Food

A Meeting of Minds

Joel Harrison heads to Leeds to check out an excellent food and whisky menu
By Joel Harrison
Living in London, I have become spoiled for choice if I want to go out for a cocktail; from East London’s small, boutique places such as Alistair Burgess’ new bar Happiness Forgets in Hoxton Sq and some of it’s more established neighbours Callooh Callay, Casita and the Whistling Shop, through to Mayfair’s hotel bars at The Arch, Dukes and the Connaught, there is always somewhere bursting with talent to quench my thirst.

Moving away from the Capital, if I asked you to write a list of other UK cities where one might find an exceptional whisky bar with an innovative mixologist, let alone one coupled with an excellent restaurant, I can’t imagine that Leeds would be near the top of the table. But thanks to a new, Scottish-owned hotel group called Mint, Leeds can proudly boast one of the best food and beverage pairings in the North of England, with a heavy focus on whisky and whisky-related cocktails.

Located on the Aire and Calder Navigation in the heart of the Leeds, the Mint Hotel is part of a small group of just eight properties, seven of which are in the UK with one in Amsterdam.

Each hotel has its own unique collection of whisky, allowing the head bar staff to purchase bottles according to their customer’s tastes. In Leeds, for example you will find an old bottle of Whyte & Mackay 30 Years Old sitting happily next to 32 Years Old Glen Elgin. With each drinks menu comes an 11-point guide to whisky, answering simple questions like ‘What is Scotch whisky?’ through to the more difficult quandaries such as ‘Why don’t I like whisky?’ Arranged across two bars, the more lounge-styled Granary bar downstairs with views across the water and the top floor Skylounge boasting, as the name would suggest, amazing views across the city and beyond.

The hotel’s food and beverage manager is Javier De La Hormaza. Previously involved in setting up Floridita in Soho, Javier has assembled a team capable of delivering drinks of the highest order. One of his team is resident mixologist Dean Railton, who recently won a cocktail competition where the entrants had to use local Yorkshire ingredients. His winning concoction, a Sage & Onion Gibson, spurred Dean on to experiment further with locally sourced materials.

“I’m very passionate about using locally made produce in my cocktails. At the moment I’m using a lot of bits from Raisthorpe, such as their Sloe Port Liquor, but they also do lot of other sweet berry liquors as well. I’m using that in my Red Rob Roy [recipe next page].”

Dean continues: “Locally grown herbs and veg are important to me too. I’d love to use more local fruit, but it is a little harder to source with it being in-and-out of season so much. I’m also a huge fan of the flavoured vinegars and jams from Womersley which I used in my Sage and Onion Gibson. We’re doing a locally soured martini menu soon too, using some other pieces from Womersley, which is going to be exciting.”

As well as experimenting with local produce, Dean is a huge advocate of Scotch and with an extensive whisky library at his fingertips, it makes sense to play around. One of his latest cocktails, called the ‘Smokey Railton’ involves building a small bonfire of coffee beans, vanilla pods and lemongrass, soaked briefly in absinth and set alight. The smoke from this feu de joie is captured in one half of a Boston shaker after a mix of Ardbeg 10 Years Old, Mozart chocolate liqueur, vanilla syrup, ice and a dash of chocolate bitters is made up in the other half. Shaken and strained, the result is a wonderfully smoky, creamy, chocolate affair that makes you wonder what Ardbeg would make if they substituted their malt for a mix of coco and coffee beans.

Along with the bar staff striving to use local goods in their creations, the same ethos translates across to the hotel’s AA Rosette restaurant, City Café. Situated canal-side, with soothing views of the water and beautifully appointed narrow boats with names like exotic cocktails (Rupsie Jane, Femina Ferra), the restaurant offers a fine dining experience with a traditional British menu featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients on both its a la carte menu as well as a ‘Market Menu’, created by head chef Leah Jenson, featuring seasonal produce, which changes on a weekly basis.

The restaurant and bar have linked up to celebrate the re-release of the classic Scottish film Whisky Galore, part of a series of classic films being restored and re-released as part of Ealing Studio’s 80th anniversary, by creating a whisky themed menu.

The film, a true story about the SS Politician, a World War II ship which sunk on February 5 1941 near the Outer Hebrides, its cargo of 50,000 bottles of whisky washed up for locals to gather up, was released in 1949 to critical acclaim.

The menu features a starter of cray fish risotto, crab tortellini and Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old whisky bisque followed by a main course of pan roast Yorkshire fillet of beef with haggis Scotch egg, celery crumb, chanterelle mushrooms and Macallan sherry oak whisky jus. Dessert come courtesy of a Dewar’s whisky soufflé and shortbread ice-cream.

Head chef Leah Jenson, who designed the menu comments:

“Whisky is a very special ingredient, but not a lot of people know how to use it in cooking. Adding a well chosen malt to your cooking can really help to bring out the flavours – and that goes for light starters, main courses and desserts. People can be scared of using whisky in recipes as most whiskies, especially single malts, have an intense flavour, but as long as you’re careful and use the right quantities, as with wine in recipes, the alcohol ‘cooks off’ leaving behind a unique enhancement to the dishes.”

Speaking of her choice of whiskies, Leah adds: “They have been specially chosen to complement each course; the Bunnahabhain’s barley is dried with peat during production, giving it a very slight smoky flavour that complements the crab and crayfish. The main course uses The Macallan which has been matured in sherry casks and its rich flavour works well with the roast Yorkshire beef and the blended Dewar’s is a perfect dessert ingredient as it gives a lovely “foil” to the soufflé and shortbread ice-cream.”

The three-course meal weights in at £24.99 per head, which given the quality of the food, seems real value for money. The hotel offers a cocktail masterclass for £20 per person, where you can learn to make a selection of classic cocktails with one of their in-house mixologists as well as a ‘whisky taster’ section of their menu; breaking their Scotch selections down in to bands, whereby you can order three 25ml drams for a set price.

The Mint Hotel is well worth a visit if you live in Leeds, if you’re visiting for business, or even if you happen to be passing through on your romantically named and painted narrow boat.


Dean Railton’s Red Rob Roy



INGREDIENTS

  • Auchentoshan Three Wood (50ml)

  • Raisthorpe Sloe Port Liquor (20ml)

  • Three drops Orange Bitters, Six Griottine Cherries + approx 10ml juice



METHOD
Shake with ice and strain into a cold Martini glass.

GARNISH
A cherry.