Though often invited to sample afternoon teas and cocktails, we were intrigued by the opportunity recently to experience a very unique pairing of premium cheese and whisky at the intimate little Capital Hotel.
The occasion was given added spice by the fact that our host was to be Mr Cesar Da Silva, the “Mr Whisky” of London hotels and youngest ever individual to be recognised as a prestigious Keeper of the Quaich. He has worked at the Capital Hotel, which offers a range of around 60-70 fine whiskies to its guests, for some 20 years.
I should declare upfront that I’m not especially a cheese aficionado and my companion was a whisky novice, so we thought we’d be hard to please.
We started off with a beautifully moist Brie (left of the image below) which was paired with a delicate and welcoming Dalwhinnie 15 year old single malt. At this point Cesar explained that he was going to ease us in gently – but we didn’t need to be told because we were already enjoying the laid-back warmth of this classic malt as it played on our tongues, well-matched also to the hospitable surroundings of the Capital’s cosy bar.
The taste was embellished further by Cesar’s vivid anecdotes – in this case he told us that Dalwhinnie is distilled in central Scotland, at a point where lorry drivers used to stop for a quick tonic as they travelled down Scotland.
His passion for whisky enhanced the experience many times over. His vivid words often transported us to the windswept Highlands as he shared little snippets of knowledge while we brought the brie to our hungry mouths.
The velvety taste of the Dalwhinnie went well with the creamy, sweet brie giving it an extra lease of life. I was beginning to see that this whole whisky-cheese combo malarkey was potentially a stroke of genius…
After cleansing our palates with a slice of apple and a sip of water, we were next presented with a bottle of Glen Garioch 12 year old Highland whisky. This had a deep and earthy flavour, reflecting the fact that it is matured in both American bourbon casks (8 years) and Spanish sherry casks (4 years).
As we took the first sip, the second cheese was introduced: a 3 year old cheddar. It had the firmest texture I’ve ever experienced in a cheddar reflecting its unusually long maturation. But as soon as I tasted it after a sip of the whisky I discovered that this was a match made in heaven, even better than the first pairing. While divine even on its own it was considerably enhanced by this slightly earthy (though not smoky) whisky.
I immediately asked Cesar where I could buy this exceptional cheddar. He told us with a glint in his eye that you couldn’t! It is sourced from the West Country and prepared bespoke for Nathan Outlaw, the head chef of the Capital’s restaurant. So you have to come back to the hotel to sample it, which doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice …
Our third tasting was “not for beginners” we were warned. The whisky was a complex Bowmore from Islay (an island with 8 distilleries) – its distillery is by the sea and its warehouse below sea level. This gives it a complex array of flavours: smoky, peaty, salty and even a hint of figs. It was a mini-explosion as it landed on our tongues – challenging yes, but with that familiar whisky warmth that feels so good on a winter’s night.
The cheese it was paired with was equally robust – a very strong blue cheese which, as a cheese weakling I have to admit defeated me. But it was exciting to sample such an amazing range of flavours.
Then, just as we thought the tasting had been concluded, Cesar serenaded us with one more bottle…
Balvenie is a small distillery and its 12 year old variety is matured with hand-crafted barley. In a further twist, it was served to us frozen, together with a surprise dessert of warm chocolate torte with a light orange sauce.
So while we were now skiing off piste as it were from our main cheese and whisky course, this sweet interlude where the warm and cold elements were reversed was no less enthralling. The mellow ice-cold drink gently softened the warm dessert’s rich chocolate-orange goodness and we loved the contrasting flavours as they combined in our mouths.
A beautiful ending to a legendary tasting experience.
The Capital takes its whisky and cheese very seriously. Pairings are changed regularly (every 6-8 weeks we were told) since cheese is highly-seasonal – one of the many things I learned during the evening.
You can book via the Capital Hotel bar and even email Cesar to discuss your preferences. The best recommendation is their very high number of repeat bookings. We suggest you book up this unique experience quickly while it remains relatively secret.
Photo credits: Capital Hotel, LHI blogger Rajul.