Esperante (St Andrews): forgettable

(Visited July 2012)

When bread arrives and it is in full supermarket style, that unmistakable feeling of a looming wasted dinner out pervades you. We are in this upscale golf hotel restaurant and all the cliches about hotel restaurants that we always refuse to be put off by seem about to be unleashed upon us.

 Then you feel a little guilty because  not one but two amuse bouches arrive.

Amouse bouche

And another one 

Mousses, granita, tartare…not bad, not good, you see they are trying, no matter how clumsy the service is, to please you. Pity for the bone in the fish mousse, and for the fact that both amuses feel a little pointless.
Ah, here’s the bread offering, by the way:
Rather horrible bread

this, we have to say, was probably one of the worst breads we have had in quite a long while.Looking around us, the room is pleasant in spite of that hotel restaurant feel, and the table is comfortable. If only that half drunk idiot celebrating something stopped flashing his camera around, especially in our eyes. Cameras are meant to be pointed just at food, doesn’t he know? And please no flash!

A dish of Crab, cucumber, watermelon, basil and vodka 

contained many ingredients and some technique, but it would have been nice instead to have focussed on the main ingredient, which was bland, and overwhelmed by the imperious watermelon.

Another starter of Langoustine, cous cous, pimentos and rose pepper gave us the impression that the chef had completely run out of ideas. This is a dish that can work, perhaps, in a rustic version and with larger quantities, not in the disjointed tiny amounts served here where no ingredient could shine and the cous cous seemed like an afterthought.


The mains were decidedly better, both a Lamb loin, ratatouille, herb crust, sweetbreads, potato, Madeira


and the even longer named Rabbit loin, chicken mousse, Serrano ham, liver and rack, potato fondant, cauliflower, baby mushrooms

Come on, do those microbits of cauliflower really need to feature in the long laundry list of ingredients? This was competent, if unexciting, cooking, with very little sparkle of imagination or flavours (compare e.g. with the far more interesting Rocca Grill nearby).
 

The desserts, a Carrot cake, walnut caramel, toffee icecream and cream cheese icing and a Blue cheese pannacotta, pear and sweet chilli chutney, honey and cashew icecream, and the petit fours


were probably the best part of the meal. Although, this is not to say much, as the ice creams were all rather bland, the carrot cake being really the only element which made itself noticed.

Service is smiling, but really basic mistakes (cutlery all over the place, distraction) make it look unprofessional. The only professional on the night was the Spanish sommelier. 

Three courses will set you back in the forties. We also note that, strangely, the three course market menu costs more than the same dishes a la carte. Are they testing our arithmetic?

When it pulls it off, and it not always does, the cuisine at Esperante is very straight, school-like Modern British. This is a ceiling they do not seem able to surpass. This means that, unless you use exceptional ingredients or have exceptional culinary flair (like e.g. here), your dishes always run the risk of being a little dull. While we didn’t eat badly, that’s the feeling we come out with, and given the alternatives around, it’s hard to see reasons to drive out to the Fairmont.

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Grouse and more at the Peat Inn

(August 2012)

Our second grouse of the season (yes yes, we are fanatics) had a tough act to follow after Koffmann’s

…but it came out with flying colours in being so good and also so different:

Grouse with  peaches & broad beans

The peach and broad beans combination is a dress of Summer and grace for the protagonist, roasted and (as you can see) finished admirably.

Before this there was something of a rather different nature: a Lobster Thermidore, that here at the Peat Inn is (like many other classic dishes) an endless and always new variation on the theme. Have it after a while and you’ll find that a little, or not so little, something has changed, maybe the type of cheese (currently Anster we think), maybe the way it’s cut. Woman declares herself officially addicted.

