January's motto is food in films, music and literature (see my last post on Ceviche). January 25th is the birth date of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. Worldwide there were Burns Suppers held in his honour. Highlight of any Burns Supper is the recital of Burns' Address to a Haggis. I was at my first Burns Supper last Friday and had a whale of a time!
As quite a few of my blog posts show, I have a soft spot for everything Scottish. It is probably due to my mom's bagpiping activities which have brainwashed me. But then again, what's there not to love? Great landscapes, great people, Gerard Butler, great whisky, great music (and I am not talking about the Bagpipes), Gerard Butler, great comedians and actors, great macarons, great Gin, Edinburgh, and - not to forget to mention - Gerard Butler.
One of the best loved CDs in my collection is one by Andy M. Steward singing Robert Burns' songs. I got introduced to Robert Burns during my dialectology class when I studied English linguistics and loved his work instantly. With all the strange words and guttural sounds his Scots work almost sounds Swiss-German. I have never been to a Burns Night before, though. So when the Paul Ullrich AG's newsletter arrived announcing a Burns Supper with singer/songwriter Robin Laing, I immediately signed up. Ullrich is a shop specialized in all things booze. It is one of my favourite shops in Basel (and Zurich) because there is always something new to discover and the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. They all seem to enjoy their jobs but then again so would I if I worked surrounded by a huge wine, whisky and gin selection like theirs.
I have to admit I mainly signed up for the food and the entertainment. I like drinking the odd whisky but I am more of a gin person myself. Also, around 10 years ago I went to a Whisky Dinner in a posh restaurant in Zurich and was not impressed at all because the food was not that good and the whisky was not very well matched to the food either. So I was really eager to find out if Oscar Lopez of Ullrich and the kitchen crew of the Hotel Basel would do a better job. The answer is yes! and here's the menu and pictures of each course. The food was as delicious as it looks!
The salmon and the oysters were fantastic but a real highlight was the Pinot Blanc matured in Bowmore casks. The whisky flavour really pushes through but in a good way. It most certainly does not go with any food but it was perfectly paired with the salmon and oysters.
I love scallops but I have never eaten them with peas before. The sweetness of the peas works very well with the scallops and the carrot hay gave the whole thing a nice crunch. Only the red beet was a bit lost on me. There must have been some in the sauce or foam but as it was mentioned very prominently in the title of this course I expected it to play a more important role. Having said that, tastewise there was nothing to complain about. It was a very fine first course.
Of course a Burns Supper would not be a Burns Supper without haggis. Piper Thomas Amrein (of the Pipes and Drums of Basel) piped in the haggis and we were fortunate enough to have the Scottish bard Robin Laing among us to recite Robert Burns' Address to the Haggis before then dramatically diggin the knife in. You find the original version of the address to the haggis as well as a version in the Basel dialect on the Website of the Pipes and Drums of Basel. Usually, haggis is the main course at a Burns Supper but even Robin Laing did not seem too unhappy that haggis was only a starter on our menu that night.
I like haggis. I like it much better than our "Leberwurst" but usually I only eat haggis when I am in Scotland. A couple of years ago I planned to make haggis myself. I already failed very early in the process because I simply could not get some of the ingredients. Not even from the local butcher. Apparently, lambs hearts and kidneys go straight to the Whiskas factory in Switzerland (or at least they don't make it to my Zurich butcher)... The haggis that was served at Hotel Basel was very tasty. In fact, the lady sitting next to me ordered a vegetarian starter to replace her haggis but after being served Quorn she actually changed her mind and asked the waitress to bring her haggis instead (I am not surprised). The sausage was nice, too, but it turned out to be a huge culinary faux-pas as Robin Laing later told us that in Scotland the chef would very likely be hunted down by clan chiefs (or in my world by Gerard Butler only wearing his sixpack and costume from 300...) for serving haggis with an English sausage.
The main course, the cheese course and dessert were also superb. The smear on the cup of the dessert was not an oversight of the charming ladies serving our food but me digging into the Cranachan and remembering too late to take a foto. A sign that the food was delicious. Or that I've had too many whiskys. The slightly blurry picture below certainly is proof that my mom had had too many whiskys when she took the foto. But I post it anyway. It shows me and Oscar Lopez who was one of the organizers of the Burns Supper. He did a great job as did Yvonne Meier and Esther Brühwiler (of Hotel Basel). If I had to criticize something I would say that it would have been nice if there had not only been talk about the whisky but also comments on the different menu courses. Not necessarily a detailed description of the haggis-making-process, mind you, but comments on why that particular ingredient or recipe was chosen and what made it so suitable for the whisky that was served with it.
But talk about food might take away time from the entertainment and that would be a bad idea because it was a huge delight listening to Piper Thomas Amrein (just the right amount of piping for my taste) and of course Robin Laing whose stories and songs entertained us throughout the whole evening.
I am not sure yet whether I will return for the Burns Supper next year because this evening has again rekindled my desire to make my own haggis and maybe serve it at my own (small scale) Burns Supper. We'll see and if anyone would like an invitation, drop me an E-Mail (no promises, mind you).
Now on an important personal note: Because I like most things Scottish, I am running a 1/2 marathon at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival at the end of May. I am running for Children1st, a Scottish charity. I want to raise lotsandlots of money for them so if any of you have some money left to donate, I'd appreciate it very much indeed. You can do so via my sponsoring page.
Love & slàinte mhath