Review – The Athenaeum – Whiskey Social Evenings – Mayfair, London

The Athenaeum

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Many Londoners will know the Athenaeum Hotel for its amazing living wall. Located on Piccadilly opposite Green Park, it really is a feat in engineering. The hotel also boasts the world famous Whiskey Bar. What you may not know is that the hotel hosts a monthly Whiskey Social where guests are invited to enjoy a specially designed 5 course dinner paired with the month’s guest whiskey distillery.
I was fortunate to attend this event on the 4th of July and being Independence Day is was fitting that the co-host for the evening was Arkansas based Rocktown Distillery.
Arriving at the hotel, on a glorious summer evening, we were escorted to the mezzanine floor which had been set aside for the reception.  Here we were greeted with a gin based cocktail which was very welcome in the unseasonably warm weather. Canapés were passed around by waiting staff and we proceeded to get to know the other guests. The owner of Rocktown Distillery, Mr Phil Brandon, had flown over for the evening to be our main speaker and many people were already getting their questions in about all things bourbon related.
At 7:00 we were taken to a reserved dining room where our evening of pairing could begin. The tables were beautifully set and the whiskies were lined up at our placements ready to go, no need to wait for someone to pour here! What I particularly liked was that we were sat at tables of 8 and so were able to converse readily with other diners/whiskey enthusiasts.
Our introduction to the evening was given by the hotel’s whiskey sommelier Ivo Silva. Ivo is one of only 2 professional whiskey sommeliers in the UK. He is very knowledgeable in his craft as was apparent when he sat at our table for the 1st course and we bombarded him with questions. An astutely friendly chap, he answered our sometimes simplistic questions with enthusiasm and proficiency.
The menu itself was designed by Head Chef David Marshall. Our 5 courses included Barbary Duck Breast Rillette to start,  Slow Cooked Jacobs Rib and Chargrilled Medallions of Beef for the main and of course that great American dessert, Pumpkin Pie (the full evening’s menu can be seen below). I have to say the food was a resounding success. Not only was it beautifully presented, but the tastes and combinations were spot on. One particular triumph for me was the smoked potato puree that accompanied the main course. Having never had it before I was a bit dubious. It soon became apparent however that I shouldn’t have worried – it was heavenly. Asking around the table it seemed everyone had the same initial reaction but we were all converted, smoked potato puree is to die for!
The art of pairing food to whiskies requires a lot of specialist knowledge and suffice it to say, I think it was very well done.
At the beginning of each course we were given a short talk by distillery owner Mr Brandon, explaining what we should be able to taste and smell with each bourbon and how it was made. I found it all very interesting and you can rest assured I left the evening knowing a lot more about bourbon than when I arrived (and I’ve been to MANY trade shows). My personal favourite was the Arkansas Hickory Smoked Whiskey, smooth and flavourful, it slipped down very nicely!
All in all it was a great evening and something I would definitely go to again, not only for the knowledge but the fabulous food, surroundings and a chance to meet interesting, like minded people.
The Athenaeum Whiskey Social is held once a month on a Friday. Each month a different distillery will feature and a menu designed accordingly.
I might just see you there!

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