A Room in Leith, 1a Dock Place, Leith EH6 6LU. Phone 0131 554 7427
The dockland of Leith has become home to a whole clutch of Michelin-starred restaurants run by big name chefs, but there are plenty of less exalted eating choices too. With a terrace right on the waterfront, A Room in Leith is part of a small chain of pubs and casual dining restaurants in Scotland’s capital, with a reputation for good, honest food. On a sunny evening we were offered a table in the conservatory-style dining room overlooking the water, however as an amiable but voluble coach party of American visitors occupied most of the space, we made a strategic retreat to the simply furnished interior room with it mix ‘n match furniture and pubby feel. Menus and pre-dinner drinks were offered promptly by a smiling and efficient waitress, and I quickly settled on herb potato scones with slow cooked tomato, butterbean and roasted aubergine stew. This was a really delicious and soulful start to the meal, the slow cooking of the stew giving a wonderfully mellow, rich sauce where the beans and gently smoky aubergine still had a little bite, and the texture and flavour of the dish given extra layers by the addition of crispy brioche croutons and torn chunks of goat’s cheese from Inverloch on the island of Gigha. My main course was another easy decision: a fillet of North Sea haddock and four plump Shetland king scallops, battered with a crunchy tempura batter made from Black Isle Blonde Lager and served with outstandingly good chips, peas and home-made tartare sauce. The cooking and execution of the dish was terrific, but so too the obvious care that had gone into choosing superb local ingredients and making everything fresh, from scratch. Fish and chips and Sauvignon go well, and a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon at £24.95 from a short but really nicely put-together list slipped down a treat with this top-notch rendition of a classic. My dessert of seasonal strawberries and raspberries from Fife’s Blacketyside farm, served with clotted cream ice cream and crushed honeycomb, was a light and pitch-perfect end to a truly excellent and modestly priced meal. The chefs in the open kitchen here are flying the flag for genuine quality of cooking and ingredients. What a great casual dining option this is. (2013). Open seven days, lunch and dinner. Around £80 for two for dinner
Café St-Honoré, 34 North west Thistle St Lane. Phone 0131 226 2211
Though it is two minutes from Princes Street, finding this little restaurant in its quaint cobbled lane was a challenge: Thistle Street runs parallel to Princes St, and the lane lies between Frederick and Hanover Streets. From the lacy curtains and hanging baskets outside, to the cosy atmosphere and polished wood interior, this is every inch the fin de siècle Paris brasserie transported to auld reekie. The service is efficient, and the food is fancy, yet solid and well done: lots of fish and seafood (I had a salad of scallops with chorizo and smoked haddock), as well as salads and pâtés too, and heart-warming main dishes like succulent braised lamb shanks, breast of Barbary duck, or saddle of venison on a bed of red cabbage, all served with good sauces and potatoes dauphinois. Cheeses are pretty good, and prices are moderate. Not truly haute cuisine perhaps, but a very comfortable venue and good food (2015). Closed Sundays except August. £100 for dinner.
Champany Inn, Linlithgow, nr Edinburgh. Phone 01506 834532
This restaurant with rooms is just 20 minutes from Edinburgh, and is something of an institution amongst seafood and, especially, steak-lovers. The very comfortable roomsinclude a substantial breakfast and complimentary Champagne. Champany’s dining room is beautiful, if very traditional in character. The drama normally begins in the bar, where a saltwater pool contains live oysters and Lobster straight from the Western Isles, however a problem with the system meant this showpiece was empty on my visit, though there was still plenty of fresh seafood and shellfish on the menu. But it is steak that is Champany’s glory. Bring your wallet, as it will run to around £40 with vegetables being charged extra, so Champany is not going to be a cheap night out. But on my most recent visit it was exceptionally good, tender and juicy, with the in-house butchery dry-curing the meat for extra time and marinading in a secret blend of herbs and spices. Staff remain excellent, the wine list and service superb, and the occasion still feels special in one of Scotland’s genuine institutions (2014). Closed Sunday, dinner only Saturday. £140 for dinner. Note, Champany also offers the more casual “Chop and Ale House” with considerably lower prices, and has a fine on-site wine shop too.
