There was a time when I couldn’t think of anything worse than going to Westfield on a Sunday morning, but times have changed (well Westfield has) and today I’m so looking forward to a champagne tasting and cooking class at Justin North’s, Quarter Twenty One cooking school, in Westfield.
We make our way through the providore section (this is my kind of walk-in-wardrobe). All the meats hanging in the charcuterie are cured on site and as gruesome as it might look, I wish I could have a few of these legs of prosciutto hanging at home. I just love the stuff. The cooking school is encased in glass and we’re on display for the Sunday shoppers. We’re a small group of 6 today, but you could seat 12.
I was interested to know the story behind the name Quarter Twenty One, and it goes like this; Quarter, refers to the four components that make up Quarter Twenty One: the restaurant, the cooking school, the providore and the bakery. Twenty One, refers to the purported weight of the soul being 21 grams as it leaves the body, a recurring theme in each component of the Quarter such as feed the soul, cook for the soul, shop for the soul.
Quarter Twenty One’s head chef (and former Becasse head chef), Michael Robinson, is taking us through our brunch menu of; Pan Perdu with Strawberries, Crab & Scampi Omelette, Potato Blini with Smoked Trout and Asparagus & Hollandaise Sauce
For me, champagne is a marvelous luxury to have to drink. Known as the celebration wine, it’s always present at special occasions but today we’re learning that it’s a drop that can be enjoyed on any occasion… like brunch! In particular, Blanc de Blancs – white wines from white grapes – Chardonnay grapes grown in Champagne.
Young Blanc de Blancs (Tasting notes: pale with greenish colouring then slightly flowery with a taste of citrus or appley fruit. Mineral elegance and after aeration, butter and toast). Middle aged Blanc de Blancs (Tasting notes: ripe exotic fruits; mango, peach and apricot predominate of lemony scents. The feeling in the mouth is creamy and fresh). Mature Blanc de Blancs (Tasting notes: adopt a golden appearance with aroma of coffee beans, toast and walnuts).
I’m too busy absorbing all this new bubbly information to see what’s going on at the kitchen but I can smell the sweet egg soaked brioche cooking in the pan and the maple brushed pancetta has just come out the oven. Yes, pancetta gently brushed with maple syrup ten baked to a crisp… amazing.
The first champagne cork pops on a Ruinart Blanc de Blanc (Tasting notes: sweet, soft, exotically rounded, acacia, pineapple apple and banana).
Chef starts to make the omelette for our second course and we gather around. The egg mixture thinly lines the pan like a delicate yellow silk cloth – we want it to cook, but not colour – a brown omelette is an overcooked one (guilty of that). The crab is steamed then mixed with homemade mayonnaise, chives and lemon verbena. The omelette is filled with the mixture then rolled gently, sliced into roundels and topped with sweet scampi. Delicious.
In preparing our potato blinis, we learn that potatoes should always be pushed through a sieve/ricer, never pulled – that’s what makes it gluey (oops, guilty of that once before too).The little crispy potato cakes dissolve on my tongue under the weight of the slightly citrus crème fraiche and the smokey cured trout… I eat three of these.
The second champagne cork pops on a Henriot Blanc de Blanc (Tasting notes: white vanilla, lightly perfumed honey and lime peel, silky, buttery, dusky).
John (aka Mr Champagne) demonstrates how to correctly open a bottle of champagne. That loud high pitched pop is one of my favourite sounds, but apparently that’s not how it’s done – the correct sound is a far more civilized pop and then fizz. Hold your thumb over the musulet, turn the wire cage 4-5 times to release, tilt the bottle on a 45′ angle and ease the cork out in the palm of your hand.
The third champagne cork pops on a 99 Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc (Tasting notes: violets, brioche, toast and almonds which then gain subtle tones of leather and iodine). Oh this is my favourite so far…
It’s time to make the hollandaise sauce – I’ve never attempted this at home before so I’m interested to see how it’s done, but I end up taking my last glass of bubbles on a tour of the Becasse and Quarter Twenty One main kitchen. I’m back in time to learn about clarified butter and the delicate trickle in which it must be added to the egg mixture. Green and white asparagus cooked in the pan with hollandaise – so simple and so delicious.
Feeling that lovely champagne buzz, all the food I walked past in the way in looks even more appealing on the way out… Maybe I could just buy a few things for dinner…
Some fun champagne facts:
– The wire cap is called a ‘muselet’ (there are people who collect these like a ‘been-there-drunk-that’ of antique spoons, called plaques de muselet).
– Champagne should be served at around 16-17’C (try telling that to us Aussies that love a cold glass of bubbly). Chill in iced water for 30 minutes, pour and then leave on the table to come to room temperature.
– There are six atmospheres of pressure in a champagne bottle (that’s as much as the tyre of a double decker bus), so never point a champagne bottle at anyone… unless you really intend to hurt them!
– Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne was Pol Roger. He had a vintage named after him, 1975 Cuvee Sir Winston.
Quarter Twenty One cooking school – Level 5 Westfield, Sydney – 02 9283 3440