Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Burns’ Night by Ben Greeno, East London
If you think food and whisky matching sounds too crazy to ever work, then I refer you to the Burns Night meal I attended in January last year at Min Jiang. While the standard of the dishes was variable, the ability of this fiery spirit to compliment the robust flavours of Chinese food made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening, although admittedly a large part of that may have been due to the generous measures of Scotch. But haggis dim sum and garlicky, sweet roast duck pancakes must surely be easier to work with than the delicate and inventive Noma-influenced dishes Ben Greeno creates, and it must have worried even a chef of his talents when he was approached by Glenfiddich to design a Burns Night menu. So, how did he do?
First course was a couple of slices of warm parsnip, crispy pear and some nice sweet rye bits. Seasoned with flakes of Maldon salt and containing a great mix of textures, it would have all been interesting enough without the astonishing addition of something called 'malt oil', as far as I know an invention of Greeno's although if anyone has seen it before feel free to comment. It's an interesting thing, is malt. While in the US they've been slurping malted drinks for as long as anyone can remember, and very nice they are too, in the UK our only exposure to it would have likely been the filling for Maltesers or, if you're old enough, the bedtime drink Horlicks. I don't know why this should be the case, as the malt oil here added a lovely extra dimension, nutty and sweet, and made the match with the Glenfiddich 12 seem perfectly natural.
Cured - note not "smoked" - salmon was topped with pickled kohlrabi, crunchy radish and a slick of gorgeous caramel sauce, another exciting combination of textures and flavours reminiscent of the stunning mackerel sashimi dish I'd had here a few months back. But the whole thing was lifted into something even more special by a few flakes of ground Szechuan pepper, which enlivened the taste buds with a metallic buzz and had the tops of our tongues tingling for a good few minutes after.
Looking like slices of gooey chocolate cake, these were in fact slow-cooked slabs of beef cheek in a deliciously rich sauce that had been infused - I'm not making this up - with essence of whisky barrel. Beefy, oaky and tender, and served with roast and puréed carrots, it was another wildly inventive and expertly cooked plate of food and had me feverishly mopping up every last drop of THAT sauce with chunks of bread. Glenfiddich Rich Oak was a sweeter, richer variation which matched it well.
This caramelised slice of apple was dressed with pine buds (which also made an appearance in my favourite dessert from the last meal) and some crumbled financier pastry. An intense praline continued the almond theme, and echoed the nutty 15 year old whisky it was served with. Super.
And then, finally, the most interesting and accomplished dessert I've enjoyed for many years. "Vanilla mousse, malt cookie, elderflower" doesn't sound like much on paper, but on the plate it was nothing short of extraordinary. The malt cookies were like the inside of Maltesers - no bad thing - only lighter and with a more addictively crunchable texture. The "mousse" was actually fluffed up natural yoghurt, providing a moist dairy coating to the crispy cookies, and hidden under it all were these amazing fat raisins that had somehow been infused with elderflower and burst with fragrant freshness in the mouth. Unique, inventive (I keep using that word but it's more true of Ben Greeno's food than almost anywhere else I can think of) and delightful, it's a dish that wouldn't have seemed out of place in any 3 Michelin star restaurant.
Ben Greeno is serving his Burns Night menu for just one week, starting 17th January 2011, and I feel guilty enough having been treated to this stunning meal without having to tell you that at the bargainous price of £40/head including matching whiskies and such limited spaces, getting a spot is most likely going to be very difficult. But has finding a great, sensibly priced dinner in London really ever been easy? And how many other opportunities do you get to eat such frankly world-class food in such an intimate and exclusive setting? I've said it before and it's worth repeating - wonderful though the evening was, this is a chef whose talents have already outgrown a secret supperclub in the East End and you should do whatever you can to try his food before he travels to pastures new, as he surely will and has every right to. And then, many years from now, when he has his own world-famous restaurant and a range of branded cookware, you can tell your friends of the time when, in a secret location in East London, you had your first vanilla mousse, malt cookie and elderflower dessert.
The Glenfiddich Burns’ Night menu by Ben Greeno costs £40 per person and spaces are extremely limited. Email GlenfiddichBurnsNight@gmail.com to request a seat. I was treated to this meal by Glenfiddich.