Pairing whisky with food is one of my all time favourite things. In the past, in restaurants and bars, it's always been the case that a whisky has been selected to pair specifically with a particular dish. So this is where Colin Hinds, owner and chef at Whisky Forager, does things differently. Colin actually creates the dish to pair with the whisky.
Colin kindly invited me to a pre-launch evening for his new Whisky Forager restaurant in Stockbridge. Used to showcasing Scottish produce with his previous restaurant, the award winning Kilted Lobster, Whisky Forager follows the same ethics and philosophy to create a dining experience which champions the very best in Scottish produce.
Each of Colin's creations for the five course tasting menu is paired with a dram which is a little different from the average core range, entry level whiskies. There's nothing wrong with those, of course. It's just that sometimes it's not only great to taste a hard to find whisky but even better tasting it in such an innovative way.
The first course of the evening was Duck Leg Confit with a Pineapple and Star Anise Glaze, Rosemary and Sweet Potato Scone. This was paired with an Ardbeg Wee Beastie Highball. Starting off the evening with a peaty dram is a bold move - even if it is a peaty highball - but it paid off. The Ardbeg Highball was a revelation and totally complemented the duck leg confit.
Course Two was Beetroot Cured Scottish Smoked Salmon with Beetroot Aioli and Pickled Cucumber which was paired with Talisker 15 Years Special Release 2019. The saltiness of the whisky really came to the fore with this pairing and, with a few drops of water, its gentle peat really enhanced the smoked element of the salmon. And I even ate the pickled cucumber. For those of you who don't know, I genuinely hate cucumber; it always tastes like a soapy cooking apple to me. This, however, did actually taste nice!
Third course was Fillet of Organic Beef, Tiger Nut Crumb, Girolle Ragu, Organic Pearl Barley with a Red Wine Syrup. The beef was so tender and cooked to perfection for me. Seeing this was paired with an Arran Amarone Cask Finish, I was doubtful this would work. This is a relatively light dram and I was sure the beef would require something a little more robust. Just goes to show what I know. This paired beautifully with the red wine syrup really bringing out the red fruit notes in the whisky. Another revelation.
Penultimate course was Raspberry Cranachan Crème Brûlée paired with Glenmorangie Signet which was served with its very own smoke bubble. So, at this point, I'll point out that in order to ensure social distancing takes place, Colin has rearranged the table placements so that there are no more than ten guests in the restaurant at any one time. There were eight of us in on the night and this was the course where every one stopped chatting and went completely quiet. The cranachan was that good it quite literally shut us all up. The raspberries brought out a whole bunch of winter berry flavours in the Glenmorangie Signet. And the smoke bubble was cool :-)
The final course was Whipped Blue Murder with Iced Grapes, Oatcake and Honey paired with a dram of Dalmore Cigar Malt. Blue Murder is made in Tain so I was expecting this to be paired with the Glenmorangie. I think that would have also worked well but as well as pairing well with the cranachan, the Glenmorangie played the perfect transitional role for the final pairing. On its own, Dalmore would have been my least favourite dram on the night. However, paired with the cheese, all those raisin and figgy flavours that are normally subdued were really enhanced. The fruity notes in the whisky, together with the dry finish, worked brilliantly with the creaminess of the cheese.
When Colin describes Whisky Forager as a dining experience, that's exactly what it is: an experience. With only one sitting per evening, you can take your time and truly explore the different flavours of both the whisky and the food.
Advance booking is essential. You can find all the details here: https://www.whiskyforager.co.uk/reservations
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