The family of sherry wines from Andalusia has suffered great reputational damage from cheap, over-sweetened wines flooding the British market in recent decades. However, as Laura Hadland writes, this delicious fortified wine is now shrugging off the vestiges of its granny’s cardigan reputation.
Harvey Nichols have spotted the potential in this historic Spanish beverage and are leading the charge in making it chic and desirable, not only by producing their own house sherries, but also through making it the star of a delicious tasting menu, which we were invited to trial recently.
Upon arrival, we relaxed in the warm and contemporary bar. Our evening began with some Iberian nibbles along with a refreshing long sherry and tonic, a more nuanced affair than the more usual gin offering. This whet our appetite for the five courses to come, and we were pleased to take our seats in the subtly lit, private dining area.
Under the expert eye of the effervescent in-house wine specialist, Siofra O’Brien, we were guided through a menu that truly demonstrated sherry’s real flexibility and flair as a fine food matching wine. We began with a sharp ewe’s milk cheese and pea salad, which brought out the best in the Manzanilla La Gitana. The straw coloured, light wine had a pleasing salinity which complemented the cheese and capers in the salad beautifully, acting as almost an extra ingredient, both seasoning and pulling all the flavours together.
A beautifully presented deep fried langoustine on a rainbow of Provencal vegetables and violet artichokes followed, the dish having an underlying sweetness which provided a delightful counterpoint to the dry, earthy flavours of the Tio Pepe Fino. This fish course was perhaps the crowning glory of the menu, although as we were so bowled over by the quality of everything, it’s hard to say definitively.
Our main was a mouth-watering combination of heavy but balanced flavours – a sumptuous square of pork belly neighbouring wonderfully spicy black pudding, rich wild mushrooms and a delicate jewel of a pan-fried scallop. This inspirational and textured dish made the nutty, caramel tones of the revered Lustau bodega’s Amontillado all the more enjoyable.
As the meal progressed, the sherry became darker and sweeter. The complexity of Harvey Nichol’s own cream sherry was intensified by the poached pear dessert, particularly emphasised by the warm cinnamon flavours. A flight of three sherries and cheese pairings rounded off the adventure – for me the gorgonzola and cream sherry providing the most memorable combination of salty and sweet – a deeply satisfying pairing.
If you’re kicking yourself for missing out on this cornucopia of flavours, fear not. An equally intriguing Brandy Evening is coming up at Harvey Nichol’s Birmingham on Wednesday 15th March, hosted by the Brand Ambassador for Leyrat and Reviseur Cognac, Thomas Lafleche. On the evidence of the Sherry Dinner, £45 a head will be a small price to pay for the quality of food and the inspired choice of drinks pairings.
Harvey Nichols, The Mailbox, 65 Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1 1RE. Tel. 0121 616 6000