On valentines day my wife was sick, really sick. It was like the exorcist and whilst she was home, head spinning and doing the crab down the stairs. I ventured out into the cold to attend The Larderhouse showcase evening for absinthe. I’d taken my dad along, although I completely forgot that most couples were indeed couples and this romantic evening I was sat opposite my dad in the candle lit room. Bear with me, I know I’ve gone from the exorcist to a date with my dad, but I’ll get to the food honest.
Absinthe is massively misunderstood, due to poor quality product imported to the UK in the nineties. Somehow, absinthe was credited to Czech Republic during this time along with the preparation of absinthe which included a flaming sugar cube. This may have been the reason absinthe never really got taken seriously during this time and also why it’s taken over a decade to be listened to once more.
I’m not going to bore you with some of the finer details of absinthe’s history; that’s ear-marked for something else, but get on with the showcase proper. Where were we? Ah, yes, sat across from my dad.
I’ve known James and the guys from The Larderhouse for some time and their sparring of ideas is inspiring. Between kitchen, bar and front of house the flavour pairings, infusions and all manner of experiments are bounced around and explored. What’s great, is that they take ideas, methods and sometimes trends, then work with them, adapting and making it their own. If you haven’t got the jist, I really admire what they are doing and it’s one of my favourite places to go for drinks or a great meal.
To start we had a bay and citrus infrused port delivered to our table followed by a glass of purple-blue absinthe in a sherry glass. We were instructed to pour our mini pitcher of port into our absinthe. The colours reacted creating a vivid pink colour and partnered with the rich lambs heart terrine with redcurrant sauce, it was nigh on perfect. I’m a big lover of offal, but in the wrong hands it can be as offensive as people often imagine. Seriously though, Quentin, The Larderhouse Chef, knows exactly how to handle a bit of fifth quarter. Genuinely one of the best courses I’ve ever had. Silky, with a little bite and deep enough to stand up to to heavy flavours of the absinthe. In a toss up between that lambs heart terrine or St. John’s bone marrow, it’d be one hell of a tough call.
Next we moved into a monkfish dish with fennel and radish, the accompanying drink was an absinthe drip. Served in the same manner the French and Swiss took their absinthe during the late 18th century. Dripping water slowly into absinthe, helps create the louche, the development of a milky white, menthol-green cloud which engulfs the drink from within. Around one-part absinthe to five-parts water is to my liking. A beautiful long drink whose flavours were pulled to the fore with the crisp fennel which accompanied the chunky monkfish medalions.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that there was a loud clatter in the kitchen and the soup, which was to come later, was knocked and spilt over the floor. I felt bad for the guys as I know how hard they work on these evenings, but was sure they were resourceful enough to overcome it. Next we had a teaspoon with ham hock extract, salted treacle and clove praline. Man, I could have sucked on this spoon for hours. Proper sticky, gloopy, treacley caramel with an up front, but not fierce clove flavour and a lingering taste of porkiness. I love pig, everything is improved with a bit of pig. Though this course was small, it was big on flavour. Alongside this we were served a small glass of absinthe foam sour. I tried to convince my date/dad to swap his spoon of treacle for my foam, but he’d already polished them both off.
I’m a big fan of Hemmingway’s writing and have known for a while of the drink named after him. The Hemmingway, or Death in the afternoon as it is sometimes known, is a simple cocktail of champagne and absinthe. The guys at The Larderhouse had done a clever take on this drink using Angelique absinthe, dill, cucumber and elderflower. This drink was to accompany the soup which had been spilt over the floor. I waited in trepidation as to what they had rustled up. Dad joked it might be fish and chips from up the road. As soon as he had said this, one of the bar tenders walked in through the front door with a big plastic box full of brown paper bags. It looked for a moment, that my dad was right. However, inside the bag was a metal curry dish branded with The Larderhouse logo and a small plastic bag filled with salad and a chapati. The curry was 122 hour marinated goat curry. Badass seems to sum it up quite succinctly in my mind. Truth is, I spotted the typo on the menu as soon as we sat down, but still never worked out what was going on. The soup was written as ‘spilt pea and brawn broth.’ To be honest, when he said he’d spilt it, I was gutted. I was going to miss a soup made with pigs head. Me and my dad ate this curry in silence. Testament to how good it was. The clean cucumber and dill flavours of the cocktail brought out mint in the absinthe and alongside a spicy curry worked flawlessly.
Following this we had a cup of cold tea, a take on the classic drip we had enjoyed earlier. Into our absinthe was poured a cold jasmin and peppermint tea served up with a matcha green tea shortcake. If peppermint tea had absinthe in it, I’d have it all the time. I bloody hate peppermint tea, but not this one.
The final plate of food was a light fluffy fig tarte tatain served with quite a potent coconut and absinthe ice cream made dramatically with dry ice in the room.
There was one final part to the evening, and I’d been looking forward to it for over a week. Even then I knew if they were doing an absinthe showcase night, how could they not serve us up a sazerac, one of my favourite cocktails. This version used a dash of armagnac and house made bitters served up in a small corked bottle which had a cool label, so cool I peeled it off and slid it into my pocket.
As always, another great night. I had a great night out with my dad, and by the time I got home Emma seemed to have got most of the evil out of her and was sound asleep.