At a recent tasting, the speaker said he tends to be loath to host whisky and food tastings because of the simple fact that whisky can taste so differently to each person and he does not like to prescribe exactly what will or won’t work well together.
I was intrigued by this statement but realised it made complete sense – after all, where one person might taste fragrant roses in a lovely scotch, another gets subtle notes of horse manure. Different strokes, for different folks.
So, it was with an open mind that I headed to Atul Kochhar’s lovely Berkeley Square restaurant Benares recently to taste some Indian food and pair it with whisky.
Bar manager – Giovanni Spezziga – takes pride in the quality of whiskies he makes star at the bar and on the restaurant’s “whisky trolley” which gets wheeled out to guests at the Michelin star restaurant when they have finished up some tasty treats.
However, the restaurant is also trying to highlight that whisky is not only an after-dinner drink, but one that can be paired to match the spicy, rich flavours of its Indian food just as well.
“Our food is very complex so our whisky is too,” said Spezziga.
Added to this, Spezziga has also recently brought in two of the Amrut whiskies – the classic and the peated styles – to promote the Indian influence further.
“I thought, ‘Wow’. I was really surprised [at the Amrut] so I have started to suggest it to our guests,” he said.
On my menu for the day was a potato cake, tandoori chicken, paneer with apricot sauce and a vegetable samosa with a tamarind sauce. We matched these up with a Glenmorangie, the Auchentoshan Three Wood, the Balvenie DoubleWood and the two Amrut whiskies. Finally, there’s a cheeky Manhattan made with the Amrut Peated, the stunning Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and a cherry marinated in orange, cherry wine and anise – can you say: YUM!?
For the most part, the whisky went well and helped eke out further flavour from the food – the only time it didn’t happen was with the potato cake, which was a bit too light to do much with the Glenmorangie. But my favourite, by far, was the vegetable samosa with tamarind sauce, matched with the Balvenie DoubleWood. The sharp sweetness of the tamarind, along with the cumin spiciness of the samosa, worked beautifully with the sherry and cinnamon notes in the whisky. Parfait!
Next year the restaurant hopes to start doing some whisky masterclasses and to create a whisky and food matching menu to show off just how well the two foods go together. And after tasting the flavours, I could understand it: the powerful, spicy richness of Indian food with its cumin, coriander, ginger and tumeric, along with the spicy, oily full notes of many whiskies do seem to blend very well.
But, then again, that’s just Miss Whisky’s opinion – she says: go out and try it yourself and let her know what you think!