Toasting The Bard Just A Bit Early – Burns Night Preview:
With a great grandfather from Skye and a whole host of relatives on my father’s side hailing from the west coast islands it’s hardly suprising that I love Burns Night. Originally held to commemorate the great bard’s death, at a certain point the supper moved to 25th January, the day he was born. Packed with tradition, Burns Night should start with grace.
Some hae meat and canna eat,And some wad eat that want it;But we hae meat, and we can eat,And sae let the Lord be thankit.
But, every one of the enthusiastic guests at the IWSC preview of Think.Eat.Drink’s Burns Night Supper menu with matched whiskies completely forgot that we were supposed to wait for grace.
We might be excused, because we’d been trialling a table full of fire-water options even before we were seated. Undaunted by a room of whisky and food enthusiasts, Ewan Lacey from the IWSC pulled us back and made us stop while he thanked the Lord on our behalf. He also did a sterling job of addressing the haggis, even donning a kilt and sporran for the occasion.
And a pretty bowl of cullen skink had already appeared in front of me (and most of the other guests), along with a dram of White Horse Blended Whisky. Nevertheless our charming host made us down spoons for a thankfully brief prayer!
Cullen skink is a traditional Scottish soup made with smoked haddock and potatoes. I have to admit, I’ve never tried making it, but it always conjure up holidays in Scotland for me. Once every few years I’d travel up with my father to see my great aunts, all three unmarried and living in a house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. My father, who I suspect had a supressed hedonistic streak, used to stop on the journey and take me for lunch or supper in one of those charming Scottish hotels that have been built in border castles or shooting lodges. The soup should be creamy, delicate and lightly smokey – a great dish to pair with the right whisky. My Island heritage had got the better of me before the meal, I’d been happily downing Ardbeg, which sits on the extreme end of the peaty scale in terms of taste. Perhaps not the best apperitif, I suspect the White Horse pairing suffered as a result of my somewhat overwhelmed palate.
I much preferred the pairing of the Balvenie 17yr old and scallops with saffron butter. The little queenies were perfectly cooked and not at all rubbery and the butter dressing was delicately fragranced with saffron. Those indulging in the alternative of steak tartare seemed equally happy though personally I am never taken by the idea of a plate of raw meat with a raw egg on top.
We paused for speeches. The addressing of the haggis, together with a little more about Burns and the traditions of Burns Night. If you’ve never heard the addressing of the haggis, you will find a short recording in this feature about Burns Night traditions. It’s a longish poem which most believe is deliberately unintelligible to anyone from South of the Border. Ewan actually translated as he went along much to the delight of his Sassenach guests.
I loved the Chivas Regal 18yr served next. I thoroughly enjoyed a whisky blending event headed up by Chivas a few months ago, this was my favourite of the whiskies on offer that evening. Here, paired with a rather contemporary take on haggis, tatties and neeps, it was an excellent companion to the nicely prepared MacSween haggis which managed to be light and moist (despite appearing otherwise in my photo!).
Somehow we all seemed to end up with Atholl Brose and T.E.D’s seasonal mess. Actually as someone pointed out, Atholl Brose is a bit like a rather posh version of Baileys.
And, I somehow managed to enjoy a dram of Glenfiddich AND some Bowmore Gold Reef Islay, despite not staying for the cheese or to see if anyone sang Auld Lang Syne.
It was a wonderful evening. Great food and an interesting pairing of whiskies with each course. If you’d like to try for yourself, the menu is available until 25th January for £38.50 per person, with the paired whiskies (or wines if you prefer) for an addition £22.50. I’d never visited T.E.D before but I thoroughly enjoyed the food and atmosphere and love the approach taken by founder Jamie Grainger-Smith to develop a restaurant that helps us all to think, eat and drink more ethically. The aim is to provide beautifully cooked ethically sourced British food in an environment which is as eco-friendly as possible.
If you’d like to try the special Burns Night menu at T.E.D, please reserve in advance before 23 January
47-51 Caledonian Road, King’s Cross, London, N1 9BU
T: 0203 763 2080