It’s strikingly appropriate that this post is about Bell’s Special Reserve, for which we’ve just launched a Father’s Day promotion (see the The Return of WHISKYdotcoza), and also a bit of an homage to my dad and his favourite restaurant.
My dad is an unpretentious man. He certainly can and does appreciate fine things, but I think that he reserves his greatest enjoyment for genuine, down-to-earth, simple pleasures. When he finds something that he likes he embraces it enthusiastically, be it a wine, a restaurant or a rugby team. This passion is most evident in his support of the Sharks. He came to this country not knowing much about rugby and having played only a solitary game (the how and why were lost on a child’s ears), but it struck a chord with him, and today he ranks amongst the most ardent fans in the province, one of those with a pedigree dating back to the old B-Division days. He takes the same approach when it comes to restaurants. We’re a family that enjoys our food and we’ve celebrated many wonderful family occasions over a meal at a restaurant. When the first of the Keg restaurants, the Keg & Thistle, opened in Durban, he was one of the most steadfast patrons; some 5 long, loooong years had to pass before we dined out anywhere else, such was his loyalty.
Today, and for some time now, the Keg’s place in my dad’s heart has been taken by Hemingway’s, a substantial step up (I was going to say “in my opinion” but it’s indisputable so take it as fact). Hemingway’s is located in the lower Glenwood area of Durban, in a charming Victorian style house that’s been renovated and converted into a restaurant. Half the tables are on a terrace out front, alfresco always being a useful format in the east coast sauna, and the other half inside. It’s small enough to feel intimate, but large enough to feel vibey, so suited to just about any dining event I can imagine. I’ve obviously had many meals at Hemingways – this much should be clear by now – but recently I sampled their new menu for the first time. It offers a wider selection than the previous, and the medium-rare fillet with blue cheese sauce that I selected was fantastic. I also finished off a few of my companions’ dinners – I’m nothing if not true to my dustbin nature – so I achieved a fairly broad familiarity with menu and I honestly couldn’t fault a thing. The service is excellent too. My dad engages with restaurant staff in very dad-like fashion, but these guys seem to get him.
Onto the bar. So far there’ve been words but too few of them on whisky. The usual suspects were front and centre – but I was pleasantly surprised to see a few older representatives of the Glenfiddich family also in attendance. I let my eyes linger on the 15yo Solera, but good as it is I know it well so I wanted to give something else a try. I decided on Bell’s Special Reserve. Blended malts are a hugely underrated style of whisky, and as a result relatively uncommon. It’s little known by the whisky drinking everyman that a single malt, the “pure” style of whisky, is in fact blended – different casks of different wood from different years can typically be used. So there’s not much by way of conceptual superiority of single over blended malts. A single malt is representative of a singular place and style, in a way that a blended malt can never be, but a blended malt can call upon a variety of malts and the blender’s skill, and thereby draw from a virtually limitless flavour palette to create something that might be just right for you, for me, for a particular occasion.
My occasion was an after dinner dram with my dad. We savoured the first sweet, then peppery-spicy flavour, and reflected on a great meal, and a great moment in time spent together. If I had to analyse it more closely I’d say that this whisky could use a bit more time in its casks. I feel much the same about the Grouse blended malt. But then again if that was the case we wouldn’t be able to pick up these 100% malt gems for under R200 a bottle. There’s an extrinsic component to our perception of flavour, I guess that’s why such things as marketing and branding exist. In this case the Bell’s Special Reserve was the perfect complement to a much enjoyed father-son occasion.