Addictive Lobster Thermidor
 
And to finish there is only one way to avoid the temptation of the almost irresistible dessert list: lose your head in the perfume/smell of this large trolley stocked entirely with Scottish cheese (some from not farther than a couple of miles away). Where else in a starred restaurant?
Scottish Cheese Trolley
The Peat Inn is a bit of ‘our local’. Not exactly your cheap corner Inn, but the nearest to home of the great UK restaurants we like best. And for its category and quality, it will make your wallet happy as well as yourselves, when you enter the warm ante-room with the fireplace, greeted by one of the most charming service teams in the world.

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Seafood platter at the Seafood Restaurant (St Andrews)

(Visited early March 2012)

Just a nibble beforehand to get some strength (nice bread by the way)…




Here are the weapons. Ready to go?




Go go go!


This is the seafood platter at the Seafood restaurant in St Andrews. We managed to catch the very last langoustines on offer for the day, so the other platter (yes, we had two entire platters between the two of us – we like our seafood as you may have guessed form recent posts) was missing the noble animals (and also had a reduction of £5 on the reasonable £50 that it costs).

Served cold and accompanied by a perfectly decent mayonnaise, everything was extremely fresh, caught on the day


 the crab, the mussels, the clams, the langoustines, the lobster, the prawns, the oysters. The quality was good, though we have some reservations on cold cooked clams and mussels At any rate, we gobbled up everything with gusto





and despite our voraciousness the enterprise took us quite a while due to the work required on the crustaceans (it was, however, helped by some gentle prep by the cooks). Ok, it was not the greatest seafood dinner ever (see our recent experiences in Seville and London for a start), but it was definitely a very enjoyable one, and good value too. 


More on the Seafood restaurant when we have a more standard meal.


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Rocca Grill (St Andrews, Fife): pleasant surprise

(Visited 1st February 2012)


A few years back we reviewed the Rusacks restaurant. Restaurants being far more ephemeral creatures than hotels, now in the same premises we find, with the Rusacks hotel more or less unchanged, a revamped restaurant, with different name, management team, and chef. Let’s check if it was a change for good.


There is an Italian theme in the menu of which we are of course deeply suspicious (we’ll soon see an example of a disastrous marriage between Scotland and Italy at another venue). We confess that last Summer we desisted from booking here, frightened to death by some potentially lethal pasta items we spotted on the menu.


But introductory breadsticks and olives are of good quality and we personally are more pleased with that than with butter.


We begin to relax.


 


Surprisingly there is no olive oil cup, unlike in 99% of italian restaurants in the UK, but as  a matter of fact the olive oil cup is seen far less often, if ever, in Italy: so its absence is in fact a sign of authenticity.


A Cullen Skink





is very classy, look, a million miles away from the basic versions (which we still like, mind you!). It features, beside the compulsory smoked haddock, a tortellino of excellent making (hey, after the breadsticks, and the bread which we didn’t mention but was also good, now this – could it be that they have somebody clever at working with flour?), buttered leeks and potato cappuccino. Creamy and delicious, only marred by the fact that the leeks had been salted by somebody who had gone berserk in the kitchen.


Our other starter was a Seared red mullet with dived scallops





where very good, very fresh mullet and scallops were almost overpowered by a strong vanilla puree, while the roasted fennel and the crisp salsify were apt accompaniment (and for Man, they would have been enough in the dish). The mullet and scallops were cooked well, the latter ever so slightly under, while the foam, as so often is the case, served in our opinion only to instill the doubt that a snail had crossed the plate.


This was a rather flavour-busy dish for a starter, a theme that returns with our main: a Poached and roasted corn fed chicken





precisely cooked to succulence and softness, whose wings had been stuffed to attain a sort of boudin blanc effect (to give you the idea). A long series of lovely items, apart from the thematic corn, smoked pumpkin gnocchi (not really gnocchi but still good), white beans, chorizo (the fine chopping a nice touch),  and even a tempura, were all screaming for attention in this dish, but they ultimately managed to avoid cacophony: they stayed together and play as a team, helped by a very very well made (gastrique) sauce based on sherry vinegar.


