When ruminating on the unexpected ways whisky can pair and elevate food, Joachim Borenius, head chef of Sydney’s Mjølner restaurant, is fond of musical metaphors. “You might have a bass line going, then you’ll throw in another instrument and the whole song sounds different,” he says. “That’s what whisky can do to do your meal. Some whiskies have a lot to say if you just take the time to listen to them.”
According to Borenius, whisky should be able to carry you through several moods in one night, as your evening meal moves through different gears. They might be the life of the party, rowdy and loud. Or they might be quiet and contemplative, full of depth, maybe even nutty or sweet. Yes, even with your favourite takeaway – especially in the current climate.
Being closed to diners means restaurants have had to adapt in a big way, rethinking their approach to takeaway meals. High-end restaurants are getting in on the act, and the result is that fine dining now comes delivered in a box.
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We asked Borenius for his expert guidance on the perfect whisky to pair with your next takeaway or home-cooked meal.
If you’re starting your evening with an antipasto spread you’ll have a lot of competing flavours going on. So it’s best to choose a whisky that will accentuate every flavour within your platter without saturating your palate.
“The whisky and the food will lend character to each other, so an antipasto spread will pull out different expressions from the whisky,” says Borenius.
He says The Balvenie DoubleWood, a Speyside Single Malt aged for 12 years in American oak and finished in European oak sherry casks fits the bill nicely. “It’s smooth with notes of honeyed sweetness, has mellow tones and will work great with your gorgonzola or your cheddar, but also with something sweeter like quince paste.”
“There are some amazing restaurants doing takeaway steak,” says Borenius of the current climate. “You get to cook it at home with video instructions. It might come with garlic and mustard butter, served with potatoes and a side salad.”
As a rule of thumb, the fattier your steak, the more oomph you’ll be needing from your whisky. Borenius says a drop like Ailsa Bay Single Malt Release 1.2, which uses a Highland peat from an area flush with pine to give it that classic campfire smokiness, would work well.
“A smoky and fatty slab of beef is the perfect challenge for a big, bold yet balanced style of whisky like Ailsa Bay,” says the chef. “Its high alcohol content is a great way to break into the fatty beef flavours and really get the grassy notes out of the match. You want to get volume out of your food with this whisky, so I’d pair it with a loud meal.”
If steak isn’t your thing, try a classic Chinese beef stir-fry, or simply a burger and fries. For a vegetarian option Borenius says opt for charred-grilled eggplant (the charring of the eggplant skin releases that smoky flavour).
“Smoky and caramel-rich is a perfect combination for whisky,” says Borenius. A little saltiness from the meat here will really transform the flavour of the spirit and open it up. The savoury pan juices and buttery richness will give your mouth a true jolt of flavours and fragrances.”
“The first thing you need to know is whisky and chocolate go hand in hand,” says Borenius. “Whisky gives the chocolate some of its key characteristics: fruitiness, roundness and caramel. All things that match really well with chocolate.”
Borenius reckons you can’t go wrong pairing a classic Glenfiddich Single Malt with a chocolate lava cake or a bowl of rich gelato. “Glenfiddich 15 Year Old has great caramel notes and will integrate really well with the flavour profile of your dessert, especially if it’s nutty or creamy. But it’s so smooth you could easily throw it at something with red berries, [or] something with more character. It’s got depth, so you can sit with it.”
And if after-dessert is more your jam, hit up cocktails like a Whisky Sour or an Old Fashioned. “We’re in isolation,” says Borenius, “so it’s a great time to see how food and whisky interact. No one’s going to judge you if you experiment late into the night.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Glenfiddich.