Champagne may not flow as readily as it did in the City of London before the financial crisis, but it remains the bankers’ drink of (chastened) choice. Maybe it’s a sign of healthier times that Tirage, a new restaurant dedicated almost entirely to bubbly, is popping corks on Bishopsgate, offering everything from Champagne breakfasts to late-night flûtes.
The atmosphere is casual, with high stools and tables to encourage a loosening of ties, while Alasdair Frazer’s cooking combines classic French dishes with the occasional South American flourish, such as ceviche or guacamole. And the food is important: as the sommelier, Roberto Della Pietra, says, "we’re a Champagne restaurant, not a bar." But this creates a pleasant dilemma. Do you stick with bubbles throughout the meal—unusual, even in the Champagne region—or slip in a white or red? If it’s the second option, your choices are limited to 14 of the 110 wines on the list, only six of them available by the glass.
Della Pietra convinced me that he could find the right fizz to partner each course. This was easy with rock oysters, but much harder with confit of venison haunch, which would normally show best with a light red. Thankfully, he’s knowledgeable without being overbearing, and happy to recommend stimulating matches.
Not all worked—I wasn’t completely convinced by the pan-fried seabass with a bitter-sweet Abrau-Durso Cuvée Alexander II from Russia (£7 by the glass)—but most did. I never thought I’d enjoy Champagne with venison, but the barrel-fermented Lacroix Réserve Blancs de Noirs Non Vintage (£12) was rich, savoury, structured and perfect with the meat.
The list contains two dozen Champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass, including some from England, Russia, Canada, Italy and the rest of France, so I’d advise you to try a different one with each course. And the by-the-glass prices are commendably reasonable (starting at £6 for a much better than average Prosecco), all but encouraging you to do so.
The Champagnes are particularly good, the majority of them from growers, with a sprinkling from widely available houses such as Bollinger, Taittinger and Louis Roederer. The former are listed by village of origin, making them easier to understand stylistically. Whether this will matter to bankers celebrating a bonus is a moot point, but it will go down well with Champagne aficionados.
Where else to go and what to drink
SEARCYS ST PANCRAS GRAND
The most pleasurable way to kill time before you board the Eurostar. Around £21pp for two courses
Best white: 2002 Pol Roger Vintage The 2002 from Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne house is drinking beautifully—rich and assertive with toasty complexity. £105
Best rosé: 2011 Balfour Brut Rosé, England A cuvée selected specially for Searcys, this is an ambitiously priced rosé from Richard Balfour-Lynn’s vineyard in Kent. A refined, strawberryish fizz with palate-tingling acidity. £68/£13
Gourmet hotdogs and growers’ Champagne, in a bustling Fitzrovia setting. Around £10pp
Best white: Vilmart Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut A malty, full-flavoured, Pinot Noir-dominated fizz from one of the best growers on the Montagne de Reims. £50/£8.50
Best rosé: Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru Pierre Larmandier is known for his Blancs de Blancs (made entirely from Chardonnay) but I love this old-vine Pinot Noir-derived pink fizz. Perfumed, spicy and profound, it’s a stunning rosé. £88