_MG_9827I will sit behind all the food. It’ll hide my belly,” laughs Italian chef Alessandro Persico of Grand Hyatt, Mumbai, as he poses with the fantastic spread he has rustled up for us. The MW team was being hosted for an evening of Christmas-themed food- and cocktail-pairing by Diageo, the renowned producers of spirits, beers and wines with brands such as Johnnie Walker (JW), Smirnoff and Don Julio in their bouquet. First up was a seared beef carpaccio with lemon dressing and parmesan. While the appetiser was laid out in front of us, we watched the bartender swiftly whip up our first cocktail. JW’s youngest brew was shaken with a citrus and spice syrup, lemon juice, classic bitters and a touch of egg white to create the spiced red sour — a heady twist on the traditional whisky sour. The refreshing flavours of the beef (itself a tenderloin and wonderfully succulent) was paired well with a strong palate cleanser. “While the bitters balance out the flavours, the citrus syrup in the cocktail is in sync with the lemon dressing in the carpaccio. A perfect marriage,” Persico says. For Christmas parties, when everyone is just warming up to the music, this is the perfect start. The cocktail warms your toes and sets the mood for a heady night ahead and the carpaccio, well, who doesn’t love a carpaccio?

_MG_0028While we were finishing our drinks, a sweet aroma of carmelised onions and freshly toasted bread wafted in. The bartender was busy stirring our second drink, when the sous chefs brought in trays of chicken liver pâté with onions and bread. The liver pâté was luxurious and smooth and the onions added a wicked edge. The bartender then served us our second cocktail of the evening — Walking with Spices and Fruits. The cocktail was a rich combination of JW Red Label whisky and an in-house pineapple and cinnamon decoction, topped with a touch of bitters and fruits. “The fruity tones of the drink will complement the softer texture of the pâté, while the spices balance out the onions and the smoky flavours of the bread,” said Persico. An excellent brie and poached pear in red wine and whisky reduction was served delectably soft but firm in form. The brie was creamy and nutty and was the perfect foil for the pear. “You need a fruity cocktail with this that will support the powerful flavours of the reduction and the cheese,” said Persico. Will it be vodka this time? Yes, it will. The bartender serves the Smirnoff lychee punch — Smirnoff Black stirred with crushed lychee, orange bitters and a jasmine tea brew. While the whisky sets the mood, this is when the party starts. Cheese, fruits, spices and red wine flavours marry well with vodka.

_MG_9879Dessert was a traditional affair with a fruit cake (fruits marinated in a spiced whisky concoction) and Belgium dark chocolate pralines brushed with gold dust. The robust flavours of the chocolate and spicy fruits were definitely the best way to end this pairing session. While some were still chomping on the pralines, others were finishing second rounds of those fantastic cocktails. The cosy laziness of the year’s favourite holidays had finally set in. On the other side of the world, people were carving turkeys, and a bunch of us in Mumbai had just ushered in the spirit of Christmas.

_MG_9997JW’s Red Label is the brand’s youngest brew and is a great whisky for young drinkers who are having their initial experiences with the drink. It’s a friendly whisky, which can be an easy base for a variety of whisky cocktails. Smirnoff Black is as edgy as it comes. The bottle screams for attention and, like that kickass party guy, promises a great time. We spent some time trying out the signatures and were amazed at how decadent their individual flavours were. The chef then brought in the last dish of the evening — the sundried tomato hummus with pita bread. An Italian twist to the traditional hummus, Persico had infused the recipe with sundried tomatoes, that lend a tangy-sweet flavour to the beloved Lebanese dish. We could not stop taking spoonfuls. And, what would go well with it? “The perfect martini,” the bartender quipped. How can the classic martini be any more perfect? Smirnoff Black vodka stirred over ice with orange and lemon oils and served in a glass rinsed with Grand Marnier — yes, that definitely is a grand upgrade. The vodka, rejuvenated with the citrusy oils, is a fantastic companion for the heavy hummus and makes your tongue more receptive to its complex flavours. And, for those taking down party tips, how can you have a party without martinis? When you pull off this twist on the classic, you will be legen-wait for it-dary in your circles for the year to come. (Good luck topping this one next year, though).


