The best Champagne bars in London
Alice Lascelles serves up the sophisticate‘s guide to the capital‘s cork-popping hot spots
Champagne at Amuse Bouche
Not only are we drinking more French bubbly, we’re drinking it more often – after work, on the hoof or at the end of a shopping spree. And a new generation of Champagne bars in London restaurants, hotels, department stores, even train stations, is springing up to cater for this.
Among the newest is the Champagne and Oyster Bar at Liberty. Decked out in a combination of white tiling and overhead lanterns, it has a kind of austere air-raid-shelter chic about it that suggests daytime or early evening drinking – although a lack of Champagnes by the glass (there are eight by the bottle but only two by the glass, starting at £8.50 for the slightly acrid De Nauroy Brut) suggests it’s more for ladies who lunch, rather than ladies who lunch-break.
Yet working women have played a big part in the Champagne boom, says Jo Chalker, owner of the suit-friendly Dion Champagne bar chain, which has recently opened a third branch in Canary Wharf. ‘There are so many more women out in the evenings now, working late – women in their late twenties and early thirties who have a higher disposable income,’ says Chalker, who was a headhunter before going into the bar business.
The snobbery element often involved in Champagne consumption means that people are ‘still very name-driven’ and to this end the Dion list (said to be the longest in London) takes an irreverent approach, grouping Champagnes under headings such as ‘Usual Suspects’, ‘Unsung Heroes’ and ‘Dion Favourites’, in an attempt to get people to try something new. While the tone is light-hearted, the choice is serious, starting at £8 for a glass of Albert Beerens Brut Reserve and rising to £995 a bottle for the much sought-after Salon 1989.
Texture is another new Champagne bar with an outstanding list and an unpretentious attitude. Attached to a ‘modern European’ restaurant of the same name, this sleek venture from award-winning sommelier Xavier Rousset and head chef Agnar Sverisson, both formerly of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, offers nigh-on 100 Champagnes and 11 sparkling wines, accompanied by notes on the history, production and styles of each Champagne. ‘[The Champagne sector] has a reputation for talking down to people and we wanted it to be a bit of fun and a bit educative,’ says Rousset who, despite having big-hitters such as Dom Perignon and Bollinger on the list, makes a point of championing some less well-known wines such as the ‘wonderfully pure and refreshing’ Blanc de Blancs NV from Larmandier-Bernier (£47.50 per bottle). It also says a lot about Texture’s commitment to the liquid that, unlike several notable Champagne bars, it offers only a handful of magnums and no flashy out-size or diamanté-studded bottles.
Still, marketing has played a key part in Champagne’s current success, admits Rousset, a fact supported by the number of branded Champagne bars in the capital, ranging from the high-design Moët bar at Selfridges to the playful Pop bar at the Hilton, where one can sip Pommery in mini-bottles with a straw. They are good for a fun glass of fizz, to be sure, but choice will be limited, and you’ll pay through the nose. A glass of Pommery at Pop is £12.50 for the privilege. If you don’t want the price to burst your bubble, look to Amuse Bouche , a Parsons Green outfit that’s just opened its second branch in Soho. Here, more than a quarter of the 40-strong list is available by the glass. Prices, if not quite £5 a bottle, start at a commendable £5 a glass for the house champagne, Georges Lacombes NV. ‘I’m ex-wine trade, so I know exactly how much a bottle of Champagne really costs,’ explains Amuse Bouche’s wine buyer Charlie Adams about how they got started. ‘I saw how much all these Champagne bars were charging and I felt “bah humbug” about it.’
Not that that’s stopping the Champagne bars. Quaglino’s, once better known for its eminently stealable ashtrays, has also just upped the number of Champagnes it offers by the glass in its Champagne and Oyster Bar to an impressive 13, ranging from Deutz NV (£10.50 per glass) to Dom Perignon 2004 at a serious £40 per glass. However, this November all eyes will be on the (quite literally) biggest opening of all – the bar at the new Eurostar Terminal in St Pancras. At 96 metres, it will be the longest Champagne bar in Europe. Christened 1868 in honour of the year St Pancras first opened, it’s set to be an architectural spectacular perfect for a bit of champagne train-spotting. Which sure beats a lukewarm cup of tea at Upper Crust any day.
Texture (image © Michael Franke)
Where to drink itAmuse Bouche Will the well-heeled of Parsons Green follow Amuse Bouche to its new Soho stamping ground? Who knows, but hopefully the keen prices will.Amuse Bouche, 51 Parsons Green Lane, SW6 4JA (020 7371 8517) Parsons Green tube. New branch at 21-22 Poland St, W1F 8QG (020 7287 1661) Oxford Circus tube.
The Champagne Bar at St PancrasThe longest champagne bar in London, on the platform next to the Eurostar trains. The Champagne Bar at St Pancras, St Pancras International, Pancras Rd, NW1 2QP (020 7843 4250) King’s Cross St Pancras tube/rail.
Harrods Champagne and Oyster BarAt the heart of the 150-year-old butchery and fishmonger’s hall, this new marble and glass bar serves Champagnes by the glass to enjoy alongside Cromer crab and potted Morecambe Bay shrimp.Harrods, Food Hall, 87-135 Brompton Rd, SW1X 7XL (020 7730 1234/www.harrods.com) Knightsbridge tube.
Liberty Champagne and Oyster BarIf you’ve already broken the bank buying handbags upstairs, you might as well aim high and fork out for the deliciously acidic Krug Grand Cuvée (£150 per bottle). Liberty, lower ground floor, Liberty Place, Regent St, W1R 6AH (020 7734 1234/www.liberty.co.uk) Oxford Circus tube.
Quaglino’s Champagne and Oyster BarUntil November 11 the choice of 13 Champagnes by the glass is matched by a choice of eight varieties of oyster.Quaglino’s, 16 Bury St, SW1Y 6AJ (020 7930 6767/www.quaglinos.co.uk) Green Park or Piccadilly Circus tube.Texture The house fizz starts at £8.50 per glass, but seize the chance to try the superb Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill 1996 (£20 per glass) – a wonderful balance of Cox’s apple richness and a sparkling-clean finish. Texture, 34 Portman Square, W1H 7BY (020 7224 0028/www.texture-restaurant.co.uk) Bond St or Marble Arch tube.