I went on a first of it kind whisky and food voyage in Scotland, dining in select distilleries, enjoying the gourmet safari.
Salad of smoked Duck and Venison
Walnut & Rocket Salad
Lobster Bisque with Fresh Prawns
Vanilla Scented Grapefruit Sorbet
Fillet of Local Beef Haggis and potato terrine, Seasonal Vegetables
Apple and Almond Tart Poached Plums and whisky Ice Cream
Served in Fine China, with whiskies to match and in an elegant setting by the fire-side, with a service standard, exceeding some of the finest hotels in Europe.
Caution – This Menu is not from a hotel in Paris or London or even from a Fine dining Michelin star Restaurant in Europe.
This is The Glenfiddich Inaugural Menu, served at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Aberdeen, Scotland, a few years back, in the middle of rolling grass lands, cows for company, smell of whisky in the air, heather fields, pouring rains and sometimes not a soul in site for miles. The Glenfiddich Distillery has won Visitor Attraction of the Year Award, seven times in a row and food is an important component in obtaining this accolade.
Welcome to the new emerging gourmet destination of the world – Whisky Distilleries.
Whisky Distilleries which are considered a haven for whisky lovers & thought of only as crafting the amber liquid, are actually much more that. In a recent visit to the distilleries, it was a discovery to partake of gourmet pleasures that you would find only at the best tables in Europe and America. Whilst native Haggis, Neeps & Tatties continues to be the First Offering, but lots of new and international flavours have found their way in to the distillery menu.
Whilst Scottish Breakfasts have always been famous, the latest to woo the palate of the discerning international and local Scots is Distillery Dinners. The Scottish breakfast of course leaves no room for anything, but a dinner is quite another experience.
The Glenmorangie Breakfast at Cadboll House comprises of 6 different kinds of bread, 4 juices, along with Eggs, Black Pudding, Generous Bacon Strips, Sausages, Hash Bowns, Cereals, Steaks, Onion glazes…..and if there is any room,,,, 6 types of soft cheese.
The Glenmorangie Dinner
Ardbeg Grist or Parmesan Rolls
Pan Fried West Coast scallops with spiced lentils and a Herb and Citrus Mayonnaise
Garden Corgette and Pea Soup
Spring Tea Sorbet with a splash of Glenmorangie Original
Seared Loin of Local Lamb with Pureed Parsnips from the Garden Crushed Potatoes and a Light wine Jus
Chocolate Truffle Torte with white chocolate sauce
Raspberry and Strawberry Parfait with summer Berries and Balsamic and vanilla reduction.
Coffee and Turkish Delights
Over the years, Whisky Distilleries are offering fine dining, great cuisine & even hosting community weddings! Ardbeg recently hosted a grand wedding and catered to almost 200 guests! Even locals plan dinner dates at Ardbeg, such is the reputation of the Café. The Balvenie Cottages are some of them best managed and offer an amazing option and opportunity on Do It Yourself cooking. The Glenlivet restraurantis amongst some of them finest in Scotland and Diageo`s Castle is renowned the world. Bruichladdich has an excellent restaurant and the shop provided latest produce almost on daily basis.
It all started many years back. Since most of the distilleries are situated in remote locations, with low access to fresh produce and difficult weather, the idea was to create food combinations with local produce, fresh cooking and always keep some more for the visitors. Hot Broth and Desserts are a must, whether it is Homes or Fine Dining. Weather often played spoil-sport as such dependence on local produce was essential.
The Islay folks are also some of the finest, most caring and simplest in the world. Their feelings are expressed in their sense of hospitality which has somewhere led to the island becoming a destination for good food. John Maclellan, Distillery manager at Bunnhabhain enjoys being home with his family, though also boasts of a very busy social calendar. His sense of hospitality ensured that we had a banquet in distillery our cottages, when we stayed at Bunnabhain Cottages, which accord the best view ever!
The legacy of hospitality, especially in Islay where you witness Four Seasons in one day, is more pronounced. “We plan our meals in advance ensuring that mostly local produce is used.” Avers Jackie Thomson, Malt Kiln Café Manager at Ardbeg Distillery, which has the perhaps the best Distillery Restaurant on Islay. Fresh ingredients and flavours are adopted by in house chefs who turn around delicacies that have a Sold Out sign going up on select dishes a few times a day. Though Islay is also facing a unique problem, whilst it’s difficult to bring in fresh vegetables and fruits, due to weather and distance, most of Islay sea produce is whisked away to Europe due to excellent quality. With no abattoir on the Island, locals have to wait for meats to come in from Glasgow.
Foods are paired with the distillery character, based on local produce, availability and seasonality. Vicky Stevens, the Visitor Centre Manager at Laphroaig Distillery, confirms “At Islay, we focus on healthy foods and ensure that there is a confluence of taste, flavours and freshness.”