Less stunning but still more than satisfactory was the other main from the grill,





a 28 days ribeye, whose depth of flavour wasn’t memorable, but which was accompanied by a delicious tangy Bernaise (you could choose between a few sauces). The potatoes (interestingly, arranged exactly as in our previous visit of a few years ago) were too soggy for Man but OK for Woman, the tomatoes with oregano bringing a nice Mediterranean touch.


For the desserts we take advice from the Maitre d’ who, we learned, was previously a pastry chef who worked in excellent restaurants, including our favourite in Fife. So, secure with such a guide, we go for a crunchy lemon cream 




 


and a Dark chocolate ganache





which, both, prepared the palate by pleasing the eye first. But the palate they did please too! This is serious patisserie work. Beautiful variety of textures, strong, assertive flavours, a touch of playfulness (see the banana-like slices of parfait) and, importantly, a certain lighteness of hand. Yes, banana and chocolate, not an innovation, but with the right balance as on this occasion, boy is it good!


Service was not under pressure (only two tables) but both the Maitre d’ and the waiter were impressive and very professional, informed, efficient. It was not too cheap at £133 but look at the ingredients, and we had a £49 bottle of Tuscan Pinot Noir, Pomino Rosso by Marchesi di Frescobaldi (big mistake, not worth the price in our view). Moreover, there was also the option of a very good value looking Winter menu at £22 or £25 for two or three courses respectively.


A pleasant surprise, this Rocca Grill. There is thought, effort and ability in those dishes, both pastry and savoury ones. The Italian touches, far from being the disaster we feared, added that original twist.  We believe in the virtue of simplification: its application would help some of the dishes to get to the point in a straighter and more effective way…but even so, they were never less than good, and sometimes excellent. A return is due within the year. This is assuming we can find a table among the million golfers who can walk straight in from the Old Course, which is just in front of the dining room.


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Craig Millar @ 16 West End (St Monans, Fife): beauty, but flavours?


Sometimes good conversation at a restaurant distracts from the pure enjoyment of sublime food. Other times, food needs just that bit of distraction, as, while pleasant enough, it would not be able to stand too severe a critical analysis.


The latter is how we felt while eating with friends at the reincarnation of the old Seafood restaurant in St Monans (the sister restaurant in St Andrews still stands). Reincarnation mainly in name, as the chef, Craig Millar, is the same, and so is the style of cuisine.


The short seafood based menu is appealing. The dishes look good and are well presented, some exceptionally so.


At the taste test, however, the experience was mixed. The gazpacho amouse bouche that kicked off proceedings was delicious (and softer on the palate, as often in the UK, than a ‘real’ Spanish one); however an intense Thai mussel broth



featured less than ideally plump mussels, and verged on the over-seasoned.


And a very fresh, perfectly cooked and picture perfect stone bass



failed to reach great heights in terms of flavour – the culprit being perhaps the raw material, which we believe was farmed (we didn’t ask), or otherwise had lost intensity along the way in some mysterious fashion.



The cooking, too, slightly wobbled at times; as in a risotto with scallops, well below the threshold of underseasoning (something of which we hardly if ever complain, poor sensitive palates that we are),



where the risotto did not really qualify as a risotto, and the scallops, cut and dispersed over the dish in a valiant effort to look as a larger quantity, were on the overcooked side. The truffle slices were close to inedible. Summer truffles, while never sublime like white Alba, can be seriously good – yet these ones had the characteristic cardboard consistency that makes you wonder what the point is of them in a dish, except for having the word ‘truffle’ on the menu.