Dionika, 3 – 6 Canonmills Bridge. Phone 0131 556 3890
This Mediterranean foodstore, wine shop and restaurant is the dream of Spaniard Juan Blanco, who has lived in the UK since the 1970s, but who’s passion for all things Iberian burns brightly. With business interests in the export of Scottish seafood to Spain, fish and seafood remain at the hub of this Galician’s thinking, but so to does organics and quality of produce. I dined in Dionika on a gourmet evening that had packed the restaurant out with sociable and voluble locals – that’s the sort of place Dionika is: lively, gregarious and fun. Among a selection of Tapas to start, I particularly enjoyed Scottish lamb marinated in pimento, bay leaf, roasted cumin and olive oil, and some fine Scottish wild oysters, served simply with lemon juice and tabasco. In a small parade of main course dishes, a Monkfish steak in a smoked garlic sauce was delicious, white surf clams in a saffron and fresh tomato sauce was the essence of fresh, wholesome food, and a small, but perfectly cooked steak of Aberdeen Angus was melting to the bite. Pop in for a coffee, a meal, or to do some foodie shopping. (2010).£70 for dinner, less for Tapas/lunch.
Harvey Nichols, St Andrew’s Square. Phone 0131 524 8388
The punnily-named “Forth Floor” restaurant is indeed on the fourth floor, and does indeed enjoy a spectacular panorama over Edinburgh, as far as the Forth estuary. Walk through the excellent food market, and into the pristine, bright and modern space for pristine, bright and modern food. I chose two starters rather than a conventional starter and main course, and no one batted an eyelid. A gazpacho with grilled goat’s cheese was fine: the gazpacho quite rough-textured and rustic, a disc of still chalky fresh cheese in the middle. I followed this with seared scallops on a bed of buttery polenta, served with a bitter endive and mixed leaf salad. Excellent espresso and chocolates rounded-off a very nice summer lunch, which had been washed down with Spice Route’s excellent Chenin Blanc from a globe-covering wine list (2014). Open for lunch every day, dinner Tue-Sat. £70 for lunch.
The Plumed Horse, 50-54 Henderson St – CLOSED
As of early summer 2016 this former Michelin-starred fixture of the Edinburgh dining scene is no more. But in its place is ‘Norn’, a new venture from chef Scott Smith, a protégé of Michelin-starred Geoffrey Smeddle, owner of The Peat Inn, and promising great culinary things. I have yet to eat there, but will review when I do. It’s phone number is 0131 629 2525.
La Potiniere, Gullane, near Edinburgh. Phone: 01620 843214
La Potiniere, east of Edinburgh, had a glowing review on wine-pages for many years until the former owners, David and Hilary Brown sold up and the Michelin-starred fixture of this small town was no more. Excellent reports had reached me of a revitalised La Potiniere under new owners and chefs, Keith Marley and Mary Runciman. The tiny restaurant is brighter and fresher inside, and the atmosphere more relaxing. The limited lunch menu represents terrific value. For starters I had a warm goat’s cheese filo parcel, which was served with a red pepper sauce and lovely rocket and tomato salad. It was strongly-flavoured, yet quite delicate. One of my party had a crab and prawn salad with mango, pineapple and melon. Served as a tower of salad topped with a dense cake of crabmeat and prawn on top, it was drizzled with a ginger curry mayonnaise and was sensational. For main course I had a beautifully steamed fillet of halibut, which had been filled with a creamy herb mousse, served on a chive-infused mash. This was delightful, with a very light touch to the mousse and a lovely balance of textures and flavours. For pudding I chose a dense-textured chocolate and walnut tart, with orange salad and sorbet. This was yummy, but not at all heavy. The cooking here is admirably restrained and has a lightness of touch that few kitchen’s can master. The wine list is not the mouthwatering tome that David Brown had put together, but it is very respectable with – hallelujah – a fine choice of half-bottles. Closed Monday & Tuesday. Dinner around £120, lunch £70.
Martin Wishart, 54 The Shore. Phone 0131 553 3557
Martin Wishart’s Port of Leith restaurant has established itself in the capital’s dining firmament. With a Michelin star and “Best Restaurant in Scotland” award from the AA, the original small dining room has been expanded by knocking through to occupy the adjoining property. The large picture windows overlook the waterfront, and inside it is cool and chic, with starched white linen and well-polished silverware, creating a “proper”, yet casual atmosphere. The cooking here is refined and imaginative, blending classic modern French and European influences, often using fine local produce. My Périgord winter truffle risotto was topped with layers of aged Parmesan and came with a succulent roulade of pork cheek which was crusted with spiced breadcrumbs. Creamy, with quite earthy flavours, the risotto was perfect. My main course was a beautifully-roasted loin of venison, sliced over a bed of creamed Brussel sprouts and salsify, served with gnocchi and a rich sauce Grand Veneur. Three nicely conditioned cheeses served with home-made biscuits preceded dessert; a little tower of white chocolate and passion fruit mousses, served with an orange salad. Martin Wishart is serving food that’s as good as anything I’ve tasted in Edinburgh, whilst maintaining an enjoyably relaxed atmosphere. Highly recommended (2013). £50 for lunch, £90 for dinner.
