Gastropubs and Fine Beer Dining, European Style
“We use the same fishmonger Gordon Ramsay does,” Mark Dorber says, not even trying to look modest.
As the landlord of the White Horse at Parsons Green in West London, Dorber is well known for his cask-conditioned ales. But instead of acclaimed brewers, he is now using a three-star Michelin celebrity chef and culinary enfant terrible as reference.
In May, Dorber opened a new restaurant, simply called Upstairs at the White Horse. Chef Liliana Tamberi takes me to the kitchen to check out the first class raw materials, starting with fresh handmade mozzarella cheese from her home country of Italy.
“Food is the only way to get new customers, and you the need the right environment to do that. We want to be democratic, but also to have higher quality at the same time,” Dorber ponders.
Gastropubs have been all the rage in England for a while. We are not talking steak and kidney pie, ploughman’s lunch, or fish and chips. At Upstairs this means white tablecloth. Beer is served from nice wine glasses, not in pints. Each dish on the menu has both beer and wine recommendations. For example, with organic leek and Colston-Basset blue Stilton soup, you can choose Anchor Steam or dry Aurora Manzanilla sherry from southern Spain.
Carlsberg in Denmark woke up a few years ago to the fact that beer sales were declining in restaurants. Together with leading chefs and drinks writers, their brewers designed a specialty beer range called Semper Anders. Initially, these beers were only sold in big bottles at first class restaurants. Instead of the traditional golden lager, these beers have included, among others, Abbey Ale, Winter Rye and First Gold IPA.
“I am very fond of English beer, and my IPA is very Anglican. We use a very mineral [hard] water for it, and get the yeast from our UK brewery,” brew master Christian Luxhoj smiles.
These beers are also used in cooking. At the Paul Restaurant in the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Michelin-starred Paul Cunningham’s ice cream terrine with Criollo Stout is a delightful example.
Semper Ardens beers are now available in shops in Denmark, and production has moved from the trial brewery to the main brew house. Carlsberg also opened a new micro called Jacobsen in June.
Restaurant Savoy in central Helsinki, designed by acclaimed architect Alvar Aalto in the 1930s, is probably not the first place you expect to find Chimay from Belgium or Finnish sahti on the beer list. Chef Kai Kallio plans his annual beer dinners like six-course gala events. “Beer can be very exciting at the dinner table,” Kallio knows.
Another downtown Helsinki restaurant, G.W. Sundmans Krog, carries beer and wine suggestions for all the dishes. This is the more casual bistro of a Michelin-starred restaurant in the same building. Sommelier Jussi Ansaharju is actually more of a beer guy when he is not decanting $200 bottles of wine upstairs.
Beer with fine food is nothing new in Europe. Beer is to Belgium what wine is to France. In’t Spinnekopke is a classic Belgian restaurant in Brussels. Chef Jean Rodriguez is originally Spanish, but his book, Cuisine Facile à la Bière (Easy Cooking with Beer), is an excellent introduction to the subject.