The first invite to this event had an air of James Bond-esque mystery to it, just a note saying it would be a Burns supper, a time and an undisclosed location somewhere in London.
As more information was revealed, including an address, the event took shape, and it turned out to be a very interesting food and whisky pairing event.
As I arrived at the address there was a chap in a donkey jacket, collar turned up against the cold and his hat pulled down over his ears. He ushered me over to a door, pressed a buzzer and announced “another one is here...”
The corridor led to a set of steps and at the top was another chap who lead me into what was someone’s kitchen.
Turns out this was acclaimed chef Ben Greeno’s pad, and it was he who was greeting guests at the top of the stairs.
To explain all this subterfuge, the whisky bods at Glenfiddich have been working with the former rising star of the two Michelin Starred Noma restaurant in Copenhagen on a Burns Supper menu, and using the five course meal as a showcase for their latest addition Snow Phoenix.
This was the pre-view to what several lucky dinners will by now have experienced to celebrate Scotland’s much loved bard.
Ben has set up an innovative supper club, inviting diners by appointment to his own London apartment for an intimate home-cooked dining experience.
He explains the idea further: “I had been working in Copenhagen for several years and wanted to get the money together to open my own place.
“I spent a couple of months looking for a flat and set up my club. I have had a lot of people through the door, they book via my blog and I create a meal. It’s just like having people round for dinner really. There is a lot of this sort of thing going on in London.
“This is what whisky should be about: good food; great chat and great whisky”
“Working with the Glenfiddich range was hard but a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it. I like whisky and will drink it when I am out. With Jamie coming down and taking me through a range tasting was excellent. I have to say that Snow Phoenix is a firm favourite. I would love to go back to Glenfiddich. I was actually there when I was 12 or 13. It did not occur to me until I started researching for the food pairing.
“While I can see people working with whisky at home, I don’t think its every going to get as big as say cooking with wine, just because it is hard to work with the liquid. But it is fun to do.”
However working the whiskies did throw up some new experiences for Ben.
“There was a lot of fruit,” he adds. “That surprised me, everything from dried to fresh fruit, which worked really well with the first course of pears.”
For the diners as well there were some unusual parts to the menu, including Ox cheeks with a whisky barrel reduction. Ben explains: “In Copenhagen we used to make a sorbet out of birch wood. It is possible to get a lot of water out of birch wood when it is in season.
“So the restaurant I worked in would offer still, sparkling or birch water at the table as well. We would also boil up the log and make this thick, birch rich sorbet.
“So I thought why not throw in some barrel, boil it down and see what happened. I am definitely going to try this again but with more barrel, certainly was a bit of fun.”
For those traditionalists expecting haggis, normally the dish for Burns night, might be a little disappointed as it does not feature, but to be honest on the night it was not missed as the quality of the food was excellent.
Ben adds: “For the menu I looked mainly to Scotland for inspiration. I did not want to do the haggis thing but having lived and worked in Copenhagen the feeling in both countries is the same.
“Both sort of cold with good hearty food. So I wanted to get Scottish ingredients into the menu with salmon, beef and elderflower.”
The evening and the menu were a big hit, the pairings working well together.
But for Ben it brought back the essence of whisky, what it is really all about, and means to so many people.
He adds: “I was standing in the kitchen watching events unfold thinking this is what whisky should be: great food; great chat and great whisky. It was a really good night all round.”
Parsnip, raw pear, malt oil, rye crispServed with Glenfiddich 12 Years Old
The whisky brought out the sweetness in the parsnips. The raw pear enhanced the classic Speyside character with the salty rye crisp bringing a new edge to the malt.
Cured salmon, Szechuan pepper, caramelServed with Glenfiddich 18 Years Old
The cured salmon worked nicely with the more robust flavour of the 18, almost mellowing it out and bringing out a more cooked apple note. The pepper hits bring a peppermint edge, sort of a wintergreen hit with the pickled kohlrabi.
Beef cheeks, carrots, whisky barrelServed with Glenfiddich Rich Oak
Here the tender meat, cooked for seven hours, dominated the whisky, not allowing it to breath, but the sweet carrot and citrus jus saved it. These helped bring out the spiced sweet notes of the Rich Oak.
Roast apples, almond praline, financierServed with Glenfiddich 15 Years Old
The sweetest malt in the range fitted the bill perfectly here. The honey, raisins and pear notes combining well with the food. The almond praline was quite buttery but the alcohol cut through revealing more roast, caramalised, apples. An awesome dessert.
Vanilla mousse, malt cookie, elderflowerServed with Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix
A reasonably light whisky but packed with flavour, which enhanced the elderflower. The caramel and malt cookie brought out a coffee edge to it while the vanilla’s were amplified with the mousse. A second awesome dessert.