Number One, The Balmoral, 1 Princes Street. Phone 0131 222 8888
Number one is the Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant which occupies the basement of the Balmoral, Edinburgh’s iconic hotel on Princes Street. The clubby restaurant has dark panelled walls, with many of the tables at cosy banquettes and natural light through below-street-level windows. The staff are extremely attentive (more of the excellent breads, water and topped up drinks come fast, and bordering on the furious, on my most recent visit). There is a set lunch menu, but we dined a la carte which means starters at around £15, mains at £27 and puds at £9. My mille-fuielle of east coast crab was beautifully fresh, with white meat crammed into a delicate top and tail of thin pastry, surmounted by three perfect little quenelles of avocado mousse, and the accompanied by dainty but flavourful asparagus and softly boiled quail’s eggs. My main course was triumphant: confit fillet of beef came on an onion purée, and was topped with a Rossini-style chunk of seared foie gras. The minimalist support act was three delicate little cocotte potatoes, and a wonderfully deep Madeira reduction. A truly exemplary meal finished with a passion fruit soufflé that was fluffy yet dense, sweet yet sharp, and came with beautiful little slice of lime and coconut pie. Excellent chocolates and petit-fours were served with coffee. The wine list is expensive but impressive, with by the glass choices starting at £8, leading onto the whole Oenotheque collection of vintage Dom Perignons topping out around £1,000. But it also includes good value wines in the mid-£20s from all over the world. A terrific meal in one of Edinburghs very best restaurants. (2011). Lunch Wednesday to Friday, dinner all week. Around £180 if drinking modestly
Rhubarb, Prestonfield House, Priestfield Rd. Phone 0131 225 1333
Prestonfield House was a rather crumbling old pile, set in magnificent parkland just 10 minutes from the city centre. Now, hotelier James Thomson of the Witchery and Tower restaurants has spent millions refurbishing the hotel into a decadent, moody, lovers tryst-type hideaway with sumptuous rooms and fine dining restaurant called Rhubarb. The dining room is opulently furnished with fabric-covered walls, deep crimson and black colours and beautiful plasterwork picked out subtley in gold. The kitchen uses very good local ingredients, like my seared scallops which came on a grainy mustard sauce with a slick of olive-oily potato mash beneath. Main course fillet steak was one of the best I’ve had in a while: a superb piece of beef (Highland cattle roam the grounds, but surely not…). Dessert was also an absolute triumph I have to say: a crottin cheescake, which was a thickly-textured, creamy, baked cheescake tower with a real bite of goat’s cheese, served with a ring of just-poached plums that retained all their acidic bite to act as a counterfoil to the cheese, and drizzled with a sweetening sabayon. The wine list is already good, with reasonable mark-ups, but is being improved as cellars are refurbished. Whether you will dig Prestonfield House’s rather eccentric vision of romantic – so much velvet, brocade and tartan – is a personal thing, but the kitchen keeps things simple and very good. Around £160 for dinner for two. Open every day for lunch and dinner.
