Matching to the menu

The Dylans team

The Dylans team - Credit: Archant

Beer is back on the table. In a sumptuous feast of a book, The Beer & Food Companion, Stephen Beaumont shows that in many countries restaurants as well as pubs and bars now offer beer and food pairings as naturally as they do matches for wine and food.

Beaumont, who is based in Canada, has interviewed chefs throughout the world who not only love beer but also devise recipes and menus with beer as the key ingredient.

A couple of years ago, I helped local restaurateur Andrei Lussmann devise a beer list for his restaurants in St Albans, Harpenden and Hertford. I was agreeably surprised when I ate in the Harpenden branch last year to see the substantial number of diners who were drinking beer with their meals.

Now Sean Hughes and Drew Knight are adding to the culinary and drinking pleasures of St Albans at Dylans at the Kings Arms in George Street with imaginative food and well-matched beers, including cask ales from Britain and well-chosen beers from abroad, including some excellent German brews. Beer is making a strong comeback as a food companion in the nation’s pubs. It’s been a long time coming.

In a celebrated essay on his favourite pub, the Moon Under Water, George Orwell extolled the merits of the food to be had there: “Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch – for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll – for about three shillings. The special pleasure of this lunch is that you can have draught stout with it.” The essay was written in 1946 and Orwell admitted at the end that the pub existed only in his imagination.

My experience, several decades later, was somewhat different. Food in pubs was rudimentary: crisps, sausage rolls, curly cheese or ham sandwiches and pickled onions. If you’ve never encountered a pickled onion, think yourself lucky.

But as Stephen Beaumont shows, we are now enjoying a beer and food renaissance. He sets the scene well, taking the reader through the essential raw materials that go into making beer in order to point up the contributions that malt, hops, yeast and water make to the character and flavour of beer and how they interact with food.

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There’s a beautifully illustrated review of food in bars and pubs in such key beer-drinking counties as Britain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany and the United States and then we get to the main course: beer and food pairing today.

This includes interviews with leading chefs and bar owners from around the world who evangelise on the joys of beer and the way in which different styles complement the fats, oils, salt, smokiness and other attributes of food.

I was delighted to see Sriram Aylur included: he runs the Michelin-starred Quilon restaurant in London where he proves, with his careful yet eclectic range of beers, that curry dishes don’t have to be accompanied by fizzy lager.

There’s also a deserved mention of the work Mitch Adams is carrying out at the Bull in Highgate, North London, where he uses both cask ales and up to 70 global bottled beers to go with the excellent food from the kitchen.

The final section is a mouth-watering selection of dishes cooked with beer, chosen by chefs from many countries.

The dishes range from starters through main courses to desserts and include such celebrated recipes as Belgium’s carbonnades de boeuf à la flamande to blueberry ricotta beignets with stout chocolate sauce.

My only beef – pardon the pun – with this section is that there’s little for vegetarians and those who recoil at the thought of eating pig’s cheeks – poor old porkers. As the food chain Prêt à Manger is planning to convert several of its stores exclusively to vegetarian and vegan offerings, pub, bar and restaurant chefs will ignore this rolling bandwagon at their peril.

The Beer & Food Companion, Jacqui Small, £25.