Distilleries like Glenfiddich and Ardbeg have a full time Chef and Glenmorangie boasts of a full service team which conjures up 5 course meals. Glenfiddich hosts a huge visitor traffic everyday and the Scones, Butter and Jam are the best in town.
Chefs create Menu Expressions which work well to complement light seafood (scallop, langoustine and white fish). Because of the natural pairing of seafood and lemon (or lime) these pairings complement the citrus character of some malts. The soft and sweet flavours found in many shellfish also work well with the silky mouth feel.
For savoury courses, Chefs feel that the citrus family is probably the easiest to work with to really enhance the personality of flavours in the Glenmorangie Original. Raw prawns and squid salad ‘cooked’ cerviche style in acidic lemon juice and olive oil dressing are a delight that many crave for.
Chicken would also be suitable to serve with most whiskies, but Chef ensure not to introduce flavours that will overpower the whisky. However subtle spiciness such as toasted cumin can work well if carefully balanced. Scottish Beef fed on diet of whisky draff is the finest expression of good meat and us used a lot across distilleries.
Soft fresh cheeses also complement the characteristics found in the Islay whiskies. Very young goats milk cheeses will have a gentle sharpness that will cut through the sweeter notes. Soft ewes milk cheese have a natural sweetness that will complement the sweet silky mouth feel. Buffalo milk also has a natural sweetness and an interesting texture and is particularly good when lightly heated. Consider serving these with fruit or with oatcakes to provide texture and hints of maltiness. Whew there so much thinking and yet
Pairings with foie gras have also been successful particularly because the textures work well together. The whisky could be chilled to create more of a contrast to the combination. The creamy texture and gentle flavour of avocado will also create a complimentary texture.
The Ardbeg Lunch
Salmon with Lemon Dressing
Mushroom Risotto with bacon bits
Herb Crusted Halibut with Sautéed Potatoes
Trio of Red Vegetables in curry glaze
Poached Pears with Cheery Glaze on a cheesecake
Darker meats such as venison and beef are robust enough to serve with The Balvenie 21 YO, Coal ILA 18 YO and new expression of Strathisla. These meats respond excellently to marinating in whisky prior to cooking – it helps to ‘tenderise’ the cut. Marinated beef or venison can then be sliced very thinly, (carpaccio) to accentuate the delicious flavours of the meats. Served with an aromatic dressing of oils, vinegars and spices this makes a dish that is light but with intensity of flavour and texture.
The Auchentoshan Distillery Dinner at Whisky Live Glasgow.
Wester Ross smoked salmon with prawn mousseline & Oatcakes
Roast sirloin of organic highland beef, shallot & rosemary jus, chateaux potatoes and vegetable lozenges.
Chocolate & Whisky Marmalade tart with clotted cream
Whisky Tea or Coffee
Chefs often use Game birds and duck as they have a gamey and meaty quality that will stand up to the whisky. Sweeter sauces that compliment this type of meat that include chocolate or sharp berry flavours will serve both the dish and the whisky beautifully. The contrast in sweetness and crisp dryness creates duality and contrast on the palate. Other key flavours to bear in mind are rich orange, lime peel and rose.
The Service Standards are par excellence and match, if compared, with the Best Hotels in Asia, though the simplicity warmth is perhaps is far more genuine. This is due to the fact that most people are locals, staying close to the distillery. They carry Scottish charm and passion, yet serving with knowledge and style. Interestingly, if a request is made well in time, one can end with an excellent choice of vegetarian food as well as I discovered at Auchentohan where on special request I was offered Oat Crusted Pie with Red Vegetables and Vanilla cream.
The Scottish warmth comes through the food and stays long after!!!
Whilst most Indians are now only beginning to warm to a Scottish holiday, even fewer are finding their way to the Heartland of Whisky. I am sure this is set to change !
As for me, after feasting on gorgeous food in Scotland, I plan to express my gratitude by repaying them with an Indian sentiment. I am planning an Indian Gourmet Weekend in Scotland perhaps with The Balvenie and Ardbeg Distillery to charm the locals with an astonishing Indian Experience. My suggestion on the same was met with whoops of support and lots of “Aye`s” and downing of some more drams. If any one of you to proposing to be there, be my guest!!! Besides I will also need help working on the menu!!!
My Indian Dinner – in Scotland
Lamb Boti Kabab in an overnight Mint and Lime Marinade, barbequed over an Indian Sigri
Tandoori Salmon with Tamarind Chutney
Tandoori Fruits Salad with Anar Jus
Tawa Afghani raan, flambéed in Islay whisky served with Baby Naan
Prawns in a Spicy Kolhapuri Curry
Gehoo ka kachumber
Peppers and Potatoes in a tamarind sauce
Dum Biryani and Plain Raita