Valvona & Crolla, 19 Elm Row. Phone: 0131 556 6066
This is a must on the gourmet trail for any food and/or wine lover. V&C is a real Edinburgh institution and one Britain’s finest Italian delicatessens and wine merchants. Walk through the gorgeous aromas and visual feast of the delicatessen, cheese, bread and coffee sections to the wine shop. The light and airy, conservatory-style Café Bar is open from early morning for breakfast, and serves delicious and appetising dishes from an ever-changing menu throughout the day. The choice is succinct, but the emphasis is on light and vividly flavoured foods with wholesome, quality ingredients. Start with a selection of speciality breads served with little bowls of fine olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. My dish of an aubergine, mozzarella and herb escalope dipped in breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil was served with a selection of unusual salad leaves and salsa. Regular favourites include speciality omelettes and a range of wood-fired oven pizzas. There are some luxury dishes too like fresh truffle pasta or grilled seafood plates. Desserts are delicious – the bitter chocolate tart was light and packed with flavour. The wine features a dozen or so bottles, but a great bonus is that you may also purchase any bottle from the shop and have it served for a token corkage charge (could you be tempted by a double magnum of 1982 Gaja Barbaresco at £2,000?). Excellent casual dining. £50 for lunch, Open Monday-Saturday 8.00am until 5.00pm
Moonfish Café, Aberdeen. 9 Correction Wynd, AB10 1HP. Phone: 01224 644166
Moonfish is immediately reassuring, packed with regulars going about the business of enjoying some exceptionally good and serious food in a casual and relaxed environment, where chatty staff balanced terrific attention to detail with a friendly lack of pretention. The dining room seats around 30 at simple wooden tables, with a seasonally changing display of paintings from local artists around the walls. One unusual feature is the 20-strong gin list, though we chose a bottle of the gorgeous Perle sparkling wine from Ferrari of Trentino. That also gave an early indication of this establishment’s approach to wine: retailing at £27, Moonfish’s price is an extremely modest £34.95. Indeed the entire, single-page list is a joy for the wine drinker: we also enjoyed the Grüner-Veltliner from Yealands Estate at £25.00 (£13 retail) and delightful Moscato d’Asti from Fontanafredda at £22.00 (£9.00 retail). Moonfish’s Menu is also a model of brevity, a single side of A4 with only four choices at each course. After a really nice amuse bouche of spiced smoked haddock with a herby salad, I kicked off with beef shoulder with carrot, gherkin and coriander. What arrived was a pavé, or a sort of squared-off croquette, of melting slow-braised beef inside a thin breadcrumb case, ringed by fascinating textures of caramelised slices of carrot, strips of pungently sweet and pickled gherkin and plenty of aromatic herbs. My main course was brilliant and, like the starter, utterly inventive: a lovely plump piece of roasted halibut sat on a mound of earthy mushroom duxelles, the only other thing on the plate, apart from a little pool of pea purée, a mound of the most delicious salad of cooked wild mushroom, fresh peas, and heaps of tarragon and dill. This was a truly original dish, not formulaic in the way of so much ‘fine dining’, and crammed with flavour. Pudding was perhaps the highlight of the entire meal: billed as ‘Pear, rosemary, peanut, cream cheese’, it was essentially a deconsructed cheescake, but superbly done: miniature pears had been poached and served with luscious little piped peaks of the creamy cheese and smooth peanut caramel, swirled with a rosemary-infused sauce. It was all about flavour. In all, I would say I had enjoyed a sensationally good meal. (2015). £35.95 per person for three courses. Closed Sunday and Monday.
The Black-Faced Sheep, Aboyne, Deeside. Phone: 01339 887311
Tucked just off the main road, this is a combined high quality gift and craft shop, delicatessen and wonderful coffee-shop. Large pots of various teas and cafétieres of freshly brewed, really great coffee accompany magnificent home baked breads and cakes (the old fashioned lemon sponge cake!), local smoked chicken, salmon, venison and cheeses, hearty soups, etc., etc. Lovely touches like home made potato crisps with the salad are a delight. Recently overheard when a customer came in for one of their special walnut loaves: “oh sorry, they’re sold out. Canyou come back in a couple of hours? I’ll bake one for you”…… (2014). £15 for lunch. Open every day until 5.00 p.m. No alcohol served.
