The Hoodooist has come to realise that no matter how much haggis he’s eaten, or whisky he’s drunk this past week, he can always go for some more.
So making my way down to London’s oldest restaurant for a Burn’s Supper among stars of the drinks industry was an invitation I was hardly going to turn down.
Swathed in red and bordered in hardwood, the Rules surrounds stretch three floors from restaurant, to upper bar, then private dining. After a warm introduction by restaurant director Ricky McMenemy, and drinks by bar manager Mike Cook (do not worry, a bar review of the Rules cocktail bar will be on soon! Especially with their updated modern menu with Cook at the helm), guests of the private dining room were given a quick look at the restaurant’s 200 year history – and what makes it not just a dining space, but an institution in the hospitality industry.
Has it got the feel of a pre-World War II political cartoon? Perhaps – but we have seen a sudden diversification in the clientele of Rules, with good reason. Subtle evolution with closely held regard of tradition make this restaurant a destination, and unique enough to hold it’s weight among the burgeoning use of mason jars and plank-for-plates in London’s food industry.
Dinner begins with an addressing of the haggis, neeps, tatties, bagpipes and all, along with a dram of the Highland Park Dark Origins expression.
The perfectly spiced pudding defies the misconception that Rules is a one-trick pony with only the doughiest of English dishes. There is no surprise everyone from Betjemen to Dickens has frequented this spot. Anyone who can make the Hoodooist genuinely *enjoy* mashed potatoes is a star for all I care.
Now the Dark Origins harks to the Highland Park founder’s, Magnus Eunson, double life as beadle by day, and smuggler by night. With humorous tales – perhaps true, perhaps myth for such a character – such as masking his smuggled whisky treasures under a coffin at home in case of a raid, the expression’s palate evokes that contradiction.
A deep mahogany bronze, the dram’s nose is distinctly one of a sherried whisky (being aged in double as many sherry casks as their 12 year), with powerful roasted, dark fruit, coffee, and spice with a hint of smoke.
The palate begins with the peat we expect from a Highland Park – which slowly evolves into much sweeter flavours of cocoa, powerful spice, dried fruits and bright citrus. A long finish of smoke, and a bit of a burn – but not an unpleasant one.
The main course begins with roast loin of venison on a bed of crushed celeriac, with roasted root vegetables, spiced red cabbage and a chocolate jus – just the meal that winter evenings are for.
The star on the table at the moment, though, was the golden dram of the Highland Park 18 year. This multi-award winning whisky is a star of Highland Park design – a nutty, floral aroma is quickly followed by something honeyed and almost sickly sweet.
The palate chewy and creamy, and there is that tell-tale coffee and soft, light peat. Rich with toffee and honey, the 18 year is excruciatingly smooth, bursting with fruit and sweet smoothness. A round, long, sweet almost herbal finish to this gorgeous whisky.
Can we please establish how beautifully complex and utterly gorgeous this dessert is?
Managing to be a both rich and light, a toasted oat mille-feuille with lemon, whisky, and Highland Park jelly and caramel sauce brings in sweet, sour, and smoky to the table with incredible crunch.
And finally to wash it down, the superb Highland Park Orcadian Series 1970!
It is with a lot of pride that Highland Park Brand Ambassador, Mike MacKenzie, introduces this expression.
With only 1,800 bottles of this expression out there, you want to grab a taste of the Orcadian 1970 if you see it. The dark gold dram provides a sweet pineapple and honey nose – the palate is powerfully spicy, ginger, and bright sour citrus – with light vanilla notes, and at heart that powerful peat salinity and sea air. A spicy-sweet finish that goes on forever.
The more bizarre nature of this expression is its initially drying texture, until a few seconds later it does the exact opposite. Incredible.
Suddenly, a pewter silver quaiche appears. An unnamed Burn’s Night cocktail containing the Highland Park Dark Origins, Amaro Montenegro, Branca Menta and orange zest is raised for a toast to our hosts – and it sums up the evening wonderfully.
The nose is light, and the mint on the nose is in fact stronger than in the cocktail (hallelujah! Such a difficult flavour, mint). A very confident, well-balanced and subtle drink. Beginning with the Dark Origins’ dark fruit and spice, the Amaro’s vanilla enters the scene, ending with a finish of orange zest and a very distant, light hint of mint. Beautiful, impressive. I hope this makes an appearance on the Rules Bar‘s permanent menu.
Finally, we end with something you won’t find in the shops. The Highland Park 16 year was made particularly for the duty free and travel market – and meant to be much more accessible, with milder smoke and honey that we associate with Highland Park.
The light gold dram possesses a citrus and toffee note, the palate toning down the aforementioned honey, florals and peat to an entrance level whisky. Some heather, green tea, and orange – very Speyside – more of that smoke and tea for the finish.
Talk about a memorable Burn’s Night! Time flew past, swift with whisky and heavy with a Burn’s Supper. The Rules team from Ricky McMenemy to Mike Cook are fabulous hosts, their food and cocktails just as spectacular, and Highland Park with Ambassador Mike Mackenzie never fail to impress.
For the perfect transition from winter to spring, Highland Park is an excellent dram for the smoke and spice for winter, and honeyed florals for the promise of spring.