Some time ago, St Ali offered a very special degustation and each course was to be paired with a cocktail creation from the folks from Richmond bar Der Raum. I think I enjoyed this dinner much more than the last one I attended because the seating seemed less cramped and given that there were cocktails, we were more spoilt! I’ve not yet been to Der Raum but figured this was a great way to see what they were about too.
The kitchen and counters were a-buzz with orchestrated chaos. From this chaos burst forth the first course – a single Molting Bay oyster with Thai spiced tomato water accompanied by an amuse bouche. Oysters and coffee to my mind (and palate) is not an obvious pairing but to be honest, I love oysters so I’ll eat them with just about anything. Two was not enough (yes, there was one in the cocktail). All over too quickly, if you ask me. Consider my bouche much amused and poised for more yummies.
The second cocktail was a variation on the mint julep – called ‘Sip, Sip Julep’, it had cognac, Vietnamese mint, Rwandan Karengera infused maple. The coffee and cognac here replaced the traditional ingredient of bourbon. You can also see that there’s Viet mint to garnish. I don’t care how uncool it was, I ate mine. This drink was deeply refreshing and I frequently slurped at it to try and get as much of the precious alcoholic mixture as possible.
To eat, we had Japanese pumpkin with shaved iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes, crushed peanuts and nuoc cham. I like that iceberg was used because let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most fashionable of lettuce leaves. My mum uses it and her culinary repertory is firmly stuck in the 80s (sorry Mum, you know I’ll eat your Filipino dishes anytime!). I feel that aesthetically it let down the dish a little, but taste-wise, not a complaint. It was a vegetarian dish – if only all vegetarian dishes could be this ace.
The next drink conjured up memories of my childhood, because of the sugarcane. I spent the first eight years of my life in England, though my parents are from fairly tropical climes (Guyana and the Philippines). One day, my father came home with sugarcane for us to try. In England. Thinking back on this experience, it does seem quite the mindfuck, if you will pardon the profanity. Sugarcane in England in the Thatcherite 80s (yes, I am that old).
Chewing on the palate cleansing sugarcane in this ‘Sugarcane Swizzle’ with pandan and chilli-infused rum, cinnamon, pressed lime and Sumatran natural Mandheling bitters took me back to my concrete Greater London backyard. Amazing how powerful scent and taste is for our memories. Sipping on this paper-wrapped concoction made me feel very much the faux-hobo but don’t be fooled: it’s a classy drink.
This drink was served with the morsel-sized king prawn and crispy pork belly with sweet fish sauce, Szechuan chill and Thai aromats. I had to look up ‘aromats’…bad foodie (still learning!). I think perhaps this course was a little over-ambitious. The pork belly cubes weren’t so pleasing in texture though they were tasty. Perhaps it would have been better to serve two king prawns and do away with the pork belly? Just my personal preference.
Thus the flirting is over – now we get to the real meat of the dinner, so to speak. The fourth course was a roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, sherry glaze and green chilli foam. As a side, there were kipfler potatoes. This was probably my least favourite course of the entire dinner – was it due to duck fatigue from St Ali’s previous #duckfest? It looked gorgeous but to my tongue, felt like the least imaginative.
To accompany, we were served a ‘New York Minute’ – my notes inform me that this is based on Der Raum’s iconic 1864 Manhattan which I’ve yet to try… anyway, this creation was Brazilian Macausas cold drip filtered tequila, Antica Formula, Luxardo and whisky barrel bitters. I could have downed a gallon of this stuff happily. Again, probably wasn’t cool, but I crunched on the single coffee bean floating in the cocktail.
The last savoury course was an absolute winner even though by this time a lot of the diners were getting quite full. Seriously though, wouldn’t you make space for braised lamb shanks whose meat just falls off the bone? This was served with green beans, caramelised eggplant and smoked chilli and cashew nahm prik, and a bloody generous serving it was too.
This classic-yet-jazzed-up dish was served with an extremely playful and daring drink – called ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, it consisted of El Senorio Reposado, Colombian Tama Mountain cold drip and Cohiba infused agave nectar. Yes, it looks like an innocent espresso with an cigarette, but not quite. A few people around me struggled to finish this but not me – I wanted more! Yes, yes, we’ve already established I’m a lush (in case you couldn’t tell by my beer consumption). I didn’t smoke my cigarette and it’s on my desk, probably too stale to do anything with. Nice prop though.
If you’ve stuck around this long (hopefully for the pretty pictures at least), then you’ll be pleased to know we’re at the end – dessert. Our last course was an apple and almond galette served with ‘Thor’s Affogato’. After having bumped into cocktail-making Thor at this dinner, I now know he was one of the folks sitting opposite me at St Ali’s duckfest. Anyway, minor starstruckedness: back to the affogato – a St Ali Champion espresso and maple ice cream with lashings of Amaro Nonino and Strega. Every bit as decadent as it sounds. The lack of sweetness in the galette was just perfect with this very alcoholic cocktail. I think it might have been too alcoholic for some, as I did notice people not having much of it, though to be fair, we were stuffed at this point.
Since I’ve started trying to be the best beer nerd I can be, I’ve neglected wine a little, and cocktails even more. This dinner definitely makes me want to visit Der Raum. I don’t really have anything new to add about St Ali – it doesn’t matter if you go for breakfast or lunch, or dinner (do note that nights have a completely different feel to St Ali in the daytime) as you’re always guaranteed to get great food. Also, cheers to Ben Cooper, the capable chef for coming out to say hello after the kitchen madness was done (though if you need to go to the loo, you can get a glimpse of what goes on in the kitchen – everything seems to run pretty damn smoothly).
(wondering about the post title? you might like to read this)