“…and sip the Portwood through the memory of the cheese…”
Well, I can’t say I’ve ever done that before. As instructed, I break off a piece of soft Wigmore – it’s creamy, subtle, brie-like – and allow it to linger on the palette. My sip of 21-year old Balvenie Portwood that accompanies it is tentative at first. Single malt and cheese? How very dare you, sir. Earlier in the evening you were brandishing a 16” chef’s knife at us and bellowing unidentifiable gibberish through your bouncing beard. You think we should trust you now? This Portwood is not one for corrupting, might I add.
But he’s right, the smooth floral, honeyed undertones of the Balvenie are lit up by the texture of the cheese – it’s as if the Wigmore provided the canvas for the Portwood to daub a Degas upon it. This mercurial concoction can only mean one thing; it’s Burns’ Night and the man we’re putting our faith in is Balvenie’s brand ambassador; Scotland’s answer to Brian Blessed, James Buntin.
Tonight, he’s every part the burly Scot; tartan-trousered, tweed-suited and shabby-bearded, Burns’ ode to the haggis is delivered, much as with the tasting notes on our fine malt selection, through a suspicious squint at us Sassenachs. We couldn’t get more Scottish save being in Scotland. But the pantomime routine serves the evening well. I half imagine Buntin relaxes at home in front of re-runs of Sex & the City, loafing in a onesie, scented candles and Chardonnay an arm’s reach away – who am I kidding, this is proper, hardy, hearty stuff, and the finest way to enjoy Balvenie’s definitive drams.
We’re dining chez Bread Street Kitchen, the other fiery host of ours, Gordon Ramsay’s outpost occupying what feels like the entire first floor of swanky new shopping enclave, One New Change, behind St Paul’s. They give the menu, standard Burns’ fare, an upmarket bent with scallop and pork belly canapés, a rich Cullen skink (not the amphibian, but the cock-a-leekie soup sort), roaring rare venison to accompany the centrepiece of haggis (itself rolled into a croquette with the ‘neeps and ‘tatties) and the highland take on Christmas pud, Clootie, to finish.
It’s a menu to warm the cockles of any died-in-the-wool clansman, but it’s the single malts, accompanying each dish, that provided the proverbial icing on the cake. The 12 and 17 year Doublewoods (the latter served as a cocktail with plum bitters), the 15 year sherry cask (dashingly good with the meat), my personal favourite the Caribbean cask perfectly complimenting the clootie, and, with the aforementioned cheese, Balvenie’s signature 21 year old Portwood. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Scotland’s bard’s birthday. That menu from Paul Shearing, those malts, the low-lit post-industrial Deco décor of Bread Street as a backdrop, and a tempestuous Scot yelling in my ear asking if I’m enjoying myself. Aboon them a’ we tak our place, indeed.
I depart, not so much dulled and sated as enlivened and beaten, with the parting words of Buntin’s old pa; “May the best days of your past be the worst days of your future.”
I think I need another dram to work that one out.
For more information about Bread Street Kitchen, including details of future events, visit www.gordonramsayrestaurants.com.
For a sense of Balvenie’s Burns’ Night (with a flamboyant James Buntin), dip into this little dram…