A final pannacotta was acceptable to Man as it was at least as wobbly as the cooking and was accompanied by pleasantly acidic and fruity notes, but Woman is much, much harder to satisfy on that front…



The smiling service offered hints of confusion, pressure (YOU ARE NOT HAVING ANY INTERMEDIATE COURSE?), indifference (no questions on how we liked the food), a bill delivered to us unrequested (while a perfunctory ‘take your time’ was proffered, the hint that at 10.30pm we had overstayed our welcome was obvious), and a second copy of the bill delivered a second time by a different person! We really had to go…


Despite the faults, we cannot say we ate poorly overall. Craig Millar has talent in our view; just look at how beautiful his dishes are and you can perceive the very serious professional as well as the artistic bent of mind behind them. But at £40 for three courses and £45 for four we felt the meal wasn’t really good value given the ordinary quality of the produce (the real downfall of the evening), and the lack of generosity in the portions and in the absence of petit fours (with tea and coffee taken by half of the table).


Go for the great view and for acceptably good and pretty food if you fancy it. But in the next village along the coast, Sangster’s offers in our opinion far better value, not to mention the best of them all, The Peat Inn, on which a new report is long overdue.



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Sangster’s, Elie (Fife)


Charming, small, one-man band, are the words that spring to mind: in the kitchen there’s only him, Mr Bruce Sangster. We really mean only him – chopping away, prepping away, sizzling away … a lonely hero at the stove! He finds it more effort to look after the supposed help (‘these youngsters are frightened by the long hours’) than help himself. The amazing thing is not so much that he manages to run a kitchen alone, but that he does so at Michelin star level! (Coming from a private corporate cooking background no doubt helps with organisational skills).


Bruce is not only well-organised, but also clearly talented: while relatively simple his dishes always have some intriguing component, with sometimes quite daring and original combinations of flavours.

Among the highlights, the above scallops come with a pungent Thai sauce and (like all other produce we had on the evening ) are top quality.

And this Halibut was cooked just right, so different from out recent experience at Gauthier:
The shellfish jus was for licking!

But most of all we were ravished by this salmon, first marinated and then cooked at low temperature,

where the balance of layered flavours and textures was perfect: acidity from the crispy cauliflower, sweetness from the beetroot and the miso (a recurrent oriental theme).

This is a very logical, solid cuisine; everything in the plate has a function. None of those annoying embellishments in minuscule amounts that contribute zero to taste and that are so often encountered in fine dining places nowadays.

More often than not, it’s a one-woman band also in the front of house…very charming service, but be prepared for some waits while other tables are being entertained. Your turn will come…

A three course meal, inclusive of two amuse bouches and a pre-dessert sets you back just £40. As the short wine list is also very well priced, you are in for a treat at Sangster’s.

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The Peat Inn


The day: Wednesday 27th January, Dinner.

The place: Peat Inn, Fife (Scotland)

The venue: The Peat inn

The food: Modern Scottish French

The drinks: Impressive, well constructed list

When the worst thing you can find to say about a restaurant is that they should have a larger parking lot, it means either that your critical faculties have sclerotised together with your arteries after too much foie gras, or that the place is really good…

In the middle of Fife, among pastures and fields of Brussel sprouts and potatotes, there’s this newly starred Inn led by Chef Geoffrey Smeddle – where you can also stay the night should you have indulged in a whiskey too many and lack the will to deal with the straight-angled turns of the narrow unlit countryside lanes and crossing deers.

You mull the menu sitting comfortably by the fireplace in the ante-room, and nibbling the first greeting from the chef:


Besides olives and nuts, it’s a smoked mackerel mousse on new potato. Amusing and intense.

After that, you are accompanied to one of the three warm, countryside elegant rooms


OK, after the parking lot, let us also say that the bread they serve at the Peat Inn (from a tray) has good intentions and looks, but doesn’t achieve the pinnacles of the art in terms of consistency. Forgiven, as we know we are too fussy about bread.

The amuse bouche proper,


A simple, almost spartan, parsnip and almond veloute’, is a delightful interlude that wants you to forget the canapes and prepares your mouth for what is to come: it serves its purpose exactly and does not aim at exhibiting any cheffy muscle. The scarce seasoning sets the tone, a lack of saltiness which we very much appreciate, and that we find is a feature of chefs with very sensitive palates.

