L’Académie du Champagne, known in Britain as the Champagne Academy was founded in 1956 to foster an appreciation and understanding of champagne and lead the recovery, after the Second World War, in the key markets of United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It does so by engaging members of the wine trade, primarily through the Champagne Academy course held once a year by invitation for a number of trade personnel. Today, 16 distinguished champagne houses make up Les Grandes Marques – the Academy’s crowned heads of champagne. They collaborate in running events and courses to uphold the objectives of this exclusive yet vibrant society.
For the occasion of the Champagne Academy Chairman’s luncheon, guests – among them ten past Academy Chairmen – arrived in a rather unorthodox neighbourhood: the East End of London, not usually associated with lunchtime champagne gatherings. Yet it was here that Harry Forman, of the world famous salmon smokery H. Forman & Son, conceived the “London cure” over a century ago – selected Scottish salmon gently smoked without added sugar. Today, this remains the distinct Forman house style: freshest salmon, a little salt and just the right amount of oak smoke to complement the unrivalled flavour of Scottish salmon. When the occasion calls for smoked salmon and champagne pairing, the Champange Academy does it in style: a tour and luncheon at H. Forman & Son accompanied by Mumm, Ruinart, Perrier-Jouët, among other Grandes Marques Champagnes, all served up fluted and chilled on a fine British summer’s day.
Forman’s smokery is located on the aptly named Fish Island, near the 2012 Olympic Stadium. A compulsory purchase order by the Mayor of London to make way for the Stadium did not extinguish this traditional family smokery; instead, Harry’s great-grandson Lance Forman turned the marching order into an opportunity: H. Forman & Son, now re-sited, occupies a large, architecturally inspired building of brick and steel across the River Lea from the Stadium. Here you see hand crafted selection, preparation and packaging of smoked salmon and other fish, a bespoke quality food mail order operation offering speciality cures and British artisan produce, for export, wholesale and private customers. In addition the futuristic event suite and the wonderful in-house “smokery restaurant” backed by a kitchen brigade using the same high-tech operation that produces everything for immediate presentation to export, all under one roof.
Pre-lunch proceedings began with Champagne and canapés on a theme of, well, salmon, beautifully done in a variety of ways. A sun drenched terrace with inviting loungers and panoramic views of the old industrial East contrasted with the Olympic Stadium, the regenerating Stratford, and the shiny capitalist playground of Canary Wharf, the Shard and the City of London beyond. An apt setting for the decadent, thickly cut cured salmon, infused in a dash of vodka, with the refined bubbles in elegant flutes, round and generous on the palate but never lacking zest and acidity. Richness with a zing; opulence with a steely spine.
After an animated champagne aperitif on the roof-terrace, guests donned the legally required, protective headwear, outerwear and footwear for a behind the scene tour of the smokery. Dashing through sealed cold rooms, peering into sub-zero freezers and bypassing swanky German-engineered smoke kilns, the entourage learned the ins and outs of how salmon are selected, then prepared, cured, smoked, trimmed, deboned and carved; each stage by hand. Every pair of hands at Forman’s working effortlessly, they exude experience and artisanship – a tradition fostered by Forman’s since 1905.
After this absorbing tour, guests were rewarded with more dainty bites, more Pommery, Ruinart and Perrier-Jouët in the jazzy hospitality suite before being invited to the restaurant – a light airy space with unimpeded view of the Olympic Stadium. Every mouthful of the main dish – the most generous portion of poached fillet of Scottish Salmon on a bed of samphire with mussels and dill cream sauce – was a reminder that this place really has the last word on salmon. The main course was complemented by Perrier-Jouët NV. Devine. Dessert of baked Alaska accompanied by Krug NV supplied a fitting finale to a perfect luncheon. The pairing was met with curiosity but proved to be harmonious. Neither the delicious dessert nor the exquisite Krug interfered or altered one another’s own delicacy.
A round of applause then, for Forman’s dynamic fourth generation flag bearer Lance Forman and a toast to the Champagne Academy’s current chairman Tim Bartleet and administrator Val Simpson who organised this event.
“There are some food and wine pairings that were just meant to be and there is no doubt in my mind that smoked salmon and champagne remains at the very top of that list”. – Lance Forman
© Janet Z. Wang 2015