A successful meal for Susan Wong is one that conjures memories, much like the nine course whisky menu pairing at Talisman Restaurant
After my recent three-course meal at Talisman Restaurant with two friends, which translated to sampling a total of nine dishes paired with nine different whiskies (because my companions and I love to share), I immediately called my mom and dad in Canada to tell them how I wished they could’ve shared my excitement and joy at that moment.
I grew up getting lost in tales of my great-uncle enjoying his whisky on the rocks in uniform during the Sino-Japanese War. Often, my mom would tease me with a sip from a dusty bottle of Johnnie Walker Quest – a rare blend released in 1997 that my mom had purchased to remember the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. That nearly 20-year-old whisky bottle still holds about 100ml of very high quality cask conditioned whisky sourced from single casks, and is one of my most treasured possessions. It reminds me of all the great men and women in my family, not the least of which are my parents.
A drink can conjure up different memories and emotions. A flaming and colourful cocktail may remind you of your time as a wide-eyed Spring-breaker. A whisky, however, may conjure up recollections of strength, rare conversations and warmth shared with your friends and families. When paired with delicious food, the whisky is just the beginning of a tremendous culinary experience in the making. To be honest, any meal that can inspire me to think about family is definitely a marvelous and profound one in my books.
Executive Chef Jens Ray Cournede of the cozy and leafy Talisman Restaurant in Karen, first began with the House Smoked Salmon paired with Caol Ila, the largest of the eight working distilleries on Islay. The totality of the pairing was very earthy on the palate: a balanced combination of peaty, salty and oiliness. Served on a crispy salmon skin and highlighted with sweet beets and lightly grilled fennel, this was certainly a beautiful beginning. The Spicy Thai Duck Salad arrived with fluffy steamed rice insulated by a banana leaf in a hand-woven vessel. Fresh leaves of iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices, lime wedges, julienned carrots and fragrant fresh herbs were served with a bowl of duck sautéed with basil, and a delicious Thai dipping sauce that married sweet, salty, spicy and tangy completed the spread. The Thai Lettuce Wraps were accompanied by Famous Grouse. Full of flavour, the duck meat accentuated by bright Thai flavours was complemented by the little sweetness and fruity notes of this popular whisky. Then there was the house classic: Twice Cooked Pork Belly paired with a special blend of BenRiach released in 1995 for Talisman Restaurant. Subtle flavors of five spice were accentuated by the sweetness of the glaze. Topped with a handful of fresh herbs, red chillies and some toasted sesame seeds – the bright and crunchy garnish worked well with the char-grilled bell peppers; their smokiness celebrated with every sip of the special BenRiach, cutting through the fat of the pork and highlighting the caramel notes of the whisky.
The Smokey BBQ Pork Ribs were paired with a very harmonious Jack Daniels Silver Select in both taste and flavour. Served on a nice wooden butcher block, the rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs glazed with a smoky sauce cooked with the whisky rested beautifully next to a salad and twice-cooked fries. The whisky’s black pepper notes added to the kick of the ribs. Arriving in a Korean stone pot, the Thai Red Seafood Curry was paired with a simple quality blend of 12 year old Chivas. The whisky’s subtle warm flavours formed deliciously with the delicate curry of fresh seafood without overpowering their flavours. The huge crab claws peaking out of the pot were a treat to crack open and the prawns and red snapper were perfectly tender. A refreshing mango, melon and pineapple salsa topped with toasted sesame seeds and shredded coconut with tamarind sauce were great condiments to balance the heat from the curry. A beautiful papaya salad was served in the mortar that it was pounded in. Another Talisman classic is the Char-Grilled Fillet Steak served with Wasabi Butter. Grilled faultlessly, the steak was paired with a Dalmore. The combination was the most effortless of the evening though the potato croquettes were unbearably salty – a random hiccup.
To finish, an award-winning Highland Park 18 years was paired with the Deep Fried Camembert. Praised as one of the most consistently excellent malt whiskies, the Highland Park had the intensity and harmony to match the crispy Camembert, which when pierced, oozed into a vivid beet and berry sauce. Fresh celery on the plate helped to cleanse the palate after every rich morsel. An almond sponge risen over softened apples in a mini cast iron pan, dubbed the Talisman Gold, arrived with Jameson – my least favourite pairing of the entire evening. Despite the accompanying ice cream being made with Jameson, the pairing was overpowered by the whisky – a little too much on the nose for me. Finally, a Chocolate and Chilli Tart with a 10 year old Talisker completed the evening with a very earthy pairing.
An audacious evening for both chef and diner, from conceptualizing the culinary experience to shamelessly consuming, next time I enjoy a sip of whisky I’ll most likely think of Chef Ray before my parents. A new profound memory has been etched.