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Last week Blackfriar’s Restaurant (NE1 4XN) was kind enough to invite me to one of their themed events – this time a “Food & Drink Matching” night aimed to help guests discover which combinations work best – and why so. Run by restaurant owner himself, Andy Hook, the format of these evenings is very relaxed and informal, so even those who aren’t experts should feel quite comfortable – though being a dedicated foodie helps – there’s some serious food and wine lovers in the room tonight!

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We start with a very dry Manzanilla – admittedly, I’m not the world’s biggest sherry fan, but it turns out paired with marinated olives and almonds, it fairs a lot better than drinking alone. The tone of the night is set by discussing some classic flavour combinations – coffee and chocolate, port and Stilton, or beef and red wine. Most people understood these, but…iced vodka and smoked salmon…? 

As an introduction we are first served both a red (one from my favourites, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) and a dry sauvignon blanc. We try the red with an asparagus spear and a globe artichoke. If you’ve never tried this seemingly innocuous combination together before – go for it – you’l soon see how important food/wine matching is, because while nice enough individually, we learn that eaten together tastes bloody awful.

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The first course proper comes, Yellison goat’s cheese panacotta, tomato and celery chutney (top). The cheese and chutney together are beautiful; we try this with the sauvignon blanc – dreamy.

Next up we have ham hock & foie gras ballotine, parsley and almond crumb, green grape jelly (above). We learn the key to wine matching is “to choose something that either complements or contrasts and cuts through a dish”. The proof is serving this with delicate white where common sense might dictate the use of a red to counter the richness of the creamy goose foie gras. Luxurious.

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Fish trencher; smoked salmon, potted shrimp, mackerel rillettes, white & brown crab meat. We have the heavily smoked salmon with the above mentioned iced Smirnoff – it’s surprisingly great! Andy also suggests a light whiskey would work well.

Proving what a foodie group is in attendance tonight, we drool at the prospect of doing the Marathon du Medoc – if you’ve never heard of this and are vaguely interested in “running” a marathon while drinking wine and eating French food, check it out!

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Northumbria lambs liver, confit lamb breast, pea & truffle puree, confit potatoes. An obvious red match states Andy, serving us a quality 2005 reserve rioja.

An interesting task sees us try to wine match the a la carte menu dishes using our newfound knowledge based on the predominant flavours and intensity of the dish. I maybe got a good match on about half, but the point was that it really got us thinking! It is difficult, but good to know that at Blackfriars there are some experts to hold your hand should you stumble when ordering. The knowledge of the staff was impressive – it’s far too common to see restaurant staff completely clueless about a particular dish so to have a few of the guys obviously really passionate about food was nice to see.

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“Cheese is notoriously hard to match”. With an English cheese board, pickled celery & fig and walnut bread this diverse, I’m not surprised. One of the best cheese boards from recent memory – seven cheeses, all local, and all devoured with the remains of the rioja, though we also have a super-dry semi-sparkling vinho verde which similarly works well. The spicy chutney deserves a special mention – definitely recommend this to finish!

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Some awesome chocolate petits fours – orange, hazlenut, and dark and a coffee rounds out the night. We try these with a fortified, almost port-like, red, which goes down an absolute treat, but demonstrates (to me at least) that some wines only work with food.

Blackfriars runs many similar events throughout the year, including bread making and the famous medieval banquets, and if they are as tasty and informative as tonight was, I’d suggest getting yourself down to the “oldest public dining room in the UK” for a foodie experience. For those who haven’t yet visited Blackfriars especially, these nights are a great way to try out food and wine from the a la carte menu, as well as learning a little more about the food you’re eating.

Similar events (~£25-£90pp) throughout the year – check www.blackfriarsrestaurant.co.uk for full details.

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