The day: Sunday 24th January 2010, Lunch.
The place: Inverkeilor by Arbroath, Main Street
The venue: Gordon’s
The food: Modern Scottish French
The drinks: Wallet-friendly list
Lunan Bay is a well-known tourist spot on the Scottish East coast, between Dundee and Aberdeen. As you can see the Main Street of the nearby village of Inverkeilor is buzzing with activity this Sunday afternoon:
Off the deserted street, inside we cannot fail to notice we are the only two customers. But the atmosphere feels immediately warm thanks to Ms. Watson, who takes care of front room in this totally charming husband-wife-son 25 cover operation. Husband and son are jointly at the stove. The previous night was busier, we are told.
We had gone without any particular expectation, just wanting to tread beyond Dundee (which we’d never done) along the coast, to see the Angus region, to sample the famous Arbroath smokie, and – why not? – to try this venue. And we came out happy we had discovered another little gem in Scotland.
The room reminds us, for its warmth, exposed beams, fireplace, of some places in Trentino-Alto Adige.
There’s no amuse bouche, but there’s a really notable home-made bread, our favourite incipit:
Observe the variety: it’s three totally different types, milk bread, focaccia, and walnut. And it’s a basket! And it is not even an Italian restaurant! Lovely.
The bread soon becomes useful to accompany one of our starters,
Roast red pepper soup, plum tomato, balsamic crème fraiche soup
a cheerful, vibrantly coloured, intensely flavoured but light beginning.
If this is taunting, the other starter is a real knock-out
Parfait of Foie Gras and chicken liver with grape chutney and toasted brioche
Now this begins to be serious cooking indeed. The chicken liver, in that proportion, is inspired and really adds a dimension to the foie gras in this cleanly presented dish. Pleasant sweet acidity from the grape chutney, all suffused by an incredibly intense mushroom smell (unadvertised!).
With this dish we begin to fly. A duck will airlift us to heaven – more on that later, but check out this offering from the North sea
Pan-friedfillet of North sea hake with creamed greens, butternut squash and sauce Grenobloise
Cooked superbly by somebody who clearly knows how to treat fish, aptly garnished with capers, as beautifully tiny as intense, sitting on a bed of (for us) slightly too creamy – given the rest of the fats in the dish – but refinedly cut veggies. We are extreme in searching lightness, but to our taste this would have been perfect had it been slightly lighter.
Our meal is pleasantly interspersed by interesting and charming conversation with Ms Watson on the world of food, restaurants and critics. While we talk comes dessert time:
White chocolate and mango iced parfait with pineapple compote and orange crisp
Mango and white chocolate are a very good idea – but once again it’s all a matter of proportions: here the mango is just in the right amount to pierce into that chocolate richness.
On the other side of the table, in the meanwhile…
Cheeses: Strathdon blue, Blackwax Cheddar, Crowdie, Grimbister, Morangie.
What a wonderful assortment of cow milk flavours, redolent of peasant history and tradition.Man enthusiastically gobbled up even the blackwax (no discernible consequences – the Burgundy had finished him off anyway). And the beautiful oatcakes, in a crisper and a softer version. Great.
With our menu are included also coffee and petit four, which we forgot to take a photo of. Pity, as they looked beautiful.
The coffee is good (these guys really do things properly) and the petit impressive: cassis chocolate, hazelnut chocolate, vanilla tablet.
The high: the duck that flew us to heaven
Roast breast and noisette comfit shoulder of Gressingham duck with purple cabbage , white bean cassoulet and Pinot noir jus
Yes the duck was good and perfectly cooked, tender, tasty. Yes the ‘shoulder’ comfit was in a pot of treasure, enclosing the most concentrated flavours, with the rustic bean cassoulet. Yes that braised cabbage in the winey sauce was powerful…. But we were mesmerised by an unadvertised unusual sweet spice and slightly pungentflavour… it’s a vanilla and parsnip cream – fantastic! It lent magic to this multidimensional ensemble.
The low – not really
Hard to say. This is a Michelin star level experience (in our judgement, not Michelin’s), but one shouldn’t expect the paraphernalia of service and cellar and imposing cheese trolley that are often associated with that. It’s more rustic, it preserves a family cooking atmosphere. If you are fine with that, as we were, there are no lows.
Well, Mrs Watson wasn’t put too much under strain on that day, but we imagine that even with a full 25 cover room she’d continue to be the charming host that she was with us.
The three course lunch (plus coffe and petits) is great value at £27. We drank a good Burgundy for a bit over £30. At dinner you get a fuller treatment (though this one was generous enough for us!) for a significantly steeper £44.
Quite an amazing little restaurant, where everything, including the basic conception of the cuisine, is rustic, but with dishes burning with ambition (we like to think from the son, tempered by fatherly wisdom), and showing off accuracy, confidence, integrity, and inspired touches of creativity.
If you want to try something other than the usual suspects in Scotland, this a place where to go.