If you didn’t know, it’s National Caviar Week so what more excuse do you need to quaff a coupe of Dom P 1998 and sup the definitive luxury food than a six-course taster menu at London’s M restaurant…
A few weeks ago I met Kate. Kate is tall and blonde and Russian. She is elegant and astute, much like the products of her family business. Kate is the owner, and new generation face of Volzhenka caviar – a premium offering from the shores of the Volgar River that feeds the Caspian Sea in south west Russia. Volzhenka means beautiful woman or flower who lives next to this river. A name and a concept that she herself came up with. What I like about Kate when I meet her is her understated passion that she subtly exudes when she talks not just about her business but the physical products – just launched into the UK last month. It is linked to a long family history that she now takes clear pride in moving forwards.
It is refreshing to see a serious female in this role for an industry that she says “has always been a man’s world” referencing her grandfather, her uncle and then her father who used to come up with the still-used secret recipes from Astrakhan – the ‘city of caviar’ where these eggs were originally discovered 500 years ago. As a professional dancer for twelve years Kate was inspired to make something of her heritage after travelling the world and coming into contact with more and more caviar imitations. “In Shanghai, even in Italy and Spain they are making caviar now,” she explains as she serves up tiny mother-of-pearl spoonfuls of her prized sturgeon roe. “I want to guard the tradition and refresh the approach,” she says.
The production of caviar, like champagne, is a long term investment. Sturgeon fish only start giving eggs after coming of age at eighteen years old. They are large fish that are difficult to grow, are sensitive to disease and whose development depends on the temperatures of the water they live in. Sturgeon’s sex can only be determined after seven years, so as the roe only comes from the females it is a long process to keep the fish healthy in the interim. Fully grown beluga-producing sturgeon can be up to 3.5m long and can weigh up to two tonnes – enough for ten people to carry – lined up from one end of the fish to the other. Often dubbed ‘dinosaur fish’ their appearance and makeup has barely changed with the fossils of them that date from 200 million years ago. The older a sturgeon is, the more intense the flavour of the resultant caviar.
This week it is national caviar week, and in celebration of such you’ll find Kate’s caviar on a specially designed menu at the city’s M restaurant. M was recently launched by Martin Williams – ex Managing Director of Gaucho. It’s no surprise to learn then that this place specialises in great steak and excellent wine. This week however, in addition to the regular menu, you can indulge in six courses of the finest Russian caviar, paired with happy caviar bedfellow Dom Perignon – both the 2008 and the P2 2004 are available to try, served in elegant coupe glasses that whisper of a bygone Russian era. In the darkened surrounds of M you can transport yourself to further decadence through an amuse bouche of vodka, watermelon and cucumber consommé with a caviar and parmesan tuille; like a refreshing gazpacho, the saltiness of the caviar and the power and finesse of this prized and heavenly, smoky, toasty champagne splits out these flavours beautifully.
Champagne foam-soaked oysters with samphire arrive next – so delicious looking even those who’ve sworn off them for years will have trouble resisting. Cauliflower and mint dressed crab follows before a goat’s cheese emulsion on toasted brioche soldiers. A palate cleanser of lime sorbet plus caviar makes dish number five, before the closing course of crème brulee, caviar and champagne jelly – curiously dreamt up by Aussie head chef Jarad McCarroll (ex Chiltern Firehouse) and his executive chef who is based in Melbourne. All are topped with either Oscietra or Volzhenka Beluga Caviar. Beluga is saltier, softer and more buttery – coming from fish who live on the banks of the river. This is the most premium because it takes the longest to mature. The Oscietra has a distinctive golden colour and amber reflection to it and is famed for its hazelnut and creamy textured aftertaste. Á table, we taste the menu with glee, finished with a sparkler-presented glass of Grey Goose Vodka VX to finish. All smacking happy twists on tradition.
If ever an excuse for champagne and caviar was needed – you have licence for it this week.
For more information about M Restaurants and their caviar and champagne taster menu, visit www.mrestaurants.co.uk.