Maud’s ‘Frenchness’ adheres to the true Chocolat stereotype – pristine bob, chic wraparound dress and impressively slim in an effortless European way, despite an unholy appetite for cheese and champagne.
Years ago she worked for La Semaine du goût (a week where the French strive to eat even more wonderful things than usual), before moving to Britain and starting a champagne importing company, French bubbles, which evolved into ‘Champagne + Fromage’ – a recently-launched shop-cum-bar in Covent Garden.
The premise of Champagne + Fromage is quite as simple as the name implies: a place to drink champagne and eat cheese. The carefully-stylised deli also functions as a shop for those who wish to do the drinking and eating back home. And a downstairs room takes bookings for corporate tastings, for those who are cunning enough to persuade their boss to pay for them to eat cheese and drink champagne.
It’s a great concept. Though the only aspect which might make traditionalists baulk is the idea of pairing champagne with cheese. Yes, I thought I’d already heard you bemoan the absence of red wine or port in this ‘Champagne + Fromage’ equation. Well, Maud has the answer:
“The same words are used to describe cheese as champagne – creamy, nutty, young” she says. “And champagne is a high acidity wine which is good for balancing strong flavours and cleansing the palette – it cuts straight through the fattiness of cheese.”
And, (although I’m anyone’s if I’m eating cheese and drinking champagne), I’m inclined to agree.
One cheese in particular, a ‘triple cream cheese brie’ called Brillat-Savarin had the artery-clogging consistency of clotted cream, and was trying to escape from the spoon it was served from. But when paired with a beautifully crisp champagne(Waris Larmandier Cuvee Sensation), it became an elegant partnership – whereas a sweet glass of port would have been too heavy and teeth-coatingly rich a combination.
If I had to pick a last meal, then it would definitely involve cheese in many different shapes and forms. And, (although I can whole-heartedly recommend the cheeses at Champagne + Fromage – particularly the Brillat-Savar and the Extra Comte) it is the champagne which is particularly special about the bistro.
Maud explains that she founded French Bubbles when she saw a gap in the British champagne market: “Britain is the number one importer of French champagne, but 80 per cent of this comes from the big houses” she says.
“There are 15,000 independent producers of champagne in France” Maud explains. “They take care of their own vineyards from growing and picking the grapes to bottling on site – not like the big houses which ship in grapes which they know very little about.”
“All my producers know what they know because they were born into champagne-making” says Maud, whose oldest producer spans back eight generations, while her youngest still having produced champagne for three generations. “They can look at the colour of the leaves on the vines and tell you what to expect from the champagne.”
Heritage, integrity and – perhaps most of all – character are most important to Maud. She introduces each champagne like she might introduce a friend at a drinks party – rattling through their background to get you up to date. The Waris Larmandier Cuvee Sensation, for example, is produced by a woman who married into a tiny 5.5 hectare vineyard. When her husband died she kept the vineyard going, and was the first female producer to ever win a gold medal for champagne production in that region of France.
Michel Furdyna, Maud explained, is a more “muscular” champagne from pinot noir grapes in the Cote du Bar region. The vineyards are owned by Michel and Marie-Noelle who started the label in 1974, but they are training their nephew Mathieu to take over in the future. And the vineyards which produce the Pertois-Moriset Grand Cru are now run by Dominique – the son of founders Yves Pertois and his wife Janine. Maud’s drinks-party approach to champagne introduction is no coincidence though – she knows each producer. And this is what makes Champagne + Fromage so special.
In a hectic part of town crammed with tourists and chains, this is the most perfect retreat – a wonderful environment to sit in and take a break over a glass (or two) of champagne, and a slice (or two) of cheese.
Champagne + Fromage
22 Wellington Street, London
WC2E 7DD, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)207 240 1604
Hours: Tues-Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 11am-8pm