The Lairhillock Inn, Netherley, Near Aberdeen. Phone: 01569 730001
This 18th Century coaching inn comes complete with beamed ceilings, open fireplaces and stone floors. This is comfort food of a very high standard indeed: home-cooked across the menu, local ingredients and substantial portions. There is a very deft hand in control of the kitchen, with imaginative and flavoursome dishes at every course. Recently I started with a wild-boar and venison terrine served with a rhubarb chutney. The terrine was coarse and meaty, with excellent seasoning and texture, the chutney fruity and sharp. My main course of free range chicken stuffed with a wild mushroom and chive mousse in a Madeira sauce was excellent too: the chicken tender and wrapped in ham, the sauce reduced and sweet. Puddings are excellent, mostly classics but well rendered with home-made ice-creams and pastries. The wine list has lots of interest too, with many mature wines obviously from a well judged cellar, and offered at reasonable prices (2008). £45 for lunch, £70 for dinner. Open 7 days a week
The Milton, Crathes, near Banchory. Phone: 01330 844566
The Milton lies immediately opposite the main entrance to Crathes Castle. A recent change of ownership has worked wonders with a restaurant I’d visited before, but hadn’t thought to recommend. The cavernous space has been transformed by some clever and effective use of colour, fabrics and lighting. The Milton seats over 100 so despite the successful illusion of intimacy it is still a space that some might find a little impersonal. The look is smart, with Conran Shop table decorations and a theme of dark, luxurious chair and table coverings. The food on the evening menu is equally stylish – a phrase that could be damning with faint praise, but thankfully the quality is pretty good. The à la carte menu offers half a dozen or so choices at each course. My carpaccio of Scotch Assured Beef came with a beautifully-dressed herb salad, doused in a truffle and mustard seed vinaigrette. For my main course I chose lamb with a Parmesan mash. The accompanying roasted peppers and olive pâté provided both depth of flavour and texture. For dessert I indulged in The Milton Grand: six small, home made desserts, the best of which were a lovely custard and apple sorbet and a piquant lemon tart. The wine list is fully marked-up, but has a good cross-section of new and old world (2014). £80 for dinner. Open everyday from 10.00 am.
The Adamson, 127 South Street, St Andrews. Phone: 01334 479191
The Adamson wouldn’t look out of place in a smart quarter of Edinburgh, London or any other major city. Chic and contemporary, a bustling open kitchen at one end and cocktail bar at the other anchor a long, narrow space, with exposed brick, mirrors and large-scale art works. The considerable big brand experience of co-proprietor Julie Lewis shows: her management career was founded in chains like TGI Fridays. We settled in with glasses of the stylish Brut 1er Cru Champagne from Forget-Brimont, nibbling on slices of a mini loaf served with deliciously salty and briney olive tapenade. I started with crispy calamari, which was a superb dish. The tempura batter was fluffy and feather-light, and the serving simplicity itself with pomegranate seeds, segments of satsuma and a sprinkling of watercress – the fresh and cleansing acidity and fruitiness really made this dish. My main course was a blip in an otherwise terrific meal. I chose the roasted cod with creamed potatoes, pancetta, mushroom and a red wine sauce. The plate that arrived was mountainous, the very loose potato purée and red wine sauce forming a gloopy pool, and the piece of well-cooked cod entirely swamped by a towering wall of halved white mushrooms and baby onions. After the light touch of my starter, this dish was clumsy and, perplexingly, my partner’s blade of beef was truly elegant. And on to a triumphant dessert: the simple sounding ‘apple trifle’ transpired to be a wonderful play of flavours, textures and, crucially, temperatures, warm apple compote over an icy vanilla sorbet, topped with silky vanilla custard and a buttery-rich nut crumble. As we sipped very good coffee, the bill of £101 (including another two glasses of wine from a short but good list) seemed like very good value. Note: this review dates from 2014. Late in 2015 chef Scott Davies left to take over the reins at The Three Chimneys. An unplanned casual lunch in 2016 was pretty good, but not of the same standard and the venue was certainly a bit clamorous with a rushed feel to the service. Open seven days for lunch and dinner.
Craig Millar @ No 16 West End, St Monans KY10 2BX. Phone: 01333 730 327
Craig Millar spent 13 years working in partnership with Tim Butler to establish The twin Seafood Restaurants in St Andrews and St Monans in Fife. Now, he has his own name above the door in the latter, which has been relaunched as No 16 West End after an extensive and rather chic makeover that befits both his modern cooking and its glorious shoreline setting. The restaurant sits alongside the harbour of this romantic and unspoiled East Neuk fishing village, with uninterrupted views across the Firth of Forth from both the outdoor terrace – packed on a sunny August lunch time – and from the dining room with its wall of windows. The emphasis on simple, fresh but beautifully detailed fish and seafood has not changed, but the place is smarter and more contemporary and in some ways so is the food. My starter of a hot-smoked trout salad was just delicious, with little cubes of beetroot and slivers of glazed citrus fruits adding lots of energy to the dish. My partner’s crab and pickled mackerel Caesar salad was fantastic too, and a fine, local spin on a classic dish. But my main course moved things on to another level: a beautiful, alabaster white tranche of North Sea halibut was so perfectly cooked, just crusting and golden on the outside, but losing none of its flaking, moist fleshy texture. A ‘bon bon’ of potato and spring onion was playful and delicious (a posh croquette) but it was the wonderfully fresh and flavourful sauces, a fresh pea cream, sweet carrot cream and little mound of Chantenay carrots and pea shoots that added a summery and delicious twist. With no space for dessert, instead we had excellent coffees with a plate of homemade pistachio biscotti and lemon fudge. The food is exemplary and the setting beautiful, and what’s more, Craig has made a real effort to put a lovely wine list together too with all sorts of unexpected treasures including the fine Roussillon wines from local boy turned winemaker Andy Cook of Tramontane wines. For £19 we had a half of the 2010 Saint Véran from the biodynamic Domaine Corsin that had a lovely herb and nutty aspect to its fresh apple and melon fruit. Menus range from just £18 for a set three-course lunch to £55 for a six course tasting menu. A terrific spot. (2016).Closed Monday and Tuesday.
