For some reason, the only sketch I can clearly remember from American comedian Denis Leary’s No Cure For Cancer show is the one where he is talking about the face people make when they drink whiskey. I imagine it’s the type of expression my face assumes on the rare occasions I drink this spirit. I’m more than happy to cook with it and even enjoy it in a hot toddy when I’m feeling below par. But a whiskey drinker I most definitely am not.
So you can imagine how much enthusiasm I had to drum up when the Italian and Vegetarian invited me to an Irish whiskey tasting in Lincoln. That said I had recently been leafing through Victoria Moore’s How to Drink where she describes whisky (as it is spelt in Scotland) as “appropriately intellectual: a drink you can wrestle with, linger over and appreciate with all its nooks and crannies.” As both of my drinking partners are doctors (in the academic sense) and whisky drinkers I felt I may have misjudged this Gaelic drink.
The event, organised by The Lincoln Whisky Shop, was held at the White Hart Hotel in the centre of Lincoln’s historic cathedral quarter. Fortunately, we were sat on a table with the former owners of the Whisky Shop, Norman and Annie. On seeing my grimace at the first sip of whiskey they instantly advised me to add some water to my glass. This did indeed help diffuse the flavour and made the drink far more palatable. We tried four whiskeys that night all from the Cooley Distillery starting with two blends and moving onto single malts. The Kilbeggan did little to change my opinion of whiskey even with the water but the eight year old Greenore was light and elegant. I actually liked it and a smile to accompany the warm glow in my tummy had replaced the grimace. The Tyrconnell single malt (named after a race horse) was earthier but not as smooth at the Locke’s, another single malt that will soon sadly disappear from the market. I didn’t quite get the milk chocolate or crystalised ginger notes one of our fellow tasters raved about but I can now see how diverse and drinkable whiskey can be.
Two more whiskeys were to follow which I had been informed were more challenging for the uninitiated whiskey drinker. I was ready to pick up the gauntlet and try these spirits but unfortunately we had been given strict instructions by the manger of The Old Bakery not be be late for our dinner reservation and so left without tasting these tipples.
Puglian chef Ivano de Serio’s menu at The Old Bakery showcases seasonal, local ingredients with Italian flourishes. The freshly baked fennel bread made with flour from the nearby Ellis Mill was exceptional (it inspired me to try my own version). The pasta is also made on site. On this particular April evening it was pappardelle with rosemary infused sautéed wild mushrooms, pecorino romano crackling and lemon Puglian extra virgin olive oil. The Italian chose this as a starter and the Vegetarian as a main and both were suitably impressed. Having heard so much about Lincolnshire produced I decided to stick more local dishes. Two delicious slabs of local pig hock pressed terrine wrapped in smoked pancetta served with a Swedish mustard relish and cherry tomato tartar began my meal. This was followed by slow braised “Foster Butcher’s” Lincolnshire ox cheek with a lip smackingly sticky mushroom glaze and a delicate curry oil.
The portions at the Old Bakery are robust and rustic although the flavours are refined. It’s always good to feel you have received value for money in a restaurant (there is also an extensive wine list to choose from with bottles to suit all budgets and tastes). Unfortunately, having eaten such generous portions for our previous courses we almost balked at ordering dessert. We did however manage to share possibly one of the loveliest tiramisu’s I have ever eaten. It was a perfect balance of bitter coffee drenched sponge and whipped mascarpone finished with a crisp chocolate tuile. Sadly we were too full to try their infamous British cheese selection.
We weren’t too gutted to pass up the chance to sample the cheese board at The Old Bakery as we had had our fill of diary produce earlier that day at the Cheese Society. Lunch had begun with a fluffy double baked cheddar soufflé served in a puddle of creamy parmesan sauce. Then the friendly waitress recommended we share the monthly cheese selection. This included a ripe Brie stuffed with a layer of creme fraiche mixed with truffles, an orange rinded cow’s milk Mahon from Menorca and Capriflocon, a Swiss goat’s cheese. Our favourites were the Smelly Apeth (a creamy blue Lancashire made by former Coronation Street actor Sean Wilson) and a fresh tasting crumbly Llangloffan White from Wales. The knowledge of the staff at the Cheese Society and the selection of cheeses is exceptional but there is is no snobbery which is sometimes associated with people who proclaim to be experts in their field. There was far too much cheese for us to finish but they were more than happy to pack up the remaining morsels and pop them in a doggy bag for us to take home.
With it’s cobbled streets and historic buildings Lincoln is full of charm and packed with lots of foodie finds (I would definitely recommend Coffee Aroma). My visit was short but I feel there is so much more to discover in this former Roman capital of Britain. On my next visit I may even try to pair some of the cheeses available with a glass of whisky!
Forthcoming food events in Lincoln: