Britain’s beer-friendly cuisine ramped up several notches recently with the opening in Fulham of Wahleeah (pronounced wah-leer), named after the Brooklyn slang for a craving for a certain food.
The brainchild of beer-matching fanatic, chef Dave Ahern, most recently of Oslo Hackney, the beer offer – 25 beers on tap and a 50-strong bottle list developed in conjunction with Philip Harding at Boutique Bar Brands – is just for starters. There’s a self-serve beer wall installed by the Robot Pub Group, allowing diners to sample before they buy. And Andwell Brewing in Wiltshire has created Wahleeah’s house lager.
But the real game-changer is the bar snack and restaurant menus. Not only are beer matches de rigueur, every dish is cooked with beer, according to Ahern’s exacting ‘cooking with beer’ principles. Brunch includes Kedgeree with IPA Poached Smoked Haddock, Hitachino Nest White Ale is the suggested match for Japanese-Beer-and Teriyaki-Braised Field Mushroom Sandwich with Wasabi Mayo. Mains include Bream with Beer-Braised Fennel, while Lindemans Kriek is the match for Chocolate Stout Brownie with Beer Ice-Cream. ‘While we are seeing more restaurants explore beer and food pairing, this is the first restaurant of this calibre that I am aware of, that makes beer the focal point; ensuring each dish is both infused with and paired with a beer,’ says David Cunningham, programme director of pan-industry campaign There's A Beer For That.
Ahern began his career in the kitchen five years ago at The Ship in Wandsworth having left the world of management consultancy – ‘learn fast or die’ he says of the experience. Before taking on the head chef role at Oslo two years ago, he was perhaps best known for his pop-up Burger Breakout concept. He has sought to introduce matched beer lists wherever he has worked. Why? ‘Because the British palate developed alongside beer, not wine. No Chilean bottled their wine and said to themselves “Mmmm - that will be great with a Lancashire hotpot.” Beer was the drink of the masses.’
Ahern started really cooking with beer at Oslo. ‘It’s much harder to cook with beer than wine,’ he says, ‘because there are so many different flavours.’ Ahern has his own methods, reckoning there are three stages in the process where you can introduce beer. The beers even play a part in the condiments – the Wahleeah burger comes with beer-cured bacon and beer ketchup.
‘The sophistication of the food, the range and high quality of beers that Wahleeah offers demonstrates a shift in consumer attitudes towards beer,’ says Cunningham. ‘People are realising that the quality, diversity and versatility of beer means it can really lift the flavours in a dish and make food more enjoyable.’
‘I want to give an understanding of beer and food,’ says Ahern of the offer as a whole. ‘I can’t accept ordinary. The two worst words [in the English language] are “It’s fine”.’
And to ensure his team are similarly motivated, he will be giving 20% of the profits to the staff.