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Friday 24 October 2014

India Pale Ale - The Belgian Connection?

Words & Photography by Greg Klerkx and Luiz Hara

Beer is seemingly everywhere on London’s fine dining scene these days. It’s no longer odd for a Michelin-starred sommelier to recommend a fruit-infused brew instead of, say, a Muscat to finish, or even to hear the more heretical suggestion of a witbier to start. Craft brewpubs abound, growlers are the new must-have foodie toy, and everyone and their beer-making mother is trying to hop (no pun intended) onto the beery bandwagon.

Uber-hip Belgian brand Vedett has been a fixture on the discerning beer drinker’s scene for longer than most, though many Londoners may only have encountered Vedett’s squat, cheerily-coloured bottles with their moules et frites at the local Belgo. Until now, Vedett, a self-described ‘cult’ brand in the larger Duvel group, has made only two beers and made them very nicely indeed: a hop-tastic, aromatic and eminently drinkable Extra Blond and a lightly fizzy, almost candied Extra White. So far, so Belgian.

This month, the laid-back label is taking a much bigger leap into the fray with the launch of Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA. IPA beers aren’t unknown in Belgium, though they are a fairly recent development and tend to be bolder, darker and punchier in flavour and alcohol content – Vedett’s is a hefty 5.5% – than English IPAs. They most closely resemble American IPAs and often use American hop varieties, as does Vedett’s.

Vedett offered a chance to sample its new IPA and other beers at Cinnamon Kitchen, the suit-and-tie branch of Vivek Singh’s very successful Indian restaurant empire. The intent was to show off great beer and great food, but also to demonstrate the versatility of beer as a stand-alone food beverage – suitable not just as a novelty against one course, but fully capable of carrying a sophisticated four-course menu.

The Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA featured twice during our meal, initially with a some rather delicious canapés that showed Cinnamon Kitchen to very good advantage. Particularly delicious was baked tilapia with Bengali mustard and sweet pepper coulis, which managed the difficult feat of packing a huge flavour punch whilst not steamrolling the delicate tilapia. Potato and green pea cakes with tomato chutney were also lovely: robust and zingy, moist and crispy in the right proportion.

As for the IPA, it was absolutely delicious: not as overwhelmingly hoppy as some IPAs, yet still firm and treacly, dark gold in colour and eminently drinkable. Though the Vedett representatives on hand were somewhat modest about their entry into the crowded IPA field, they should feel very confident. This one deserves to be a hit.

The evening’s other beer-food pairings also worked a treat. Vedett’s workhorse Extra White provided a gently fruity, slightly lemony complement to Tandoori salmon with dill & mustard, served with a wasabi-infused green pea relish.

The smoother, somewhat more elegant Vedett Extra Blond held up nicely against a Chargrilled chicken with yoghurt & coriander, and also went well with a rich, kicky black lentil daal served with naan bread between courses.

Cinnamon Kitchen’s shining moment of the evening came with its main course, an absolutely gorgeous Chargrilled lamb fillet with mint & onion sauce that was succulent and perfectly spiced, the lamb falling apart on the fork (and very quickly disappearing from the plate.) If the intention of the lamb course was again to show the Extra Ordinary IPA to good effect, it worked: the IPA was just as compelling here as it was at the beginning of the evening.

We finished with Shrikhand cheesecake, ginger & fennel seed crumble and glasses of iced Liefmans Fruitesse, a refreshing cherry-and-berry-infused beer that is a favourite at The LondonFoodie Supper Club. By that point in the evening, the point had been proved: the beer revolution in fine dining is here to stay, and justly so.

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