This summer sees an impressive gathering of leading gastronomic professionals deliver the Fine Dining program at Royal Ascot.

February 18 marked the fourth annual Fine Dining launch, showcasing what guests can expect at Ascot Racecourse and the Royal Meeting in June. Raymond Blanc upholds his strong partnership with Royal Ascot, again operating the scenic Panoramic Restaurant, the sixth-floor fine dining venue where the launch was held. Raymond and his team at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons are also joining forces with Royal Ascot for the second year to continue Raymond’s academy training.

Bollinger has been the only official Champagne at Ascot since the racecourse was founded in 1711. Queen Victoria allegedly drank Bollinger post-race in the Royal Enclosure in 1858. Victoria Carfantan, director of Champagne Bollinger UK, attended Saturday’s preview, presenting the house’s relationship with the racecourse.

“We are privileged to be part of such a British institution. We all plan for Royal Ascot months in advance and the Bollinger family have dedicated their lives to producing the very best fine wine to offer discerning Royal Ascot customers,” said Carfantan.

Celebrated chefs Raymond Blanc, Phil Howard, and Royal Ascot executive chef Gemma Amor curated the three courses presented on February 18, each introducing the gastronomic delights to be served.

Phil Howard and Raymond Blanc at Royal Ascot 2017

Poured during the reception and throughout the day was Bollinger Special Cuvée, a popular choice among race-goers, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année 2007, to pair with Raymond Blanc’s starter of Cornish crab salad, coconut bisque, passion fruit, lime, and caviar, an elegant reflection of local Thai cuisine.

“As a fine wine, Bollinger pairs wonderfully with savory dishes and on Saturday we banished the taboo of drinking Champagne throughout the meal,” said Carfantan.

Bollinger Special Cuvée is a highly original Non-Vintage Champagne, not least because the house uses reserve wines stored in magnum under cork, allowing the oxidative aging process to contribute to the distinctive house style. Bollinger devotes an enormous amount of cellar space — roughly one third of the total — to its reserve wine, some 700,000 containers, for five to 15 years, but has patiently persevered with this method since 1892. It is a huge investment of labor and space, but certainly worthwhile for the depth and complexity of the resulting wine. You can read more about Champagne Bollinger’s precious older wines and its recently rediscovered stock in Essi Avellan MW’s article in issue 54.

“Monsieur Raymond Blanc’s crab dish with aromatics of coconut, passion fruit and lime, needed something that could both withstand and complement these delicious exotic flavours,” said Carfantan.

Clockwise from left: Phil Howard's main course of beef fillet, field mushrooms, potato stuffed oxtail, truffle butter, and red wine sauce; Raymond Blanc's Cornish crab, coconut bisque, lime, caviar, paired with Bollinger Champagne; Gemma Amor's 'Ascot chocolate bar' and sorbet

“The Bollinger style is characterized by the expression of the fruit’s full palette of aromas, both deep and subtle, striking the perfect balance between the intensity of the great Pinot Noirs from Aÿ and the freshness of Chardonnays from the Côte des Blancs.

“The creamy effervescence from vinification in oak barrels and prolonged yeast contact, resulted in the perfect pairing with the delicate texture of the crab, and the lime harmonized with the fresh finish and extended length offered by the wine,” said Carfantan.

Bibendum wine devised wine pairings for the preview, calling upon its catering events manager Ben Slomka, who assisted in creating the wine pairings across all Royal Ascot fine-dining establishments. “I work really closely with Raymond Blanc, Phil Howard, and the team here, to pair every fine dining restaurant across Ascot, and pairings to every menu,” commented Slomka. Raymond’s Thailand-inspired entrée paired with a fruity, delicate South African white, a Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016. Its heady fruit notes and rich texture are a result of ripening over a long period of time, growing on un-trellised bush vines in high temperatures, while still maintaining freshness and acidity.

Royal Ascot executive chef Gemma Amor describes the desserts at each table; Panoramic Restaurant guests enjoy unparalleled views of the racecourse

The main course of a beef fillet, introduced by renowned British chef Phil Howard, was delicious, and served with a beautiful Chateau Tour Pibran Pauillac 2011, which displayed a gorgeous depth and breadth of flavors. Elegant, floral fragrances and earthy undertones come about from this deep Bordeaux wine, married with well-grained tannins to cut through the tender beef. Asked to repeat the beef from Royal Ascot 2016, Phil describes the dish as a “Big, bold, butch dish, revolving around great produce: it’s the right meal for the occasion”. The Michelin-starred chef will be focusing his energies on sourcing the perfect cut of meat in high volumes. The beef fillet was served with fields mushrooms (“In my opinion, beef must be served with mushrooms,” states Phil), an oxtail stuffed potato, truffle butter and a deluxe red wine sauce.

Royal Ascot executive chef Gemma Amor executed the dessert. Two impeccable plates were presented, both evoking the flavors of black forest gâteau. One displayed meticulous detail with its array of individual ingredients, a somewhat decomposed black forest encompassing Valrhona chocolate, cherries, and kirsch. The alternative caters for one of the smaller fine-dining kitchen spaces, where the same level of garnish detail is not as achievable, but it has not fallen short on decadence with its ‘Ascot chocolate bar’ and sharp cherry sorbet. Alternate covers enjoyed either dessert. The wine pairing by Bibendum was in the form of Royal Tokaji Late Harvest (Hungary) 2014, although the Bollinger Special Cuvée was also suitable.

Dessert by Gemma Amor: decomposed black forest of Valrhona chocolate, cherries, and kirsch

To finish, Bollinger Rosé accompanied beautifully an afternoon tea of petit fours.

Royal Ascot 2017 is set to be a marvelous event. The fine dining seems very likely to reach, if not to surpass, the high expectations of its guests. Having experienced the Panoramic restaurant menu and its prestigious wine matches, the remaining wine lists devised by Bibendum for each of the 12 restaurants on site seem sure to please. All the while Champagne Bollinger ensures its presence at Royal Ascot, bringing to life the quintessence of the event in their entwined history.