible for everyone. But maybe that’s where that other descriptor - of champagne socialist - came from.
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