Lucie Loves… Food & Drink // Celebrating 125 years of Mandarine Napoléon in Antwerp with De Kuyper [ad]
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Picture the scene: a 125th birthday party, a palace that used to belong to Napoléon Bonaparte – one of the greatest leaders in French and European history – and a host of guests toasting the occasion, with tumblers of limited edition 125 year old Grande Fine Champagne Cognac.
It was the kind of evening where, as girl from humble beginnings in the town of Warrington, you find yourself thinking “how the hell did I get here?”
It all started when I received an email from De Kuyper – a drinks brand that I’d met a few months back, on a trip to Rotterdam to visit the Rutte distillery in Dordrecht. This time around they were inviting me to come with them to Belgium, to celebrate one of their family member’s birthdays; Mandarine Napoléon.
So, I hopped on the Eurostar at London St Pancras International, and just a couple of hours later found myself in the diamond district of Antwerp. Goodness me! London’s Hatton Garden jewellers ain’t a patch on this! There are still so many European cities that I’m yet to explore, and I knew this was only going to be a short trip, but I was definitely going to enjoy myself.
We left our hotel at around 4-ish and walked to meet the other drinks press and bartender guests. It turns out that – the streets of Antwerp – given the fact that some of them are centuries-old, full of one way systems and narrow roads – are particularly difficult to navigate in a double-decker coach. It was like a comedy sketch as one passer-by downed his bags of shopping to help our frazzled driver perfect an 80 point turn – narrowly missing cars and pedestrians with each lurch back and forth.
The Mandarine Napoléon team hadn’t told us where we’d be going, or what the evening’s plans were. It was quite the surprise indeed, when we finally arrived at Bonaparte Dock. We stood, necks craned, looking in awe at the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) – having absolutely no idea that a theme was about to unfold…
From the ninth floor of the MAS, home to the aptly named Michelin ** restaurant, 9 Beaufort, we looked out over the city Antwerp, sipping on expertly-mixed cocktails, whilst gabbing away to strangers.
Napoléon Margarita (brand signature drink)
Dr. Mandoffee (recipe by Dr. Rotterdam)
Napoléon Conquest (recipe by Erik Lorincz)
Vineyard & Grove (recipe by Philip Bisschoff)
Margaret Collins (recipe by Vasilis Kyritsis)
Behind the bar stood a strong line up of the world’s leading bartenders, Chi-Ho Ta, Ben Lobos, Alberto Matallana, Michael Ziengs, Diego Cromzigt, and Helder Fortes Silva, all on an away-day – stolen from Dr Rotterdam. Each of them a good friend of Mandarine Napoléon, smiling as they served up glass after glass of ice-cold cocktails to a crowd of mixology peers, drinks journos from across Europe, a handful of French Instagramers, Mathieu Renard, and me.
After a speech by De Kuyper CEO, Mark de Witte, whereby he finished off with a ceremonious opening of a bottle of the 24-carat gold birthday drink, we chowed down on dishes by 2-star Michelin chef, Viki Geunes. Little plates of beef tartare, with miso mustard and pickled vegetables circulated the room, as hungry guests tucked into tempura soft shell crab, and feasted on coquilles, lardo and BBQ celeriac, and finally succulent lacquered pork, served with vegetables and a special sauce of Mandarine Napoléon.
After sampling all of the cocktails on offer we were whisked off to our next stop – Paleis op de Mer’s Mirror Room. It felt like we’d been transported back in time to 18th century Antwerp, and serenaded with beautiful classical music, as the cocktails continued to flow. It truly was a wonderful evening!
I’m still pretty new to Cognac, and don’t profess to be an expert about Champagne either, but this particular liqueur – infused with Napoléon’s favourite Sicilian mandarines – is quite the delectable new drink to discover at the grand old age of 32. I’m guessing that there are an infinite array of fine liqueurs and spirits that are going to grace my palate, for the first time, over the next 32 years year. And if they’re all as divine as this one – Well! That’s definitely something worth toasting!
If you wish to order a limited edition 24-carat bottle of Mandarine Napoléon XO Gold, pop an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. There are only 125 bottles available at the rather nostalgic price of €1892.00 (Why 1892? Because it was the first year that Mandarine Napoléon was first made available to the public.)
Photography © Lucie Kerley