“We think it’s going to be great. And if you don’t, I’m sure you will after four or five whiskies.”
So said Michelin star chef Sriram Aylur at Bombay Brasserie to a room full of whisky lovers, and so began The Whisky Exchange’s Whisky Show dinner.
The evening’s dramlaxing commenced on an eastern note with the launch of a new Indian single malt whisky from Paul John, a very large producer in India but one unknown to the UK shores before now. It was delightfully rich for a three-year old dram, with hints of honey, vanilla and caramel.
After finding our seats in the cream and brown accented room, we lucky guests were presented with an outstanding cocktail from award winning mixologist, Ryan Chetiyawardana. The man behind London’s headlining cocktail bars Purl and The Whistling Shop, whipped up a rich and spicy drink made from Cocci vermouth, a tumeric bitter, Eagle Rare bourbon, lemon and basil. It was mouthwatering, with just the right balance between sweet and bitter.
But the evening – which acted as a prequel to The Whisky Exchange’s upcoming show on the 6-7 October – was all about food and whisky pairings. Sriram worked to concoct a menu that would move from starters through to dessert with a whisky match for each dish. A hard task for any set of foods but equally harder with robust, Indian fare, I thought. To make the evening more interesting, all of the whiskies were served blind, thereby forgoing any potential bias we might have towards the drams before we’d tried them with the food.
We began with deep fried spinach and sweet mango – a very nutty dish that reminded me of freshly baked pumpkin seeds. It was paired (I later learned) with the new Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask. The whisky – with its flavours of lychee and tinned pears, cream and cedar – matched very nicely with the sweet mango addition to the starter. I’m not sure it would have paired as well without some element of sweetness in the main dish but it was a pleasant way to begin.
The next dish was the stand out one of the night for me – but not because of the pairing. The tongue-tingling spiciness of the pan fried tilapia and batter fried spiced prawns were delectable. It was served with the biggest surprise whisky wise: Johnnie Walker Blue Label. While all my table-mates and I discussed which Speyside dram it might be, we were all shocked to learn this best seller was the match. I enjoyed the whisky (the first time I’ve tried that one) and the food was gorgeous, but I found the butter caramel and pineapple notes of the dram to be too sweet for the food – its spiciness totally clobbered the dram into in-distinction.
And so it followed that my favourite dram of the night followed my favourite dish. We were all perplexed by mystery dram number three. At first, I got lemon cookies, almonds, Christmas trees and panettone on the nose and the mouth was all “mango, mango, mango” as I wrote. But it was when Tim (resident blogger of The Whisky Exchange) said he was confident it was an Irish dram that it suddenly clicked for me and memories of one of my favourite drams from the company’s Irish tasting back in March came flooding to my mind – Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy! This was paired with an assortment of delicious Indian dishes, such as lamb Roganjosh, dal tadka and, my favourite, aloo Katilyan (potatoes cooked with cumin, garlic, ginger and spices). But, again, I preferred the whisky on its own. I think my palate might have been overwhelmed by that point. Regardless, both were delicious – I’m just not sure I’d put them together in future.
After satiating myself on so many courses, I felt sure I couldn’t handle a dessert but when the reduced milk pudding with berries and Malai kulfi came out I couldn’t resist. Many people were taken aback at the bold pairing: an Ardbeg Uigeadail. But after a few tastes and sips, I could see some of the logic – after all the savoury food, the Ardbeg took on distinctly sweet notes which paired pleasantly with the kulfi. An experiment with the other whiskies on the table, however, showed us the previous whisky – the Barry Crockett – actually worked better with the milk pudding. But, I commend the chef on his bold choices.
The meal finished on a dark, Madagascar chocolate and the exciting new Glenfarclas 105 20 year old. I, unfortunately, didn’t take notes on this one, but allowed myself to sit back in satisfaction that I was trying a new dram from one of my favoured distilleries.
By the time I waddled out, happily filled to the brim with spices, rich flavours and fabulous whiskies, I could only think that if The Whisky Exchange’s whisky show prequel dinner was anything to go by, the festival in October will be outstanding.
For more information on The Whisky Exchange’s upcoming weekend whisky show, visit: http://www.whisky-show.com/