October 26 2016

Review: Huntsman / Independent spirit game & whisky tasting

It feels like only a few short weeks ago that we visited the Huntsman for their Sipsmith Gin and Fever-Tree Tasting Event. In fact, it was back in June, when the long summer nights were just about to peak and a long, refreshing, ice cold gin and tonic (or several!) was a necessity rather than an indulgence… but indulge we most certainly did. Five months on (Sunday 23 October, to be precise), and the delights of the Huntsman beckoned again for another season-specific blowout, this time focusing on game and whisky. Whisky – with food? Well apparently, yes indeed!

But had it not been for the fact that our ringleader on this occasion was legendary spiritmeister Chris Scullion – half of the entrepreneurial partnership responsible for our favourite grown up toy shop Independent Spirit – I have to admit that I may have been forced to call the folk at the Huntsman helm and politely request that I might be offered grape-related tipples with my feast rather than fermented grain (whisper it: the prospect of whisky doesn’t always make me frisky). But the Kings of the Tasteful Tipple (aka our favourite indie kids) have been pushing the whisky agenda in Bath for several years now, even taking their efforts to a whole new level when they unveiled their very own, very special limited release of an eastern Highland single malt from Fettercairn distillery last May; if Chris can’t be trusted to offer me a tipple to compliment my dinner, who can? Ah, but there was another tricky bridge to cross, which required yet more trust on my behalf if I was to navigate the route successfully. I make no effort to hide the fact that I’m not particularly a fan of game; to me, rabbits are for cuddling, not confiting, and pigeons are pests, not starters. Meanwhile, venison is Bambi, pheasants are to pleasant to roast, and wild boars are fascinating creatures – all in all, I most probably wasn’t the Huntsman’s easiest guest to host at a whisky and game event. And so it has to be said that the statement that I had one of the nicest (and most tasteful) evenings I’ve had in a very long time comes with extra brevity on this occasion.

I waxed lyrical about the indisputable charms of the Huntsman’s upper-level dining room the Elder Rooms on our previous visit, but even back then I had the feeling that the ER would really come into its own when the nights started to draw in: if you’re looking for the perfect combination of chic but cosy, you’ve come to the right place. Also, if you’re looking for the perfect combination of autumnal flavours, it turns out I can highly recommend game with whisky (who’d have thunk it?). We tucked into a veritable feast of exciting pairings that I would never normally have even considered considering: tender confit rabbit with crispy gnocchi and mustard sauce with a soft, mossy Highland Park 12 (a classic Orkney single malt); earthy seared pigeon with black pudding and pearl barley twinned with a silky Teaninch 2008; a rich, indulgent venison and ox cheek suet pudding (for me, the star of the evening) married to a spicy but smooth Raasay and Borders cask strength grain; sweet pheasant croquette and earthy game jus waltzing with a smoky Campbeltown Loch blend; macho, full-flavoured wild boar ragu sharpened by salty pecorino and indulged by luxurious truffle in cahoots with heavily peated, dry but fresh Bunnahabhain 8yr.

Every course made it abundantly clear that Huntsman head chef Miro Nehring is at the top of his game this season, while the tales that introduced and accompanied every tipple proved that Chris is the ultimate tipple-related Master of Ceremonies: lively, informative, witty, intelligent and vivacious. This event was part of a programme of similarly cultivated collaborations and activities on the Huntsman agenda; next time around, you really don’t want to miss out… and this acclaim comes, remember, from a piggy for whom attending a game and whisky-related party took a real leap of faith. I’m so glad I leapt at the opportunity to be brave.

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