Roasted tenderloin with salsa verde, braised lettuce and lemon parmesan
Ingredients:
360 gm pan-seared tenderloin, 100 gm chopped parsley, salt, pepper and rosemary to taste, 1 boiled egg, 2 cloves of garlic, 20 gm whole cocktail onions, 10 gm small diced bread and 25 gm blanched and diced tomatoes
Method:
Marinate the tenderloin with salt, pepper, sliced garlic, rosemary and flour. In a hot pan, add olive oil and sear the tenderloin to a medium rare. For the salsa verde, blend all the ingredients to a paste and for the lemon tomato dressing, mix lime juice, mustard, salt and pepper with olive oil and whisk in finely chopped tomatoes and parmesan cheese to the mix. For the braised lettuce, add olive oil to a hot pan and mix in lettuce, chopped garlic and white balsamic vinegar until it leaves water. Slice the medium rare tenderloin and stuff it with the braised lettuce, and top with the tomato lemon dressing.

Spiced Red Sour
Ingredients:
60ml JW Red Label, 25ml citrus and spice syrup, 25ml lime juice, 2 dashes of angostura bitters and 30ml egg white
Method:
Double shake and fine strain into chilled wine glass. Garnish with orange twist and grated nutmeg.


_MG_9801Chicken liver pâté with braised onions
Ingredients:
500 gm chicken liver, 500 gm unsalted butter, reduction of Johnnie Walker + port wine, 25 gm chopped mix herbs, 100 gm braised onions and salt and pepper to taste
Method:
Blend the chicken liver and butter with braised onions and a reduction of Johnnie Walker and port wine. Cook in an oven at 120 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool the pâté and serve it on thin slices of toasted multi-grain bread with caramelised onions.

Walking with Spices and Fruits
Ingredients:
60ml JW Red Label, 20ml pineapple and cinnamon syrup, sliced green apples and 2 dashes of angostura bitters
Method:
Stir all ingredients and strain over cubed ice filled with sliced apples.


Poached pears coated with brie cheese
Ingredients:
500 gm scoop pears, 50 gm grain sugar, 250 gm small dice brie cheese, 500ml red wine, 5 gm cinnamon stick, 250 gm cream and 3 gm gelatin
Method:
In a hot pan, add grain sugar. As it starts to caramelise, add the pears, cinnamon stick and red wine. Poach it slowly and remove once done. Reduce the wine mixture to a sauce-like consistency. In another saucepan, bring cream and brie cheese to a boil and make a fondue by adding parmesan and gelatin. Cover each poached pear in the fondue and place them in servings of the red wine reduction.

Smirnoff Lychee Punch
Ingredients:
60ml Smirnoff Black, 40ml jasmine tea, 45ml orange zest, 20ml sugar syrup, 1 canned lychee and 20ml lychee brine from the can
Method:
Muddle the lychee and orange zest and shake all ingredients. Serve over cubed ice in a wine glass, garnish with sliced lychees and oranges.


_MG_9783Hummus with Sundried Tomato Pesto
Ingredients:
500 gm boiled chickpeas, 250 gm tahini paste, 8 tsp lemon salt, 100 gm sundried tomatoes, 15 gm pine nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, 10 gm chopped parsley, 5 gm capers, 25ml olive oil, 30 gm grated parmesan cheese and salt to taste

Method:
Soak chickpeas for six hours and then boil and mash to a smooth paste. Add salt and tahini for a smooth hummus. Blend sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, parsley, capers, grated parmesan cheese, olive oil and garlic to a smooth pesto and add to the hummus. Mix well and garnish with olive oil, black olives and parsley.

Perfect Martini
Ingredients:
70ml Smirnoff Black, orange zest, 15ml Grand Marnier and lemon
Method:
Muddle the orange zest. Stir vodka with 10ml of Grand Marnier. Fine strain into Grand Marnier washed glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

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