The Newport, 1 High Street, Newport DD6 8AB. Phone: 01382 541449
I had previously praised the obvious skills of young chef Jamie Scott, Masterchef the Professionals winner, whilst bemoaning the stifling effect his win seemed to have on him and his offering at the Rocca restaurant in St Andrews. Well, less than a year later he had moved on and set up on his own in the waterside village of Newport in spring 2016. I’ve eaten here twice now and it is outstandingly good. The contrast with Rocca really could not be greater: classic cuisine, silver cloches and starched white linen have been replaced by a casual café ambiance and triumphant contemporary cooking. At lunch a tapas style menu of sharing plates glitters with amazing flavour, but in the evening a more structured but no more formal choice of five, eight or 12-course tasting menu takes over. We went down the middle with eight courses, which presented a stunning array of inventive, surprising but above all delicious small plates, most celebrating the bounty of the Fife land and coastline, like a brilliantly fresh salad of St Monan’s crab, coriander, avocado and sea herbs, or Muir of Ord beef, seared and succulent, served with salsify, bone marrow and pickled spring onions. Other highlights included Scrabster red mullet, a most delicate fish surrounded by strong but sympathetic flavours including courgette, red pepper and basil. The first of two desserts was the best, a clever dome which layered goat’s milk panacotta and a strawberry jelly, with a fabulously tasty salad of pine berries and Douglas fir. Really, it was a procession of exquisite ingredients, cooking and, ultimately, flavours, created with inventive flair but consumate classical technique. Bravo, for a bold move away from the corporate and to something much more authentic, much more from the heart, and, in the end, much better. The wine list is good, carefully sourced from a terrific local independent merchant, with modest mark-ups. The eight-course tasting menu is £65, though two will dine at lunch, with a good bottle of wine, for £80 or so. (2016)
The Peat Inn, Peat Inn, near Cupar, Fife. Phone: 01334 840206
Chef/proprietor of the Peat Inn is the youthful but vastly experienced Geoffrey Smeddle who took on the heavy mantle of following much-loved former owner David Wilson. Wilson had built the Peat Inn’s reputation to dizzying heights over decades. Smeddle has worked a minor miracle however, not only in retaining all the comfortable charm of the Peat Inn along with its regular clientelle, but in tastefully modernising the restuarant and rooms, whilst doing the same with the cuisine – to such an extent that Michelin awarded a star in 2010. Whilst Smeddle hasn’t done too much to scare the regulars, there’s an edge of precision and modernity to the food now that builds beautifully on David Wilson’s concept of local produce, sourced according to its season. After a lovely little cup of white onion soup as an amuse bouche, my starter of a Spring pea velouté with seared scallops was both delicious and extremely delicate. The scallops sat on a little mound of crushed peas given crunch, smokiness and depth with some fried pancetta, with the soup poured on top. For my main course, roast loin and daube of pork came with two crumbly little discs of black pudding, and a comfort-food bed of puy lentils and greens braised in Madeira. The loin of Pork was sliced into moist, moreish slivers, and the whole composition of the dish was beautifully balanced. Pudding was a little masterpiece too I must say, a pavé of Amedei chocolate with marinated cherries and almond ice cream. The glossy, unctuous pavée was as bittersweet as you like, and the cherries, full of flavour, were luxurious when taken with a mouthful of the ice cream. Coffee and fine, clever home-made chocolates (fresh mint flavoured was my favourite) rounded off a brilliant meal. The wine list, always one of the best in Britain, may not be what it once was, but still has plenty to delight, with mature bottles of great crus at reasonable prices. The 1989 Léoville Las-Cases is £200 retail or £300 on this list for example, but there are plenty of less expensive choices and a fine selection of half-bottles. David Wilson’s legacy is in very safe hands. The set lunch at £19 is an astonishing bargain full of quality ingredients, but settling in for an à la carte dinner or the Peat Inn’s tasting menu before retiring to one of their comfortable rooms is the ultimate treat. (2016). £80 for Lunch for two, £170 for dinner. Closed Sunday & Monday. Suites from £185 per night.
