When we walked up to our table at Dynasty Hong Kong, all I saw was a line of Glenlivet bottles and the famous Dynasty china pattern. I would expect nothing less from an elegant whisky pairing dinner in Hong Kong.
Difference Between Whiskey and Whisky
We drink a lot of whiskey, particularly when visiting family in Ireland. It’s generally a combination of Jameson, Power’s, Paddy’s, and other similarly named whiskeys. But, when we reviewed our whisky pairing dinner menu at Dynasty Hong Kong, one thing stuck out. We were about to drink 5 kinds of whisky. Not whiskey.
Before we even started on our first course, we started to talk about the difference between whiskey and whisky. And, as much as I’ve drank a lot of whiskey, I had no idea what the difference was.
At its simplest form, the words whiskey and whisky come from their translation from the ancient Irish and Scottish Gaelic translations. Generally Irish whiskey is spelled with the “e,”, and the Scottish version is whisky without the “e.” Whisky is used to describe whiskies distilled not only in Scotland, but also in Canada, Australia, Japan, and elsewhere in Europe. Whiskey is used in Ireland and America. There are also differences between how the two types of whiskey are made, depending on the grains, the use of peat, the stills used, and more.
The most important thing, we were sitting down for a Glenlivet whisky pairing dinner, not a drop of Irish whiskey in sight.
Our Whisky Pairing Dinner – Cantonese and Whisky
Dynasty Hong Kong has a reputation as one of the top restaurants for Cantonese in Hong Kong. In fact, they were just voted as one of the top tables to score in 2016. We are learning more about Cantonese cuisine, and how it differs from Szechuan and other well known Chinese cuisines. Cantonese is more subtle, and definitely more elegant. Perfect to pair with quality whisky.
We started with a trio of dishes including a chilled Chinese mushroom and the famous Dynasty Hong Kong char siew, or roast bbq pork. We’ve been told Dynasty’s bbq pork is the best pork in Hong Kong, and I am still convinced that is pretty accurate. It’s tender, sweet, and perfectly caramelized. To round out the dish, we ate a salty ox tongue with black pepper. We’ve had tongue before, but have not developed a taste for it. This one was chewy, but tender at the same time. It was so moist that bubbles were exuding from the meat.
As for the whisky pairing, these three dishes were paired with a Glenlivet 12 year. We tried carefully to take a bit of food and a sip of whisky, and to alternate between the two. It was totally different from drinking wine with food. I felt we were still testing our whisky pairing dinner feet.
After our trio of starters, we moved onto a baked crab shell stuffed with crab and onion. We ate this dish during our first visit to Dynasty. Because I am not a fan of onion, I am just not a fan of this dish. It was also paired with the Glenlivet 12 year, but I thought the 12 year highlighted the meat dishes of the first course more than the creaminess of the crab of the second course. But, I am not an expert.
Next, we went decadent. A seared duck liver, or foie gras, placed gently on top of whipped egg whites, and layered with abalone dressing. The fattiness of the foie, the texture of the egg whites, and the sweetness of the abalone made this one of the stand out dishes of the night. It also matched perfectly with the Glenlivet 15 year, which cut through the fattiness of the dish.
A silver smoked cod paired with Glenlivet 18 year was another surprise dish. I never know what to expect with smoked fish, but this was similar to some of the bacalhau smoked fish we’ve had when eating in Portugal. The fish was moist and tender, more so than a grilled fish. The crust on the outside was so crispy as well, and perfectly balanced the sweetness and moisture on the inside. The 18 year paired perfectly.
Whisky Pairing Dinner – Glenlivet Nàdurra
And, what’s a decadent whisky pairing dinner without Wagyu beef. This version was sautéed with asparagus and loads of crispy fried garlic. The Wagyu paired with the Glenlivet Nàdurra 16 year old. This was where things got interesting.
We don’t know a lot about how whisky is made. Frankly, I could explain better how 25 year old traditional balsamic vinegar is made than whisky, or even whiskey. The Nàdurra was a totally different color than the others, much lighter. The bottle read “Natural Cask Strength” and “Non-Chill Filtered.” I had no idea what that meant.
In Gaelic, Nàdurra means natural. The Glenlivet Nàdurra is made using traditional 19th century distilling methods. This means it is aged only in sherry oak casks, whereas other whiskies are usually matured in several different kinds of casks. This makes the whisky more complex in flavor, whereas the Nàdurra is more crisp and clean. That is why the color is more clear than deep, more gold than brown.
As for non-chill filtered, that means if you were to put ice cubes in the glass, the whisky would turn cloudy. Most whisky is produced by chilling to remove impurities, so that when people add ice, the whisky stays clear. It doesn’t necessarily affect the taste, but it’s more cosmetic. Now, we drank all of our whisky during our dinner neat, or without ice. That’s unusual for me, as I normally do add a few ice cubes. I never knew that with traditionally produced whisky ice would turn it cloudy.
As for pairing the Nàdurra with the Wagyu, well, the Nàdurra tastes strong. Experts on whisky, like our friend Cecilia from the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong, will suggest it is pure, or clean, or masculine. For me, it was just strong. The Wagyu, however, was fabulous.
Between the fish, the beef, and the Nàdurra, I was starting to fill up. This is one of the problems of an 8 course whisky pairing dinner. We barely touched our vegetable and fish maws soup. We learned during this trip that fish maws are essentially the stomach of a fish. So, it was okay that I was full before it arrived.
And, as is customary, Cantonese meals generally end with fried rice, to make sure you are full. I struggled, but managed a few bites of the light and fluffy rice with crab roe and dried scallops.
Whisky Pairing Dinner – Whisky and Dessert
If you are keeping track, during this whiskey pairing dinner, we ate ox tongue, duck liver, abalone, smoked cod, wagyu, fish stomach, dried scallops, and crab roe.
Most Americans might back away from a meal with these ingredients. And, the Dynasty whisky pairing dinner was definitely more tailored to the local palate. That makes sense as most of their dinners are local Hong Kongers. But over all the meal was very good. I probably could have gone without the fish maws soup, as it was a little too fishy for my tastes. But, I was also getting very very full.
I was happy to finish the meal with a chilled avocado cream with coconut ice cream, perfectly matched with the Glenlivet 21 year Archive.
I was proud of myself. I felt that I learned a little more about whisky. I appreciated the chance to drink different aged Glenlivet, and to drink it neat. It was a sophisticated tasting menu, and unlike anything we’ve experienced before. Apparently, I now like whisky.
Dining at Dynasty Hong Kong
Dynasty Hong Kong offered this menu for the first time in 2016, and the menu will only be available until the end of March. But, their marketing manager, Cecilia, is looking for other similar opportunities to highlight Dynasty’s legendary Cantonese cuisine.
The 8 course tasting menu, with the 5 pours of Glenlivet is $180 per person. We were hosted by Dynasty Hong Kong, but all views, yummy sounds, and skepticism about fish maws, are my own.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.