Islay-based gin fiends, The Botanist Gin, returned to London Cocktail Week following their incredible “Into the Wild” Dinner series last year, bringing more of that foraged goodness to our tables. This year, the gjn-sters teamed up with Craig Grozier (Founder of Fallachan and in-house chef for The Botanist Gin) and top London-based mixologists to create a unique Foragers Table Menu with pairing cocktails.
With so many events based in East London, it’s always a happy wonder when we stumble across one that we’ve never been to before. Whilst, Shoreditch Treehouse, the location for The Botanist Gin’s Foragers’ Table Dinner, was less stumbled upon and more a “Leg’s Day” workout featuring many flights of steps, the venue is remarkable. An open-planned penthouse bedecked with wood from the floor to the rafters, it has been atmospherically lit for the occasion with twinkling fairy lights and lanterns entwined in foliage. We grab ourselves a G&T from the wooden crate bar in the corner and are directed to the kitchen at the other end to “forage” for our own garnish from an array of herbs and edible plants.
Drink in hand, we mosey down the long banqueting table in search of our name place (always a nice touch) and have a gander at the three-course menu. A very Scottish affair, Craig explains that, whilst he’s spent 22 years working around the world and loves new flavours, the Highlands and Islay have so much to offer in terms of ingredients and produce: “For me, it’s all about putting simple, tasty flavours on a plate with a delicious piece of protein on top”. Today’s menu incorporates unusual Scottish fare and local ingredients foraged by the chef and bartenders from London parks.
We take our seats and are soon brought out a smoking platter of Octomore Sourdough. The bread has been made over a four-day process using dark, heavily roasted, Octomore malt from the Bruichladdich Distillery (where The Botanist Gin calls home). Craig tells us that the bread goes everywhere with them and has travelled from Islay to London, Norway, and even got stopped at customs in Canada. Entirely delicious, it deserves to be a course in its own right. The smell recalls a distillery and the butter it is served with has been made from juniper smoked crème fraiche, as well as water and salt from the sea outside the distillery.
Appetites whetted, the jovial Robin Honhold (part of the furniture at The Lyan Group’s Super Lyan and Cub) steps forward to introduce his Hunter Gimlet. After foraging for ingredients in the park, he settled on blue spruce, which he churned up and infused the gin with to give it a vibrant, green blueberry quality. He then created a cordial from nettle leaves that triggers an adrenal response and gives the imbiber a tickled-tongue-feel. Limed were then burnt on an open fire and squeezed into the cordial to culminate in a new take on the classic gimlet.
This has been paired with an almost impossibly tender piece of Gigha Halibut that has been aged on the bone for two weeks, like beef, and gently cooked at 43 degrees (six degrees warmer than body temperature). Elderberry capers from Islay bring bursts of acidity that works with the wine-y taste of the gooseberry to match the lime in the cocktail. The chef has created another tie between the drink and the dish by smoking winter chanterelles over juniper. All-in-all, the pairing is wonderful, with the oiliness of the fish imparting a thicker mouthfeel to the cocktail and mellowing the lime.
Next up, is a Pine-Apple Hi-Ball from Sager + Wilde’s Marcis Dzelzainis combining The Botanist Gin with sour apple and Paradise Soda Co. Pine Soda. Simple and refreshing, both tart apple and carbonation are light, giving this the feel of a palate cleanser that seems slightly at odds with the showstopping Red Deer, Spruce, Celeriac, Pear it accompanies.
The meat is perfectly seared, the soft pink centre of the two rounds profoundly flavoursome in their own right. Craig tells us how this was a “lazy deer” as it had three kilos of fat on it (rare for a deer) that they rendered and smoked to add to the stocky sauce. Celeriac, smoked by being “chucked on the fire” along with the “gin-soaked deer heart” (that seasons the dish), add to the earthy richness of the dish. Interestingly, the food amps up the cocktail, with the celeriac and lime-cured pear working with the drink’s sour apple to create something that isn’t too far off the taste of a Starburst sweet.
Plate licked clean, we move on our final course, a Foraged Fig Martini from Three Sheets’ very own Rosey Mitchell, coupled with a truly bizarre dessert featuring cep mushrooms, green juniper and preserved damson. Rosey tells us how she loved the idea of using figs as they are both tropical and local. After her foraging masterclass with The Botanist Gin, she went on a solo mission around the bar in Dalston and returned with gooseberries that she dried out and made a tincture from. In true Three Sheets fashion, the drink is clean, seasonal and delicious. Unlike many martini’s, Rosey’s has zero harshness at all. Super smooth with a front of mouth roundness and a savoury fig aftertaste, this is dangerously easy drinking and, given the choice, we’d drink them all night long.
Its pairing is an unusual mushroom-based dessert – yes, we said mushroom. Cep mushrooms have been made into a creamy, malty mousse before being topped with fermented damson (gin) jam, green juniper granita from the Highlands and a dried cep caramel. On its own, the mushroom mousse is odd and earthy but with notes of chocolate and caramel. However, it is when it is combined in one mouthful with the other ingredients, that the pudding really comes together as a dish. Light but nuanced, it’s a brave and kooky choice that we admire the team for making.
The meal comes to an end and we’re left to roam free through Shoreditch Treehouse with a newly found respect for foraging and the uniquely Islay and dramatically versatile The Botanist Gin.
The Foragers’ Table was priced at £45 per head during London Cocktail Week 2018.
Those wishing to sample The Botanist Gin for themselves can buy it here for £33.75.