The Seafood Restaurant, St Andrews. Tel: 01334 479475
St Andrews is a beautiful and historic town, loved by residents and visitors alike for its wonderful architecture including the ruined 13th century cathedral and Britain’s oldest university. It must have raised the eyebrows of many traditionalists when the Seafood restaurant opened, a striking glass cube not far from the first tee of St Andrews Old Course, and perched right on the water’s edge. It’s an equally striking dining room from the inside, with ones attention being tugged this way and that by wonderful views out to sea. Fish and seafood are both local and seasonal, with oysters from Seil Island near Oban, hand-dived scallops caught on the West Coast and lobsters creeled off of the Isle of May – visible from the restaurant. I started with smoked haddock rarebit, a fine, nicely flaking and perfectly cooked piece of fish atop a bed of creamed leek, garnished with pancetta and drizzled with a tangy grain mustard dressing. The little slab of rarebit on top added a salty and creamy vivid density to the quite delicate fish. My main course was quite simply one of the best and most beautifully conceived fish dishes I have had this year. A fillet of turbot was simple but superbly cooked. Grilled to a burnished golden crust, yet just cooked to opaque, moist, fleshy perfection, it sat on a risotto that concealed tiny, al dente and vividly flavoured cauliflower florettes and some earthy wild mushrooms. These added lovely complexity to a delicious dish, but the plate was lifted to something more transcendent by a liberal dressing of warm olive oil and toasted seeds, melding with the risotto in every mouthful. It added sensational flavour and texture to the dish. My dessert of cinammon-roasted pear with walnut cake and crème frâiche ice cream was very good – the cake perhaps a touch too dry – but delicious all the same. With a bottle of fine, crystalline Jurançon and coffees, the bill for two at £80 for lunch is not bargain basement, but then this was cooking and ingredients from the top drawer (2014). Dinner is £50 for three courses, lunch will be around £30.00. Open seven days lunch and dinner.
Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterader. Phone 01764 694 267
Exactly a decade ago I reviewed the renowned French Laundry in California for Wine Magazine. I titled my review “The Meal That Changed Everything,” the experience having been so profound in terms of flavour, inventiveness and brilliant execution that I wondered if anything would ever surpass it. Since then there have been other amazing meals: Les Crayères in Champagne, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona – so many fantastic restaurants. But none of them carried the same burden of expectation as my recent – and first – visit to Scotland’s only 2* Michelin restaurant, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. I’d been anticipating this for so long that I really hoped it wouldn’t jinx the experience. Stepping through the door into the wonderfully indulgent but warm and inviting dining room, and any concerns simply drifted away: the smiling, welcoming staff showed us to our table in a dining room where the décor successfully marries plush and business-like with modern and intimate. Sipping on the excellent, rich and full Edouard Brun Champagne we quickly decided on the Tasting Menu, containing many of Fairlie’s ‘signature’ dishes. Highlights of the starters amongst the eight courses (plus assorted amuses) where a Ballotine of Foie Gras with Rhubarb Purée that was wonderfully delicate in its balance (rhubarb can be a touch too astringent) and played with texture as well as flavour with little croquettes of creamily melted Foie Gras in the mix. Next up, a sensational dish of Roasted Hand-dived Scallops, Seabass and Oyster parfait. As always with such quality fresh fish the secret and success was in the lightness of hand with the cooking, but then the subtle inventiveness of this dish propelled it skyward: not only were the beautiful flavours of the Scallops and Seabass distinct and clear, but again texture played its part, including a wafer-thin Squid ‘cracker’ and the warm, yielding oyster parfait. Smoked Scottish Lobster with a Warm Lime and Herb Butter was real soul food too: the meat beautifully succulent, presumably roasted, and piled into the shell with the fragrant and light emulsion of the sauce. The delights of this meal just kept on coming, with Roast Breast of Gartmorn Farm Duck, served with a sweetly caressing cauliflower cream, a clever cheese course of a creamy mousse of Grand Jura Suisse cheese with a mushroom ‘ketchup’ and, finally, a thankfully light end to the meal: a Peach and Elderflower soufflé, the elderflowers picked