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Richard Siddle: memories of a night out with Krug in Highgate Cemetery

Published:  13 December, 2012

The last time I was wondering around Highgate Cemetery was in my more formative years when a trip to see Karl Marx's grave was the sort of thing you did on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Some 20 odd years later I found myself outside the foreboding high walls of the cemetery for an all together different sort of visit.

I am not sure what Karl Marx would have thought of a Grand Cru Champagne house hosting a night of luxury fine dining within the walls of where he, and countless others lie, but at least I turned down the offer of a chauffeured car to get me there, relying on good old public transport instead.

Now we know Champagne brands don't do things by halves, but the level of detail to which Krug, and its many helpers, had gone to put on this night of revelry had to be seen to be believed.

We were there to experience what Krug had billed as its "Institute of Happiness". Which in reality meant hiring the sort of house that could have come straight from central casting of Channel 4's Grand Designs programme - situated within the walls of Highgate cemetery itself.


Yes, that's right, rather than the more traditional bed of dahlias or chrysanthemums in the back garden, this particular establishment has row after row of ominous looking graves.

It also looked like it could have been used as a set from The Killing or any of the other BBC4 Norwegian dramas with its glass floors, cement walls and not a lick of paint in sight.

But it proved the perfect setting for Krug's night of fine dining all matched with one or another of its vintage Champagnes going back to 1998.

Nuno Mendes, the highly acclaimed versatile and oh so unique chef of Portuguese-influenced restaurant, Viajante, had been hired to create a menu that would charm us not only this evening, but on the subsequent nights that were open to well- heeled customers able to pay £400 plus for a double ticket.

It is all part of Krug's philosophy, explained Oliver Krug himself, to use its Champagnes to be able to share truly memorable experiences and bring a sense of fun, excitement and, yes, glamour to sampling its Champagnes with unique experiences. Hence its Institute of Happiness in Highgate cemetery.

It was also, he said, hosting a similar experience to customers and consumers in Paris where he had taken over one of the city's iconic shops to create a Parisian version of its Highgate affair.

The night certainly conjured up all the elements that Olivier had hoped for. Before arriving we were all asked a series of questions along the lines of what songs, films, sweets or colours made us happy. So whilst enjoying our pre-dinner drinks we were able to listen to an odd collection of songs that just happened to be our own song choices (although Kylie's I Wouldn't Change a Thing failed to make the playlist). Then when we sat down to dinner we each had a paper bird in our favourite colour. All capped off when discovered our favourite sweet discreetly slipped in to our coat pocket on leaving.

As for the food. Well Mendes was there himself to present a selection of delicate combinations of ingredients that would not normally find themselves anywhere near the same plate.

The delicacies of the broths and consommés matched neatly with the light touches of acidity in the Champagnes. The textures of the pigeon and lobster, standing up to the richness and depth of the Krugs.

And if that was not enough we were even greeted with our freak "snow storm. Which came as quickly as arrived, but left a wonderful light landscape across the spooky cemetery below.

But sorry Karl, gone midnight and the lure of a warm chauffeur driven Mercedes estate to take me all the way back south of the river was a little too much to say no.

Full menu:
Cured Lobster, spring onion and consommé with spruce bark
Krug 1998

Halibut with seaweed sofrito and a seafood rice broth
Krug 2000

Aged pigeon buried under fallen Autumn leaves
Krug Rosé

Milk dessert

Krug Grande Cuvée

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