Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Beer night at Gusto & Relish

There's a little café around the corner from my flat. Not a greasy spoon; the modern, airy type of café where they've heard of salads. To look at it you'd suspect it was just another café of the type you see in every city, where you can get a respectable cup of coffee and possibly a sandwich that wasn't made in a factory.

This café is a little different in that it's the only place in Glasgow I know of where they make their own sausages and bacon. I approached the owner Iain with the idea that he could perhaps make some beer-brined bacon like that I had recently heard about on a radio programme. Bad idea, Iain explained; the beer was good food for spoilage organisms on the bacon.

But fresh sausages would work well! And he would make them the centre of a beer-themed supper club. So Iain went off to develop some recipes and came up with an impressive-looking menu.

French onion and pale ale soup with Gruyere crouton | WEST beer battered monkfish cheeks with minty mushy peas and tartare sauce | chicken liver pate with beer sourdough toast

Free-range chicken in a brick cooked with Jarl ale | Trio of sausages (pork, amber ale and honey; beef, stout and mustard; venison, cranberry and fruit beer)
both served with creamy mash potato | Risotto of wild mushrooms and dark ale

Sticky Stag pudding with beer butterscotch sauce | Chocolate stout cake with hot chocolate beer sauce | both served with ice cream


The evening approached and we rolled up to the cafe to find guests arriving. The one thing that struck me as odd was how many of our fellow diners had brought wine with them. More fool they! We had a mish-mash of things we'd brought along (the café has no license so diners can choose what they wish to drink).

Worthington Celebration Shield, an 8% special, made a good aperitif. It was somewhat lively and took some cajoling into our glasses (there have been reports of bottles exploding), with some of it ending up on the table top. It’s lovely and quite different to anything I've had before: strong, but dry and minerally as a Pale Ale should be with no syrupiness. There is a slight alcohol note, but pleasantly reminiscent of grappa.

A good match for posh fish and mushy peas. Peas tasting deliciously fresh and the tartare sauce so redolent of dill that they almost overshadow the succulent fish in light batter.

Pork sausages were lean and juicy. The beef sausages were, in one sense, too good; they were too lean to hold together well and went a bit crumbly. Venison was my favourite, surprisingly enough as I'm usually all about the holy animal of Germany. All the sausages had a moreish quality and the beer wasn’t apparent; it was just working in the background making you think “This is a damn good sausage”.

One of us had to forego the sausages and try chicken in Jarl. It was really good. I had feared Jarl would be too bitter to make a nice sauce, but the sauce was deliciously light with a hint of fruitiness.

I was hoping to enjoy some Kernel Export Stout with the pudding: chocolate stout cake. This is a heavy, flavoursome stout. But even it didn't stand up to the burnt, intense chocolatiness of the cake. A pity as both were superb tasted alone.

It would be somewhat snobbish to say that Iain is wasted cooking in a café, so instead I’ll say the cooking was as good as I’d expect anywhere. Now I'm going to steal the chocolate cake recipe and try it with an imperial stout.

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