And here we go. Several stunners await us, the best of which, a bisque, we showcase later. This pigeon salad

Warm salad of wood pigeon, apple and fennel, with prune and Armagnac puree


features a pigeon which is still partly alive, as you can see, and deliciously moist and tender, accompanied by a perfectly judged and punchy Armagnac and plum sauce, making a clean, fresh tasting, colourfully presented, cold dish.


We didn’t know that a hare could be cooked so well:

Roast loin and braised shoulder of hare, chestnuts, pancetta, roasted Jerusalem artichoke and sauce salmis.



There’s a double story in this complex dish, the noble, moist, tender, delicate loin, just falling apart, and the humbler, but powerfully flavoured shoulder. There are in fact many stories here, stories for example of multiple textures, not only in the meat but also in the crispy vegetables, and the chestnuts, and the sweet garlic, and more, in a criss cross of flavours. All magnificently carried by the salmis sauce (and by a great technique!), this was a very close contest for our ‘the high’ section below.

The desserts were no less memorable:

Delice of Amedei chocolate with rum’n’raisin icecream.

Really clever: you tuck in, and a perfectly liquid fondant comes out of this cold and perfectly formed chocolate cake: how is that possible? This is also quite a technical accomplishment. It turns out the ‘cake’ is a very dense mousse, not cooked but put in the mould to set, into which a rhum, cocoa and syrup ‘cream’ is inserted after opening and then closing a section. How the ‘fondant’ is not absorbed into the mousse is a mistery. And apart from the admiration for the total precision in this delicate operation, what ultimately counts is that it’s really a ‘delice’: what great chocolate! And what inebriating ice-cream (remember, we are as stern as with the bread on this front…).


Vanilla and almond rice pudding, caramelised pear sorbet and winter fruit compote


The compote is poured at your table from a pot (not the top performance by a waiter on this occasion :)). Nice textures, concentrated flavours supporting each other beautifully, in a kind of refined/rustic combination.

The low (naah, not really)

It was a very relative low, amid such peaks – but having to pick one, we would name one of our mains, the

John Dory, potato galette, pearl onions, savoy cabbage, champagne beurre blanc


It feels strange talking about low with such a magnificently fresh and perfectly cooked fish, with such accomplished condiments and garnishes, and amid multilayered flavours that delighted our palates. The problem for us was that the dish felt a little unbalanced, really too rich, not quite matching either in finesse or in presentation or in light-handedness all the others (your fault for setting such heavenly standards, chef!).

The high

Langoustine bisque, ricotta gnocchi, poached langoustines, and scallop tartare



What to say, when there’s a perfect dish it’s just a perfect dish. Lots of work behind it, many fine judgements, and a final product of total balance and apparent simplicity: the chunky tartared scallops, offering pleasurable chewability, the absolute intensity of the soup, with a hint of lemony and alcoholic sort of sharpness and an airy yet bodily consistency, the milky lusciousness of the ricotta, the freshness of it all, this is a dish of true finesse (for those of you who are curious, the ricotta comes from… Scotland!).


The Service

Truly excellent. Friendly and professional from everybody, with (we believe) wife Katherine’s in control. The charming and unassuming head waiter advised us really well on wine, demonstrating a deep knowledge of the extensive and carefully constructed wine list.


The price

With a Loire Cabernet Franc at £30 or so, a coffee and free Scottish water carafe, this three course meal for two (+amuses) cost less than £120 (starters all around £12, mains £20+, desserts £9). A fair price even just considering the quality and quantity of the materials. And there is a set dinner menu at a very enticing £32, plus the 6 course tasting menu at £55. A pity we don’t have time to go for lunch, as it is a total bargain at £16 for 3 courses!

Conclusion

That night, the meal conclusion summed up the cuisine style: champagne truffles and orange and honey Madeleines to scream about: few unassuming looking pieces, but the airiness of those madeleins, the flavours!


