Words by Karen Yates
On a cold, dark winter’s night, what a pleasure to be collected by car and driven to Highgate, to a stylish, glass-fronted building that by day overlooks the famous cemetery, to enjoy food cooked by the affable Nuno Mendes of Michelin-starred Viajante in Bethnal Green, matched by Krug champagnes in the company of Olivier Krug, whose great great great grandfather started the company in 1843.
The idea behind the pop-up Krug Institute of Happiness is that everything you taste, see, smell and hear brings you pleasure. So, after being welcomed with a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée and canapés including softest-ever cuttlefish with lardo, we sat down to a final canapé of black olive cake with yeast and crushed potatoes. Between courses, Nuno explained that each endorphin-releasing dish was intended to evoke comforting and joyous memories.
First was cured lobster, spring onion and consommé with spruce bark, enjoyed with a glass of Krug 1998, whose apple, pear and toast notes worked well with the lobster.
|Image by Karen Yates|
Next was halibut with seaweed sofrito and seafood rice broth, whose intense, Japanese flavours were matched by a bold and slightly citrussy Krug 2000. Safe to say my happiness levels were rising.
|Image by Karen Yates|
At this point, Olivier Krug joined our table as we tucked into aged pigeon buried under ‘fallen autumn leaves’, enjoyed with Krug Rosé, which has citrus notes, a slight cherry flavour and a fine, silky texture. According to Olivier, this rosé champagne is Madonna’s guilty pleasure. One of his people had told him she’d announced it in a tweet, and that it must be “worth an ’ashtag”. Well, if it’s good enough for her Madgesty…
At that point, there was a collective “aaaah!” and we looked outside to see the first snow of the season. A few cynics among us noticed it was falling in front of only one window, and was clearly designed purely for our happiness.
The final, deeply comforting dish was as delicate as a snowflake and melted in the mouth. It was named simply ‘milk’ and described as ‘a return to the beginning, happy memories of home’, and we were back to where we started with a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée.
For those in need of further joy, plates of chocolate truffles appeared with the coffees.
Before this evening, guests were asked as series of questions, including what music makes you happy and what’s your favourite sweet. Throughout the evening, a pianist played people’s chosen songs – one excitable guest joined him at the piano and sang along – and in the car home I felt in my coat pocket and pulled out a bag of liquorice allsorts, tied with a big red ribbon. Little bespoke touches like these certainly upped the happiness factor.
The next morning, by the way, I woke to the first snow of the year. Perhaps, after all, the institute really had worked its magic.
This pop-up experience was available only until 8 December 2012, but then happiness is always fleeting.