GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Champagne treat at the Dorchester

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so here is the payment for one which was so good I can t keep it to myself. And you can share it – provided the occasion is special enough. It began by descending into the basement of The Dorchester hotel in Park L

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so here is the payment for one which was so good I can't keep it to myself. And you can share it - provided the occasion is special enough.

It began by descending into the basement of The Dorchester hotel in Park Lane, along bare white corridors, past the staff loos and into the kitchen. Hardly a beginning, more an ending if - short of credit on the card - you were frogmarched down to do the washing up.

But no, the surroundings all became very smart again. Although still a corridor, it has one side opening on to the kitchen, which is all stainless steel and assiduous chefs. On the other, an opaque glass wall. We sipped champagne and nibbled smart canapes.

Then came clarity, at the flick of the switch. Through the now-clear wall we could see an oval glass table, immaculately set, a dozen red leather chairs, the mirrored wall opposite reflecting the kitchen activity, a panoply of smart bubbly detailing. A door opened, and we sat down to lunch in the Krug Room.


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Let me explain: Krug champagne's partnership with The Dorchester is close to celebrating its fifth anniversary. Before Krug and the 2003 refurbishment, the room had already been a showcase for The Dorchester's head chefs for six decades, the first private chef's dining room opened in London.

Now it displays the talent of current executive chef Henri Brosi, who rules over the hotel's five kitchens and a brigade of 100-plus lesser chefs. German-born, internationally-experienced Brosi has a multi-Michelin-starred CV and a fascinating ability to explain and illustrate all the influences which contribute to the combined pleasure of food and drink.

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He also has a particular skill with shellfish - much appreciated as we drank the newly-released Krug 1996 all through an imaginative, delicate, often English-sourced (Cromer crab, Berkshire crayfish) meal.

Krug 1996 is more than the product of an outstanding vintage. It's a rare example of three generations of the same champagne family all working together on one wine. In this case, Olivier Krug, who directs the vine growing, wine making and blending, his father Henri and grandfather Paul. And it was a lot of work: something like 1,000 samples were tasted during the blending process.

The result is fabulous and far, far more than simply bubbling pleasure. All the champagne expectations apart, there are hints of white and even red burgundy in a food-friendly almost savoury character, with haunting fruit, richness, concentration, impeccable balance, memorable length.

"Wherever I go, people drink Krug for taste, not for fashion," Olivier told us, adding that Italians drank it with mortadella... Brosi's food was just a bit more sophisticated, and the reward of the '96 with cannelloni with Cromer crab, lobster and scallop, crab bisque flavoured with almonds, Alba truffles, was something I'll remember for a very long time.

How much does it all cost? A lot, but this is something truly exceptional. Hire of the room is £850, menus range up from £90 (per person) for a three-course lunch, £100 for a four-course dinner. To book or find out more, phone 020-7317 6322 or email thekrugroom@ dorchesterhotel.com.

Krug 1996 (from £160) is available from many fine wine shops including Jeroboams, Berry Bros & Rudd, Fortnum & Mason and Waitrose. A slightly more modest treat, Krug Grande Cuvee NV, is widely available at around £100.

Liz Sagues

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