Every term at university, my hall of residence would host a formal dinner. Most students would buy cheap wine from Sainsbury’s, but there would always be at least one group who brought a couple of bottles of budget whisky and some Coke to wash it down with.
I had always thought that hard booze over dinner probably wasn’t the done thing. But then this week I found out I was partly wrong – you can drink spirits with a meal, but you should try to drink the nicer ones. On Monday I went to a London Cocktail Week dinner at Hutong restaurant in The Shard skyscraper. There, we were shown how some of the world’s finest spirits in the world could be paired with food, each course accompanied by Johnnie Walker Blue Label with spicy soft-shell crab, Don Julio 1942 tequila with lamb and Zacapa XO rum with cheesecake.
It was a palate-expanding experience, not least because I discovered that tequila can be fantastic to drink without the usual salt, lemon and falling over at the end of the evening.
It’s a trend across the drinks industry that those who don’t make still wine, want you to get you to drink more by finding ways you can enjoy it at mealtimes.
It was food paired with vodka on Wednesday night as I went to the Belvedere pop-up bar, where I learned how to to create my perfect martini. We found out the difference between when vodka is shaken (muddier flavour) Bond-style rather than stirred (crisper), also how variations, proportions and freshness of your vermouth can radically lift your spirits, and the difference a garnish can make.
After that we heard from Bernard Lahousse one of the founders of foodpairing.com who explained the scientific process of matching food and drink by their chemical composition. He then showed us how salami dipped in cardamom, pineapple and roasted bell pepper, or cranberry and coriander could be washed down rather nicely with the flavours of a Belvedere martini.
My advice? The way to make an excellent martini is to get an excellent barman to make it for you. And if you are going to have cocktails with dinner, watch how big you’re pouring them, or like some of my university contemporaries, you may struggle to remember much beyond the main course.