For Japan’s Champagne lovers, every day is now a cause for celebration
After six months of COVID-19 restrictions banning alcohol sales at bars and restaurants in many parts of the country, Japan has lifted the nationwide state of emergency. On Oct. 1, eateries in the capital that elected to remain shut during the state of emergency threw back open their doors for the first time since April, and Tokyoites toasted the return of wine with dinner.
Having endured a slew of unsatisfying tea- and mocktail-pairing experiences this year, the news has put me in a celebratory mood. Naturally, such an occasion calls for Champagne. There’s something about the effervescence of its bubbles — the way the golden liquid shimmers in the light — that is inherently mood-lifting.
In the beverage world, Champagne’s festive, convivial aura is unparalleled. Its grandeur is heightened when the drink makes an entrance on a classic Champagne cart stocked with several varieties chilling in an iced bucket surrounded by crystal flutes. It’s a rare sight these days — even in Tokyo — but one I’m delighted to find at Sezanne, which debuted inside the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi earlier this summer.
“It’s the best way to welcome someone,” says executive chef Daniel Calvert. “In my experience, dining at three-starred restaurants in France, my first thought was always: ‘I can’t wait for them to wheel out the Champagne trolley.’”
Hoping to capture that feeling of anticipation, Calvert decided from the very beginning to make Champagne — presented with flair on a handsome Christofle carriage — a central feature of Sezanne’s hospitality. In fact, the restaurant’s name refers to a medieval town in the Champagne region of France.
“We want every meal here to feel like a special occasion,” he explains. “Some people may be fearful of ordering Champagne from a list, but to be able to have a dialog with the sommelier and choose from a few bottles right in front of you can make it more approachable. We’d like to reach people, especially in the younger generation, who’ve never thought of coming to the Four Seasons for a glass of Champagne, and make them feel welcome.”
When I step into Sezanne for lunch on Oct. 1, the Champagne wagon is already making the rounds. The day’s lineup features a magnum of Henriot Blanc de Blancs, Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and Krug Grande Cuvee 168eme Edition, along with “Les Pierrieres” Blanc de Blancs by Ulysse Collin. An artisanal “Grower Champagne” maker, Collin cultivates the grapes used for his Champagne in vineyards near the commune of Sezanne, and trained under legendary producer Jacques Selosse. In the future, Calvert plans to add some vintage sparklers, as well.
With its fine balance of sweetness, acidity and minerality, Champagne is a match for almost any kind of food, but has a particular affinity for Calvert’s cuisine. The fresh and floral Henriot complements the opening bites — radish dipped in tarragon-scented butter sauce and a gougere choux pastry filled with Comte cheese aged for 48 months — while Ulysse Collin accompanies Meyer lemon-marinated ikura salmon roe from Hokkaido with cucumbers and horseradish-spiked potato vichyssoise.
The combination demonstrates the synergistic effect of a perfect pairing: The Champagne’s pronounced citrus and saline notes plump up the flavors of the lemon and salmon roe, while the smokiness of the vichyssoise brings out a fruity character in the wine. At the end of the meal, a glass of Krug Grande Cuvee, with vivacious intensity and hints of almond pastry intermingling with lemon sorbet, harmonizes with Calvert’s elegant take on a chestnut Mont Blanc.
Other dishes are thoughtfully paired with still wines by sommelier Nobuhide Otsuka. He serves Bouchard Pere & Fils Meursault Les Clous with matsutake mushrooms and scallop quenelles, and presents blueberry-redolent 2015 Domaine du Gros ’Nore Bandol Rouge with a layered dish of Pacific saury, caramelized onions and parsley sauce — a surprising and stunning match that debunks the belief that red wine clashes with oily fish.
By the time I leave, I’ve sampled every Champagne on the trolley, save one: the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. This gives me another excuse to come back to Sezanne, which is certainly a reason to celebrate.
This month, Sezanne will launch its Champagne salon, serving bubbles with canapes or desserts in the afternoon and evenings. Maison Marunouchi, Sezanne’s more casual sister restaurant, will offer a 90-minute free-flow Duval-Leroy with canapes daily from 5-6:30 p.m. for ¥15,180 (including tax and service).
In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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