Being first and foremost a winelover (and secondly a beer lover) I’ve always had a bit of a problem with spirits’ dinners - especially whisky ones. Don’t get me wrong - I like whisky, the usual spirit of choice - and cocktails but not all evening and not with food.
Last night’s pop-up dinner, a collaboration between the Sipsmith distillery in west London and Peter Gordon of Providores went a long way to converting me though. The matches dreamed up by Peter and Sipsmith’s master distiller Jared Brown were so ingenious you couldn’t fail to be impressed. What was particularly clever is that they managed to create a whole succession of savoury cocktails rather than the sweet ones that can so intrude on food. Here are some notes on what we ate and drank. (Unfortunately the light was so low I couldn't get any decent photos)
1. Greeted by a Gin Twist, a mulled drink of gin, flavoured with lemon juice and a lemon twist, topped up with hot water. Must have been some sugar syrup there too. I never knew gin could make a mulled drink but apparently it dates back to the early 19th century. Delicious (though I cautiously paced myself when I discover there were eight cocktails to come
2. Bloody Mary granite with a fresh Irish oyster. A fantastic kick-off to the meal itself. The Bloody mary really had quite a kick
3. Beet, horseradish and yuzu-infused vodka and distilled and infused wasabi vodka with a Chinese beef and Pacific fish tartare.
Fantastic presentation and flavours. The beef matched brilliantly with the pink beetroot-stained vodka and the fish tartare which had a lovely crunch of toasted coconut was just delicious
4. Game broth with a crispy wonton and wild mushrooms with a ‘bowl shot’ (gin-based salt and pepper tea jelly)
Probably the best dish of the evening: an extraordinarily rich consomm like broth based on venison, pheasant and rabbit and Wagyu beef with loads of mushrooms into which you dropped a shot of highly seasoned, peppery gin jelly. Quite amazing
5. Edamame parmesan, sake and mascarpone risotto with Truffle martini.
I was slightly disappointed when I tasted the martini on its own, expecting it to taste more truffley but miraculously the flavour emerged when combined with the risotto, adding another element to the dish.
6. Crisp-skinned trout with soba noodles with tempura shiso leaf and den miso mustard with a ‘Ginza Gibson’ (Shiso-infused shochu with gin)
Probably my favourite cocktail - incredibly fragrant, slightly citrussy and the perfect contrast to the rich flavours of the trout (which was served slightly rare). Clever mirroring of ingredients in the dish and the drink.
7. Roast New Zealand venison on buttered salsify with pickled plums and crispy buckwheat with ‘Northern Star’ (freshly distilled star anise and cacao vodka with ginger syrup and champagne)
The only pairing that didn’t quite come off for me. Although the venison did accentuate its star anise flavour the drink was basically a champagne cocktail - a bit light for such rich meat. I did find myself mildly craving a glass of red at this point.
8. Medjool date, banana and pecan pudding with coconut palm sugar and caramel sauce with Lady Grey Martini (Lady Grey infused gin, fresh lemon and egg white, double shaken)
A triumphant finale. A delicately sweet, citrussy cocktail (a riff on a White Lady) with a gorgeous banana-y pudding for which I’m going to have to try and extract the recipe. The cocktails accentuated the flavours of the dessert much better than a sweet wine could have done.
What was interesting about this dinner - and which you couldn’t achieve with a finished drink like wine or beer - is how the flavours played off against each other - the food accentuating flavours in the cocktail, the drink providing a top note to the food. Hard to replicate, unfortunately, as a lot of the components were distilled or infused for the evening but absolutely fascinating.
* A final and rather charming footnote. The Sipsmith still ‘Prudence’ which was one year old this week was blessed in vodka at the beginning of the meal by the splendidly worldly, iphone-toting Irish cleric who was sitting next to me. These are his words:
“We ask you that you bless Prudence, this creature of copper, that she may transform the gift of barley into the elixirs of vodka and gin and that fusing, so delicately, strong liquor with sweet savour, she may add her spirit to the merriment of men.” (And yes, both spirits are based on barley in case you were wondering if he got that right)
I attended the dinner as a guest of Sipsmith distillery