Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Covent Garden's Indian Whisky Game

By Gabrielle Sander.

Whisky and game: the fuel of Hunter welly-wearing countrymen, seated in Chesterfields next to a roaring fire and overlooked by the trophy head of a good weekend’s kill. Not necessarily what I’d expect to be tucking into on a Thursday evening at an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden. So when I was invited along to Moti Mahal’s latest event last week (part of National Taste of Game Fortnight), I leapt at the chance to take part in the experience.

I first visited the Moti Mahal restaurant earlier in the year, so I knew how good the food and service was but I had my reservations about the theme. I wasn’t entirely certain the Asian twist on the traditional pairing would work, and I didn’t know whether I’d enjoy the whisky all that much. My dram drinking extends as far as the odd Whisky Mac gulped down when I’m full of cold. In those times of need it is my saviour. Otherwise, it sits in the corner of my living room, hidden behind the wine I’d prefer to drink instead.

As it happens, each dish was fantastic, a real pleasure to eat; the sort you would write home about, if people actually did that sort of thing nowadays. And under the expert guidance of Roger Mallindine, former Diageo Master of Whisky, I discovered that if you drink the right stuff - or five different types of the right in this case - whisky can actually be rather good; outstanding even.

As we swirled each golden liquid around the glass, giving them the attention they deserved, discussing what great legs they had, using mouth-watering words such as ‘caramel’, ‘honey’ and ‘toffee’ to describe the nose, Roger talked us through their history, the areas of Scotland where they were distilled, the different processes, and lots more information that made me appreciate what I was drinking; interspersed with anecdotes from his long career in the business.

We ate grilled partridge with warming cinnamon, garlic and a delicious apple and dark rum chutney, washed down with smooth, gingery 12-year-old malt from the Northern Highlands.

Next we were presented with the Pheasant Jungali Murgabi, a generous-sized tandoor grilled pheasant supreme with royal cumin, garlic, smoked red chillies, and a red onion and ginger salad. This time partnered with a delicate, spicy 12-year-old Craggenmore single malt.

Our third course, my unexpected highlight of the evening, was a truffle and wild mushroom biriyani, with beautifully detectable saffron and an accompanying cool raita. With the added indulgence of fresh truffle, grated over my plate by the waiter, and then topped up minutes later with yet more; what a treat! Once again, the paired whisky danced perfectly in sync with the other flavours.

The salty, strong, leathery taste of the chilled Caol Ila 12 yr single malt that came with the fourth course tasted like it was steeped in history, even though it was the same age as the others we tried. Not to everyone’s tastes I’d imagine, but softened and much more palatable when drunk with the juicy massala roast grouse and fried lotus stem.

Dessert was a beautifully presented dish of filled flatbreads, with a creamy cardamom yoghurt. Served with the finest whisky I’ve ever tasted: The Royal Legacy of 1745 – smooth, delicate and sweet like nectar, and not surprisingly, around £120 a bottle. I’d seriously consider investing in a bottle for special occasions, and I’ve never been enthusiastic about whisky before.

After three hours settled at a long table in Moti Mahal’s downstairs den, in the company of a rather lovely bunch of strangers, I was left with a warm glow of enjoyment, a new found appreciation of fine Scottish whisky, and feeling a bit silly for initially doubting the whole concept.

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