Hosted by Roger Mallindine MW (Master of Whisky), Keeper of the Quaich
Preceding Burns Night by an evening, this was an intimate affair around the private table at newly-refurbed G @ W on 28th floor at The Hilton. In a light brogue as smooth and mellifluous as an Isle of Dewar Malt, Roger led us an an anecdotal tour of the Highland and Islands, as a specially-prepared menu from Head Chef Andre Garrett was paired to a selection of whiskies from the Reserve Brands Group:
We sank several Johnnie Walker Black & Ginger Ales, a very superior Rye & Dry, with canapes and then, with smoked lobster, potato risotto and herb butter moved on to Clynelish 14 y/o, which was mellow and creamy, (a Meursault substitute?) with a touch of iodene and a whiff of the sea, picking out the smoky/salty (if anything slightly too much the latter) flavours of the dish.
Braised venison shoulder w/ macaroni gratin and turnip choucroute followed, paired to another North Highland Malt, Glen Ord 12 y/o. This was more powerful, a burly, four-square malt with a darker, peatier, more structured character. Elements of ichor and molasses were present and worked well in terms of flavour with the venison but it was noted that game's natural leanness and whisky's tendency to dry the palate (unlike the lubricating effect of wine) left some guests reaching for the water or wishing for a richer jus.
Lagavulin Distiller's Edition (finished in Pedro Ximenez Sherry Casks) was a treat of a whisky. One of the classiest, most balanced Malts from Islay, it yields the island's distinctive character but a finesse and purity that others, like the more singular and strapping Laphroaig, can lack. It should have been a a superb match with the Lanark Blue and confit quince but in this case I found the cheese so acrid that it engulfed all but the most forward flavours and aromas, the pervasive tang of saltpetre in the air made the experience akin to the latter stages of Waterloo, as the grog ration goes round in a lull in fighting.
Orange marmalade souffle & bitter chocolate sauce (a dreamteam of flavours for whisky) was good, but the ball of citrus sorbet dropped into it unnecessary, the chilled Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 y/o offering sufficient temperature contrast on its own. I must confess by this stage my notes were becoming less assured and more erratic, hence concentrating on the temperature differential between dessert and drink rather than discerning the character of what I'm sure was an excellently nuanced whisky. (In my defence, two other guests, Italian sommeliers both, had excused themselves from the party by this stage, staggering as discretely as possible to the lifts.)
Finally, Roger treated us to a bottle of Talisker 25 y/o from his personal cabinet, as a digestif. This King among Malts was a generous conclusion to a convivial and very interesting evening but sad to say, much like myself, it was rather wasted.
Thanks again to our host and also to restaurant manager Michele Caggianese and his team, whose disappointment at missing out being starred by Michelin this year seems justified given the quality of the food and attentive service.