Walking into Massimo’s Restaurant is quite an impressive experience. I was not expecting the high ceilings, supported by striped white and black columns or the polished mahogany wood and leather banquettes, or the cool marble floors gleaming under the art deco inspired sleek chandeliers. In a way, it seemed like the restaurant should have been located in one of the grand train stations built in the US during the 1930’s, New York’s Grand Central Station or perhaps L.A.’s Union Station, both springing to mind.
Massimo’s has a raw bar and it was there that I was directed to take part in a champagne and seafood matching event. Massimo prides itself on their signature dish, crudo, literally meaning “raw fish” in Italian, they are very passionate about using traditional Mediterranean methods and ingredients in all their dishes.
And which champagne to pair with the crudo? One of the best, of course. That evening we were being treated to a selection of Billecart-Salmon’s champagnes. I’ve always enjoyed Billecart-Salmon’s champagnes and find that they are great food wines. They’ve been making champagne since 1818 and today the seventh generation are now running the house.
We were seated at the serpentine marble topped bar and watched the raw bar chef quickly chuck the oysters in front of us, while we sipped on the Billecart-Salmon Blanc de blanc Grand Cru vintage. Paired with 3 native oysters, the Roch Loch Lyne, Colchester and Irish Rock, the champagne took on a different character with each oyster. The monsterously big Roch Loch Lyne was a big and meaty and the delicate Grand Cru was almost lost amongst the saline character of the oyster. The Colchester fared better, there being more of a balance and a crisp iodine note coming from the champagne. Lastly, the Irish Rock seemed to pair best with the champagne, a perfect balance of soil and sea, good minerality showing off from both and excellent balance. Neither seemed to outshine the other and complemented each other nicely: “Those are darling pearl earrings. ” “Thank you, you have such a bubbly personality.”
Anyway. Mackerel ceviche followed on and it was divine. I’ve never been a big fan of mackerel but this dish will convert even the most die hard anti-mackerel-ite. The wine tamed the usually dense fish and paired with the Extra Brut non-vintage, which is zero dosage, it cut through the fat. There was a good weight to the wine and the wine had gone through an extra year of aging which gave it a rounder mouthfeel. I also felt that the wine was more vinous in nature, a pure wine with refreshing minerality.
My least favourite pairing of the evening was not because either of the components were bad, as a matter of fact, separately, they were each delectable mouthfuls but together – well… Red mullet with fennel and tuna tartare, both were so fresh and the tuna was almost blood red in colour, served on a background of the greenest virgin olive oil. Unfortunately, the olive oil dominated the tuna dish and that was the only thing I could taste. It was paired with the Brut Sous Bois. Now this is most definitely a food wine! Vinified in oak, it was quite apparent on the nose and palate. However, with the red mullet, everything came together, the champagne having brioche, nutty and caramel flavours, much less fruit, obviously in this one, but still a pleasure to drink. So that was a hit AND miss dish.
Chilled caviar spaghettini and Sicilian Prawns in tomato water was the next course and that would have been a pairing with the Sous Bois. Instead, it was served with the Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart 2000 which was a suitable companion but not the best choice. The Cuvee has had enough time to show off a complex palate of clementines, toffee and toast with a lemon peel long finish. The nose was just as complex, candied fruit, toast, caramelized oranges and even a light perfumed note permeated the glass. It was showing well but definitely had plenty of life left in it.
We finished off the evening with the House’s signature cuvee, the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé non-vintage. I am a sucker for rose champagne, I just love the colour. The fact that it’s champagne is just the cherry on top of the sundae. Billecart’s rosé is light and elegant with supple red fruit flavours and aromas. It’s very fresh and made with a low dosage so all you get is the purity of the fruit, raspberry, red fruits and even wild strawberry on the finish. A very cute little red fruit millefeuille was served alongside the rosé. Sorry to say it was gone in one bite so I’m not sure how well it went with the champagne but I’m told it’s very traditional to have that with a rosé.
Massimo’s is going to be holding more of these champagne and food matching events, the next one is June 12th (£35 pp with a glass of the Blanc de Blancs; £55 with all of the five Champagnes tasted here. Contact the restaurant here for more information.