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Thursday, 17 February 2022 13:06

Best restaurants for your Champagne wine tour

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© Racine Reims © Racine Reims © Racine Reims

Most wine lovers live to eat, so at best wine tourism is also a gastrotourism. The restaurant scene is Champagne is not quite as bubbly as the name suggests, but thanks to champagne houses’ entertaining and champagne tourism, the region has many fine restaurants: L’Assiette Champenois with three Michelin stars, Les Crayères and Racine with two stars and a handful of one-star places. Outside the top restaurants, the local cuisine is rather traditional, so do not expect gastronomic triumphs all around. It is worthwhile getting to know the best places in advance. Here are my 10 favourite addresses around Reims and Epernay.

In and Around Reims

Le Wine Bar by Le Vintage, Reims

© Le Wine Bar by Le Vintage

The best place for an aperitif or after dinner bubbly digestive is the lively Le Wine Bar on Reims’ historical Place du Forum, which is known for its great atmosphere attracting local champagne producers, Reims youth and champagne tourists alike. The bar carries a great selection of both grower and grande marque champagnes thanks to the Papavero family also owning the wine shop Le Vintage around the corner. If you are in for a casual night dining out, there is a great choice of charcuterie, cheeses and other treats to savour with your champagne.
 
www.winebar-reims.com

Epicerie Au Bon Manger, Reims

Just a few steps away from Place du Forum, Epicerie Au Bon Manger is a combination of wine bar and deli shop, where you can enjoy first-class cheeses and charcuterie with champagne and also buy both to take away. The common theme of the selection is green values and terroir thinking. Thus the list carries top names of this genre from Jacques Lassaigne to Vincent Laval and Vouette & Sorbée. Other French regions are also well represented. Soul of the charming place, Aline Serva, hosts it with passion with her husband Eric, thus it is easy to end up as a regular.

https://aubonmanger.fr/index

Les Crayères Brasserie Le Jardin, Reims

© Les Crayères

Le Jardin allows you to enjoy Domaine Les Crayères’ magnificent surroundings and fine gastronomy in a more informal and affordable way. The stylish interior creates beautiful surroundings for Philippe Mille’s gastronomic creations. Eating lunch on the spacious terrace is a summertime pleasure. All the pieces fall into place here when it comes to food, service and price. I am only left aspiring for a wider champagne list but I presume it is a conscious decision to distinguish it from the neighbouring Le Parc’s grand two-star experience.
 
www.lescrayeres.com

Racine**, Reims

© Racine Reims

Before founding Racine in 2015, Kazuyuki Tanaka worked for example at Reims’ iconic Les Crayères. The pure flavours in his small, minimalist restaurant are a fusion of French and Japanese cuisine, but the presentation resembles Japanese in its pedantic, highly visual and artistic ways. Kazuyuki’s talents were quickly appreciated by the Michelin inspectors, and he received his first star in 2017 and second star just recently in 2020. To perfect the experience, one can always discover new, up-and-coming grower champagnes on the wine list.
 
www.racine.re

L’Assiette Champenoise***, Tinqueux

About 10 minutes from Reims, this gastronomic haven is the kingdom of chef and entrepreneur Arnaud Lallement, who achieved his first star in 2001, the second in 2005 and the third in 2014. Stardust aside, I love the cuisine here for its delicate flavours and always innovative touches. Arnaud is committed to respecting the pure flavour of the product. But I must say that it is also L’Assiette Champenoise’s groovy atmosphere without any formality that contributes to the overall perfection. Arnaud Lallemant is a Krug lover, thus there is always Krug available by the glass. Other than that, L’Assiette Champenois’ long-term head sommelier Frédéric Bouché has built up a great wine selection. Prices are high, as expected, but appropriate.
 
www.assiettechampenoise.com

Around Epernay

Sacré Bistro, Épernay

Sometimes between the fine dining menus, one just craves a great burger and a glass of champagne. Sacré Bistro in downtown Épernay is just the place for a juicy, royal burger (the options being named after French kings) or a fresh salad. I wish burger joints elsewhere would carry a champagne list of this calibre where one’s fabulous options range from Guiborat, Dhondt-Grellet and Calsac all the way to Bollinger R.D. and Dom Pérignon P2.
 
www.sacrebistro.fr

Royal Champagne, Champillon

© Royal Champagne

History obliges Royal Champagne to greatness, as this inn was once the stopover for Napoleon and his generals on their way to Reims. The place recently went through a complete renaissance under the ownership of a Boston couple, proprietors of Champagne Leclerc Briant. This five star resort houses a spa oasis, two restaurants and a gorgeous, vast terrace offering one of Champagne’s best vineyard views. The more casual Le Bellevue restaurant is the place to enjoy the view to the maximum. Champagne selection is wide-enough to quench the thirst of a gastrotourist.
 
www.royalchampagne.com

Les Grains d’Argent, Dizy

Les Grains d’Argent in Dizy, just outside Épernay, couldn’t be more centrally located, as it is here where Montagne de Reims and the Marne Valley meet. The perfect place for a relaxed gastronomic lunch in between winery visits. After a career in London, Annabelle Hazard returned to Épernay and opened her own restaurant in 2010. The place was quickly discovered by the locals and appreciated for its delicate, fresh flavours and ambient surroundings. The kitchen is today led by Alexis Supiot. Annabelle Hazard’s deep wine knowledge can be sensed on the wine list. The champagne list is versatile and the prices friendly.
 
www.lesgrainsdargent.fr

Les Avisés, Avize

© Les Avisés

Les Avisés is the obligatory pilgrimage resort for every devotee of Jacques Selosse champagne, but it is the Côte des Blancs’ number one venue for every other gastrotourist, too. Anselme Selosse acquired Bricout-Koch’s 19th century mansion in 2008 and restored it in a cosy yet extremely elegant fashion. Stéphane and Nathalie Rossillon run Les Avisés’ intimate restaurant that constantly changes its menu depending on the availability of ingredients and mood of the chef. The kitchen is cherished for its rich, yet refined flavours. The wine list surely features Selosse champagnes, but it is also rich in its offering of grower champagnes and wines from the rest of France.
 
www.selosse-lesavises.com

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Essi Avellan MW

  • Co-author of “Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wines”
  • Master of Wine specialized in Champagne
  • Judge at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships
  • Author of “Essi Avellan’s Champagne” and co-author of “Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wines”
  • Organizer of the Grand Champagne Helsinki event

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