“I always thought I was sweet but it turns out I’m quite sour and bitter, thanks to Grey Goose vodka.”
The Vodka Guy was invited to attend a preview of the Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz Brunch, one of the many fun events organised by Grey Goose, to discover what my taste profile is.
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the stylishly white and cool private dining room, upstairs at The Carousel, is the herb wall. 18 miniature herb gardens against the white wall make a sensory hit as you walk by, exciting the eyes and stimulating the nose with their fresh smells. You’re invited to touch and rub the leaves, smelling the thyme, the basil, the oregano, the mint, the rosemary and more.
The herb wall isn’t just for visual impact, though it certainly has that. All these herbs play a part in the cocktails, the canapés and the brunch, for a fun and indulgent two hours of sensational tastes and some unusual flavour combinations. The dishes are all created by chef, writer and all-round foodie, Anna Barnett, while the cocktails are the work of Dan Berger, Head of Bars at The Ned hotel in London, famed among other things for its 9 restaurants as well as its cocktails.
The point of the brunch (apart from enjoying fun, food and some amazing Grey Goose cocktails) is to explore and discover your flavour profile. The cocktails, the canapés and the build-it-yourself lunch offerings are each divided into the five main flavours: bitter, sweet, sour, salty and umami (which I always mentally translate as savoury, being an old-fashioned guy).
First, though, guests are greeted with a refreshing Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz cocktail:
Afterwards you get into the theme of the brunch by choosing a cocktail from the five tastes on offer. Having a sweet tooth (or so I thought) I opted for Dan Berger’s Sweet creation, blending Grey Goose Citron with Lanique rose, watermelon, lime, honey and soda. Not all the ingredients are sweet, as you do have to balance the dominant flavour with some contrasts. After all, who wants a truly salty cocktail?
To my surprise I found that my sweet tooth, which always craves the sweetest options on the dessert menu, doesn’t extend to everything. While the cocktail was an intriguing blend of flavours, and a good start to the brunch, I preferred some of the other cocktail options on offer.
An impressive aspect of the brunch was how well organised it was. The cocktails were all pre-mixed and available on tap, with only the garnish and final flourishes for the bar staff to perform. This avoided the usual 5-minute wait and queues while your cocktail is put together from scratch. It also gave the flavours plenty of chance to work their magic together. The canapés never ran out, and the servings of the main course were slightly staggered so that the food stations didn’t get crowded.
But first: more cocktails! After the Sweet I needed some Bitter, which was a mix of Grey Goose Orange, Martini Bitter, grapefruit, lemon, raspberry and tonic. Perfect, and by now the canapés were circulating – which they did quickly and steadily, and rotating the flavour options so you could match or contrast your canapé with your cocktail.
I’ve probably eaten enough canapés in my life to fill Wembley Stadium, but these were among the best and most creative ever. First out was a Sour creation: lemon drizzle madeleines with verbena and lemon zest. Wow, yes, I will have another. The Umami canapé was another wow moment: savoury profiteroles with truffle mushrooms and sticky shallots, glazed with a balsamic, black pepper and thyme reduction. My favourite, though, was the Salty canapé: a mini croque madame with a fried quail egg on top and – a flavour sensation all by itself – anchovy butter. If your mouth could have an orgasm, this would do it. None of your miniature hamburgers or tiny pizza slices at this brunch.
Time for another cocktail, and lots of guests were clearly intrigued by Dan Berger’s Sour creation, as people were constantly asking ‘What’s in the green one?’ So I got a green one to find out. It was Grey Goose Original, sherry, matcha, lime, cucumber, mint and soda. It tasted as good and as original as it looked, and the only disappointment was that there wasn’t time to sample all five, although given that we hadn’t started the main course yet, perhaps it’s just as well.
Chef Anna Barnett encouraged us to build on our experiences so far, and apply them to the main course. This was deliberately kept simple, a plate of French toast, so that we could build our own main course from the five food stations spread around the room. You could stick to your favourite taste because, like the cocktails, the foods at each place offered some deliberately-chosen contrasts. Or you could mix and match, or prepare a Sweet and Sour brunch, or whatever your heart and stomach desired.
At the Bitter table there was orange marmalade and bay ice-cream, charred grapefruit, stem ginger, honey, wilted chard/spinach, a sensational coffee caramel sauce and a bowl of something I wanted to steal and take home with me: wild rocket pesto. ‘Some of her combinations are wild,’ said the waitress at the Bitter table, ‘but they work.’
Over at the Sweet table you could combine lobster, spiced sweet mayo, sweet pickled fennel, fresh fruit, star anise ice-cream and elderflower poached pears. The chef’s suggested Umami serve was Truffle Clarence Court hollandaise, poached egg, charred confit artichoke hearts, and blackened miso and sesame baby aubergines.
Wild but they work. That about sums it up.