On a chilly, rainy autumn night, can there be much that’s more appealing than good food and great drams?
This combination ranks highly for me at this time of the year. And on a recent dark and blustery evening, I found myself splashing through puddles in inappropriately high heels to get to my destination which had promised to serve up just that.
On the 28th floor of the Gherkin, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society had taken over the bright orange Glenmorangie Signet private dining room – a welcome space to find myself walking into after my soggy journey.
The view – while slightly obscured due to the fog and rain – was still breathtaking, with blue and orange lights blinking as far as I could see.
The dinner was hosted in honour of the recent TWE Whisky Show, so Billy Abbott (ie: @cowfish and whisky blogger extraordinaire) was on hand to tell the set of 11 guests all about the show, while Joe McGirr (London’s SMWS manager) and Helen Stewart (the UK SMWS brand manager) were there to present some incredible whiskies.
The food came in the form of six small courses, which included: ‘Cardigan bay’ smoked mussels with bread velouté and suckling belly; pork terrine with pistachios; roast halibut and hard shell clams; Iberian pork shoulder; artisan cheeses from Mons; and, a chocolate cremeaux with orange and honeycomb. In short – pretty darn dazzling.
The whiskies, meanwhile, included some real stunners from the latest selection of bottlings. There was 7.78 (French patisserie in a bluebell wood), 116.17 (Pin-ball wizard in a Japanese tea house), 76.88 (Complex and manly), 26.71 (The great outdoors), 3.195 (Cigar smoking dragon), and 127.27 (A viking sucking Blackpool rock).
Of the food, I had a few favourites. The smoked mussels were a great place to start and paired wonderfully with 26.71. They were cooked perfectly and the small bite of suckling belly, along with an odd but tasty white chocolate sauce was an intriguing assault on the tastebuds. Equally, the whisky stood up. The 25 year old Clynelish was like a warm day at the beach on the nose, with hints of butter, pineapple, almonds and starfruit, while the palate was initially spicy but then sweet. With water the dram took on chocolatey and caramalised banana notes, like a tropical beach with flambéed bananas, a salty sea breeze and sizzling BBQ prawns. It had quite a spicy, herbal aftertaste, with flavours of cumin and rosemary.
Another stand out of the evening for me, food wise, was the roast halibut. It was served with clams, sea vegetables, olive oil caviar and yuzu (one of my newest choice sauces which is made of a citrus fruit from Japan). Each bit of olive oil caviar popped in the mouth, while the halibut was flaky soft with a hint of crunchy skin and the yuzu added a fruity, citric kick.
And of course, a final choice bit of the meal was the selection of cheeses. I’m a massive fan of pairing whisky and cheese together. The selection was put with my favourite whisky of the night: number 127.27, an eight year old Port Charlotte. On the nose it was all rubbery tires and Camembert to me, but while others found it very smoky, I thought it held quite a sweet, creamy smokiness. On the palate, I got chilli chocolate, cream, rubber, burnt sugar and lemongrass. It was a punchy dram with a hell of a spirit.
Of the other drams, my choice would have been number 7.78 – French patisserie in a bluebell wood. This 20 year old Longmorn from a refill cask was, to me, like smelling a bag of fudge or akin to the smell of walking into a fudge shop. On the palate it was an instant caramel bomb that exploded into sweet fragments. With it, I was transported to the Christmas markets I would attend when I was a kid – every year I’d get to choose some fudge and I remember cherishing the bag and finding a corner to sit down in and eat it afterwards. It was a bit too sweet to be a regular dram for me, but in place of pudding or after a meal I think it would be lovely.
By the end of the evening, I was buzzing with the warmth of good hospitality, fantastic food and desirable drams that helped keep me cosy during my splashy, freezing walk back to the tube. It was just what I needed on the first really chill autumn evening.