I have a confession. Whisky isn’t my only passion. I love to eat too. But, more than that, I have loved cooking as far back as I can remember. And, because of my passion for cooking, I enjoy learning about what goes into what I’m eating – where it’s come from, how it’s aged, what makes it what it is. This marries up beautifully with whisky because, similarly, understanding what makes a dram individual makes it all the more exciting.
As such, I get great pleasure out of pairing food and whisky – two of my favourite things in the world. So, when the Scotch Malt Whisky Society asked me along to an event at the Clerkenwell branch of Bistro du Vin, I replied straight away saying I’d be there. In fact, I nearly went directly to the restaurant to wait patiently in the corner until I could be allowed to eat, drink and be merry! Luckily, I managed to avoid embarrassing myself and stuck to the pre-arranged arrival time.
To my joy, we met in the “Whisky Snuggle” – Bistro du Vin’s private downstairs room, with a cozy and alluring name. There, I was greeted by fellow whisky woman Helen Stewart, the SMWS UK Brand Ambassador, another Brand Ambassador, John McCheyne, and London Members’ Rooms manager, Joe McGirr. The latter had been hard at “work” testing out the menu ahead of time, so my expectations were high. Whisky blogger extraordinaire, Billy Abbott, and London food blogger and NME Deputy Editor, Tim Chester, and his wife also joined in.
We started on a lovely whisky with a short and sweet name: “Classy and Attractive (aka: 25.62)”. This little beauty was a 20yo Rosebank, bottled in 1991. The nose immediately made me think of a warm summer’s day, when the light is filtering over the hayfields (I’m still a country girl at heart!). It was warm and “friendly” – quite creamy and sticky sweet, with notes of sherbert and strawberries on the palate. Adding water brought out a hint of raspberry and white chocolate – like a chocolate box!
Next up was “An Angel fallen to earth (aka: 104.13)” – a 36 yo Glen Craig, which still came in at a hefty 50.6%. On the nose, there were dashes of lemon, rosemary, aftershave and dried fruit while the on the mouth it hinted at light-brown burnt sugar and gentle rose. It had an incredible aftertaste that just kept on running – lingering notes of grass and campfire smoke. It was divine.
But, of course, this evening wasn’t just about the whisky! The food was also due to make a strong appearance. So, while those two drams worked their way around our systems, we headed upstairs to the meat room where we were taken through a showing of the beef on the menu for the evening.
Bistro du Vin works on thesis of: “Think homegrown and local”. All food, therefore, is supplied either locally or from farms they know and trust to be doing the best job. As such, if you get a chance to visit the meat locker (where the cuts of beef are aged) you’ll get a load of information about what you’re about to eat. The Clerkenwell branch uses Lake District Farmers, which supply native breed Cumbrian cattle that have been raised free range for at least two years. They are a slower growing cattle variety, so provide a richer, meatier taste. At Bistro du Vin they then age the meat under strict conditions for two to four weeks. The effect of this is fascinating: we were shown the differing sizes of cuts of meat, which shrank extensively during the aging process. It’s no wonder why the steaks are a bit pricey: the restaurant’s losing a third of its product just by aging it. But, this results in a denser, and far richer cut so I highly recommend treating yourself if you get the chance to one day.
After we’d gotten to know our steaks for the evening, we headed back to the Snuggle to be wrapped in more warm layers of whisky. The next dram was, rather appropriately, named: “Xmas cake & Afghan coats (121.50)” so we were really getting cozy. It was accompanied by (my first!) beef carpaccio & steak tartare.
The whisky wasn’t my favourite of the night, but would suit those looking for something a bit punchier: this 9-year old Arran certainly packs one. On the nose I got liquorice, cumin seeds, aged tequila and cigars while the mouth lent itself to flavours of treacle and ginger spice. It was astringent and left an aftertaste similar to when you chew on a wooden popsicle stick after the lolly’s finished (it might just be me that does this).
Next up was the steak – oh, the beautiful steak. Can I just wow you for a second?
This was followed by a cheese plate and a stunning pave au chocolat with black figs and honeycomb. Two other whiskies (“Hot embers at the gates of hell” – no. 93.50; and, “Oak and smoke intensity” – no. 29.109) finished the night off with the food. Unfortunately, yours truly was so caught up in the intense joy of it all that she didn’t take notes. Instead, I’ll woo you with some more pictures and suggest you head to your local SMWS to give them all a go…