from the pastry chef’s garden, gossamer light with an apricot sorbet barely adding a micron of weight. Modern Scotland is blessed with some superbly talented chefs running great restaurants, but Andrew Fairlie and his team just ratchet up every aspect, from finesse to flavour, making it not only a superstar of the Scottish scene, but one that in my honest opinion could hold its own in any global company. I loved the food, the service and the relaxed atmosphere. I chose a bottle of Ken Forrester’s FMC Chenin and one of a Saumur Champigny from Château du Hureau for four of us to drink throughout the meal, but when asked, the young team of sommeliers suggested wines (Jurançon with Foie Gras and an Auslese Riesling from von Buhl in the Pfalz with dessert) that were outstandingly good. The Meal That Changed Everything? Well, Scottish born (though admittedly French-trained) Andrew Fairlie has certainly changed the game north of the border and what’s more, has done it with a total lack of pretention. He is very cleverly delivering outstanding, pitch-perfect food with minimal fuss and maximum enjoyment. Just fabulous. (2015). Tasting menu £125, other menus from £95. Dinner only, Monday – Saturday. (2015)
The Four Seasons, St Fillans, Perthshire. Phone 01764 685 333
The week prior to visiting The Four Seasons I’d been at the superb Airds hotel. In many ways the hotels are similar, with fantastic loch-side settings, only around 10 rooms, and reputations for excellent food. In other ways they differ completely; not least on price (Airds is three times the price). Rooms in The Four Seasons mostly have lovely views of Loch Earn, and they are comfortable and spacious. They are simple, with every convenience, but they are not luxurious. Details like a Bose sound system, a bookcase stocked with novels and a friendly rubber duck or two in the bath set the tone for a hotel that has many individual and quirky touches. A recent, stylish makeover of the public rooms is set to extend to the bedrooms over time. The food here is good, with an emphasis on Scottish produce. My salad of Pittenweem crab, shredded and served with a Jerusalem artichoke salad was fresh and delicious. Beautifully cooked Halibut was served as two thick steaks, topped with a generous slice of foie-gras entier, in a red wine reduction. The wine list is one that I barely want to share. With good value throughout, it is the fine wine selection at the end that realy sets the pulses racing: we drank Krug at £79.99 (less than retail) or you could have 1983 Château Monrose for £50 for example. Though with such wines “when it’s gone, it’s gone,” on my visit there was real value to be found. I can also heartily recommend the clotted cream scones for afternoon tea, and the almighty breakfast, with home-made kedgeree and porridge both top-notch. Tiny criticisms? Well, a couple of the seasonal waiting staff really struggled to cope I felt, and the vegetarian menu chosen by one of my party was pronounced as disappointing. But the Four Seasons delivers a lot of individuality, style and quality at moderate prices. Dinner, bed and breakfast for two is around £150 per night off-season, £190 in summer. (2010)
The Lake Hotel, Port of Menteith, Perthshire. Phone 01877 385258
A long-time favourite of mine for its magnificent setting, the Lake Hotel is a much extended and modernised old Scottish house, that stands gloriously on the shore of the lake, spectacularly framed by the snow-capped hills and mountains of the Trossachs national park. It is less than an hour from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and not far from the historic town of Stirling. The large conservatory dining room that runs the full shore-side length of the building is one of the most enchanting in Britain. In truth, the hotel was beginning to look rather tired and shabby in some public areas over recent years, so the news that new management had taken it over was welcome. There is sign of investment in the fabric of the building, with a new bar area that has been given a ‘New England feel’, which for me sits slightly at odds with a Scottish Highland setting. The menus have been totally revamped, with a much simplified lunch menu of inexpensive favourites, but based on prime local ingredients. For lunch my herb gnocchi with local asparagus, fresh peas, spinach and a rich creamy marscapone sauce was just delicious – aand substantial. The evening menu is rather more haute-cuisine, though still with a traditional feel: rack of new season Shetland lamb with casserole of summer beans and rosemary, or French market Guinea fowl with lime for example. Service is polite and friendly, and prices reasonable with lunch at around £25 for three courses, dinner at £35 or so. (2016)