Three champagne lovers translate their love of bubbles into a very special dining experience at the KRUG ROOM. CHRISTINA KO takes the first sip
JUST BEFORE 11 O’CLOCK on a Tuesday morning is a fine time to do an interview – just make sure your subject isn’t Olivier Krug, and the occasion doesn’t coincide with the exact day of the launch of a new vintage (in this case, the immediately-sold-out 2003). There are certain drinks it’s considered déclassé to consume before lunch, but champagne is not one of them – and besides, one should never turn down Krug, whatever the time of day. Olivier and I are joined in this guilty pleasure in a relatively clandestine Krug Room, hidden in the belly of the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, which has been delighting for seven years as a private-dining venue.
Executive Chef Uwe Opocensky is also present, joined by Hiroyuki Kanda, the three-Michelinstarred Japanese chef whose skills are so uniquely revered that he has to close his eponymously named restaurant whenever he leaves town because patrons won’t accept his delicacies from the hands of any other. The three are old friends, their camaraderie forged over nights of champagne and other drinks, and a shared love of gastronomy.
Those who know Krug acknowledge that it’s a special label, an exclusive champagne whose formula and price mark it not only as a companion of celebrations and special occasions, but also, unusually, as a blend that boldly and proudly pairs with cuisine. It’s something Opocensky has explored throughout his tenure at the Krug Room, and one that he’ll take to new heights in a collaboration with Kanda on April 9-12.
“A year and a half ago we went to Tokyo for a Krug trip; very boring,” he jokes. “I met Kanda there, and we decided to do something together at some point. Chef Kanda was keen on coming to Hong Kong, so the idea was to bring him for our first collaboration with a Japanese chef.” In fact, this marks the first such Krug-initiated collaboration dinner, and everyone is excited. We toast the occasion with that rare vintage, the 2003, a fruity and fresh wine whose character was a true wild card after a year of unpredictable weather.
The point of today is not simply to celebrate a new champagne, but to explore its synergies with gastronomy. “Krug started as a dream of my great, great, great grandfather,” says Olivier, “and he decided to create a type of champagne that did not exist – a champagne that would not only offer the best possible quality every year, but that would also offer in one glass everything that champagne can offer. He created the Krug Grand Cuvée, which is the most versatile expression of champagne. Because it is most versatile, there is no other champagne that can pair with food as well as Krug Grand Cuvée.”
Though he isn’t stationed at a Krug-affiliated restaurant, Kanda is a long-time Krug ambassade, and a friend of the brand since he met Olivier over two decades ago. It’s no difficulty for him to entwine his food with the champagne. “For me, the philosophy of my food is about luxury, but not richness. It should be delicate. Krug is that, too. It’s not showy, it’s delicate. Like Krug, I also don’t target the mass market, my restaurant has only eight seats, and this is only my second time doing a collaboration outside Kanda. I cannot deliver happiness to everyone,” he sighs.
Happiness, luckily, is within my reach. As a preview of the meal, Kanda has prepared for me two dishes, which on the evening will be dressed and garnished by Opocensky. The first is a foie gras cured with sake lees and infused with yuzu, the second a slow-cooked Miyazaki beef cutlet with watercress and seaweed.
Kanda’s dishes have that exquisite presentation that seems proprietary to the Japanese, whether they’re working with cuisine from their own culture or any other. It’s simple, articulate and yet zen – there’s serenity that emanates compelling calm and peace. The foie gras is so precisely portioned it’s like a clean slice of agate, marbled elegantly. The beef is a dream. Each bite is rich, but tempered appropriately by the champagne. Before long, my rich breakfast is over – and I’m definitely a little tipsy. And if my squiffiness obscures the exact nuances of each dish, this pairing has still achieved its intentions. As Olivier puts it: “Krug is a champagne that’s beyond knowledge, and is all about pleasure. There’s no other champagne that enjoys this kind of relationship with its audience.”
+Prestige Hong Kong