You know, those places where you eat well but where you don’t quite feel at home? Where you feel the staff is just going through the motions needed to get or maintain their Michelin star(s), but where there is a general sense of coldness, in the dishes and in the room? Well, the Peat Inn is the exact opposite. It’s a restaurant where, as soon as you enter, you feel treated like at home, generously, where calmness reigns and you forget any pressure in the world.

And, even more importantly, where you eat bloody well! At the Peat Inn we’ve always enjoyed refined, technical, studied and meticulous but substantial dishes, founded on great raw materials, a cuisine that it is hard not to like from whichever angle you judge it. The Chef says: ‘the perfect dish for me is one with a lot of work behind it, but which looks simple to the customer’. He succeeds. We love his elegant touches and his restraint. Try it.


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Fish and Chips

It’s always nice to go to a place which belongs to the category of ‘The best in the UK for…’. This time it’s, unusually for us, fish and chips!

Anstruther is a nice costal village in the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland, and the the celebrated venue is imaginatively called ‘The Anstruther Fish Bar’.

Not only is this the 2009 winner of Yet Another Meaningless Food and Restaurant Competition, but it is also patronised by some of the Great and the Good. This last fact is generally also a poor, sometimes indeed a contrary, indicator of the quality of a venue. So, being in the vicinities, we decided to try for ourselves.

The first challenge for us is getting to grips with the the pronunciation of the word ‘Anstruther’. We fail miserably. Let us just say we are happy this is not a radio broadcast 🙂

Once inside, there is the advertised permanent long queue for the takeaway section. It’s not TOO long only because it is an indistinct Wednesday night – at weekends you have to stand the best part of an hour, but we jump it anyway because we are Italian and we don’t do no queue…, ehm, no, actually because we decide to sit down in the unreconstructed 70’s dining area: plastic tables, cheap lighting, Heinz tartare sauce, tattered menues…

The interesting touch is a screen showing images of fishing, a reminder of the harsh conditions fellow men have to endure to bring fish eventually to our table. This puts us in an expectant and respectful mood.

The bread arrives:

uhm, ok, let’s not build too much on this…

While we wait, we have time to brush up our knowledge:

We have dressed crab, battered haddock with chips, mushy peas, and coleslaw. We can’t be more conservative than that.

We expected the seafood to be very fresh and we were not disappointed. Indeed, the crab was very good. As for the haddock, was it the most flavoursome seafood we’ve ever had? No, it wasn’t. Was it good? Yes it was. And the batter was really excellent, light and airy and fried well and in the right proprtion to the fish. The only real disappointment came from the chips, truly unremarkable. Not much to be said for the peas, either, while the coleslaw was rather good.

The prices are honest, each large course setting you back far less than a tenner, or about 20-30% less if you eat take away. The staff are cheerful and polite. When in the vicinities again (more on this story later…) we will probably be back, also to try their interesting looking ice-cream section. But we are also keen to try their (even cheaper) competitors: we are wondering whether we can really taste a difference between the best fish and chips in these fishing villages along the Fife coast: can it really be the case that their sourcing and their abilities in preparing a batter differ so much?

While mulling over this question, should you feel like a ‘latte’, cappuccino society has arrived here too…

 

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Rusacks


The day: 8th December 2008, Dinner.
The place: Pilmour Links Saint Andrews, KY16 (tel: 0870 400 8128)
The venue: Rusacks Hotel and restaurant
The food: Modern British/French
The drinks: Quite well stocked on French wines, good range of prices
THE HOTEL IS STILL THERE, BUT WITH A DIFFERENT RESTAURANT

We did not come to St. Andrews, Fife, to play golf, a sport (a sport?) about which we know nothing. But we must admit that, overlooking the green with one of the most famous golf ‘holes’ in the world, and then the ravishingly beautiful beaches and sea beyond, the Rusacks Hotel dining room, with its slightly retro elegance


makes us feel comfortable and relaxed,
notwithstanding the golf types surrounding us 🙂

The short, well-designed menu offers a few choices in each category. We note a Crotin of goat cheese, Caramelised red onion, Pithiver (£6.25) among the starters, and the Slow cooked pork belly, Granny Smith apple puree, Boulangere potato, Winter vegetables, Cider sauce (£15.95) among the mains.

