At last the warm weather actually shows signs of becoming a proper British summer (!), and when I was invited to spend a day at the seaside to sample exquisite gourmet and chilled champagne (courtesy of France’s third biggest producer, Nicolas Feuillatte), I naturally jumped at the chance.
We were due for lunch at Riddle & Finns, a champagne and oyster bar nestled in the highly desirable location of one of Brighton’s beachfront arches. This is in fact the second of the company’s restaurants, with the original located round the corner in the city’s famous Lanes. The speciality of both establishments is local seafood and crustacea (but if you’re not a fan of fish, there are alternatives on the menu too!).
Starters were squid sautéed with lemon and parsley (a very popular choice), homemade fish cakes, and leek and potato soup. Despite the blazing weather outside, I opted for the soup. Full of flavour and with ample crunchy croutons to boot, this was actually a delicious start to the meal (even if it did prompt laughter from my fellow diners, who couldn’t quite believe I was ordering soup on one of the hottest days of the year). We were drinking Nicolas Feuillatte’s latest brut chardonnay vintage, called X’Ploration. Released for Christmas, the X’Ploration range boasts not just the traditional champagne bucket, but for the first time, a fun duffel jacket (which handily doubles up as a cooler). As for the champagne itself? Delicate hawthorn and acacia are accompanied by more subtle citrus fruit and lime blossom aromas. Beautiful!
Seafood mains were smoked haddock fillet with colcannon, poached egg and a champagne sauce, or crab, chilli and roquette linguini. For the die-hard meat eaters among us, grilled rib eye with frites and peppercorn sauce was the obvious option, but I went vegetarian (I blame the soup!) and went for stuffed Portobello mushrooms with butternut squash puree. Served on slate and artfully decorated with a smooth sauce, this was absolutely delicious. The sweet ricotta cheese in the mushrooms melted in the mouth, and the accompanying pot of puree was matchlessly moreish! Having depleted the X’Ploration, we moved on to the Cuvee 225, a smokier champagne underpinned by delicious honey, apricot and peach.
Dessert proved to be a bit of a problem though. Choosing between chocolate brownie and ice-cream sundae was tough, but as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved, so I ordered both with a fellow diner. Problem solved! The brownie was a rich, indulgent slab of chocolate, whereas the sundae was a divine glass of cream, chocolate and ice-cream. Both were devoured unsurprisingly quickly! The champagne to accompany our dessert was one of my favourites, Nicolas Feuillatte’s Palmes d’Or Brut, an aromatic blend of white pear, peach and apricot. The only downside? It wasn’t the rose version!
Whilst an afternoon of exquisite food and crisp, refreshing champagne sounds like a luxury, as the mercury rose, we headed off in the direction of the shoreline. Sometimes, it really is the little luxuries in life that are the best, and I challenge anyone to come up with a better one than dipping your toes in the English Channel on a hot summer’s day!