While we examine the menu, some bread arrives.

A choice of four varieties from a tray (granary brown, ciabatta, tomato, olive). Here’s our selection:
More than passable, it’s accompanied not only by butter, but also –a pleasant surprise for us- by olive oil. We confine ourselves to a mere tasting (for dietary reasons), and we are even more pleasantly surprised to discover it’s of good quality. We’d like to tell them that it would be better to serve the balsamic vinegar separately, and not already mixed (forming an emulsion) with the oil, but never mind…we’re in Scotland, not in the Mediterranean, so do as the Scots do.

No amuse bouche arrives.

Here are our starters:

– Pickled red mullet, fennel salad, sauce grabiche (£6.50)

– Classic moules mariniere (£6.95)
The mullet portion is ridiculous, basically an amuse bouche. But we appreciate the prettiness, and especialy the pickling which provides sweet and sour notes at the same time decisive and balanced, as well as the freshness of the sauce. Pleasant.

The moules are not as tender and meaty and sea-infused as they can be and as we expected in a place like St. Andrews, but are not too bad either, immersed as they are in a competently made sauce.

And next here are our mains:

– Panfried cod fillet, smoked bacon and Puy lentils, sage veloute (£16.95)

– Grilled Scottish Ribeye steak (8oz) (£19.00)
The beef offers some depth of flavour and an agreeable texture, coming from it being of good quality and having been hung properly (21 days). The chips are real, thick cut chips, another level compared to what we endured recently here, and assembled in the plate with solid Northern grace. What are the cherry tomatoes doing in here? It’s December, for godsake. Anyway, how persuasive, luscious, tasty is the sauce, providing a good peppery background for the beef (this is Man speaking: it’s a bit TOO peppery for Woman). And even the mushroom offers full flavour. Another enjoyable dish, though we made the mistake of accepting the waiter’s insistent recommendation that we have it medium rare (instead of rare as we like it: but we are always wary of contradicting the waiter, he may know things we don’t…), with the result that in the end it was drier than we savage carnivores like.

The cod is a bit muted, but it’s cooked sympathetically. The puy lentils, also cooked well and with the velvety sauce which carries the flavours delicately and far, complete this simple looking but perfectly satisfying dish.

To conclude, here are our desserts:

– Chocolate three ways (£5.95)

– Apple Bavaroise, Cinnamom ice cream (£5.50)
The three ways of the chocolate are an ice-cream (intense), a white chocolate ‘cheese cake’ (very good), and a tarte au chocolate (buttery, pleasant, brownie-like). The combination of flavours and textures is well judged, the whole rather satisfying (expecially if you consider that by this time we were worried about death by starvation…).

In the bavaroise, the cinnamon ice cream was delightful, playing nicely texture-wise with the bavaroise (note also the dried apple splice), which in fact was verging on a mousse. This and the previous desserts bordered on the seriously good territory.

With a bottle of 0.75 litres of water at a ludicrous £5 (ok, we insisted on bottled water because we know restaurants need the markup, but there is a limit to everything: next time we’re getting tap water), and an unremarkable Pinot Noir Robert Skalli 2006 at £24.50, the total came to a reasonable £89.00, good value also in comparison with the local prices for this level of cuisine. No service charge is added.

The service was polite and formal, even with some smiles and human touches, very nice but lacking a bit of agility when multitasking (there was a looong wait when they had to serve a large table).

While this is by no means a destination restaurant which you should travel many miles to go to, it is a good hotel restaurant to exploit once you are there; a venue with a very competent if unspectacular cuisine, produced by a chef who knows his way very well around French technique, decent materials, and an extremely pleasant physical environment. (We also tried their breakfast and came out happy).