Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Glenapp Castle.

It was with the usual admixture of fear and excitement that myself and K made this booking. It was a spur of the moment thing, a live life and feel full moment. It was Easter weekend and we thought 'what the hey'. We had a couple of spare bucks burning a hole in our pocket and we were going to be down that way (deepest darkest Ayrshire) anyway, so why not?

Glenapp is part of the Relais and Chateaux group which has many esteemed restaurants within its holdings - Sant Pau and Loius XV to name two. I therefore had high hopes for this meal.But wondered if it was too good to be true. It is a renovated castle in the middle of no-where and its style is distinctly old worldy - what if its all a big hoax? That Michelin gave it a star last year reassured me , as did the way that they handled our somewhat bizarre telephone calls.

My longsuffering friend K phoned up to make the booking. When asked if he had any special requirements, he mentioned that he didn't eat anything with milk in it. Upon further questioning he proceeded to baffle the call handler by explaining that he ate cheese, when pressed further he caved in and said "when I am going somewhere nice, if I like the look of it then I'll eat it.' - So then, not a food allergy but more a fussy bugger that can't resist the draw of beautiful food.

The second strange request involves me phoning up and asking how the tables are set out. My seating arrangement of choice, if there are just 2 of us and if it's a fancy place, is to be sat at right - angles to my dining companion. I find it much easier to gossip with them, especially if the atmosphere is somewhat rarefied.

Both of these slightly eccentric conversations were handled with good grace and mild amusement by the lady on the phone, so I was in positive mood; the vibes were good and the night looked promising.

Ballantrae is a small, and I mean small, town on the Ayrshire coast. It is about 20 mins south of Girvan. The scenery is stunning and at night looks like Middle Earth (sad loser I know). Blink and you might miss it when driving through. To add to the excitement of the evening there are no road signs to Glenapp. You have to be in the know, to go. Whilst trying to impress me with his local knowledge of a "back entrance", K managed to get us lost. Thankfully the, not so amused as bemused, receptionist gave directions over the phone and we managed to get there. We were met by a handsome gated entrance that you needed to get buzzed through. The gates silently swung open and we drove up a windy road through what seemed like a wood. Whilst K amused himself making ribald references to the "Eyes Wide Shut" style entrance, we drove up the twisty road which gradually revealed Glenapp in all its glory. This is not hyperbole, it is a rather beautiful building. It was bought by the McMillan family in 1994 and their daughter Fay and her husband Graham Cowan spent 6 and half years restoring it after it had lain unoccupied for years.

The door is held open for you by a nice man in a dinner jacket. The owner Fay greets you herself, which is a nice touch. We were led into a lovely grand drawing room with a roaring open fire and offered an aperitif. I asked for a cocktail menu and was told there was not one, but that they could make what I wanted. Despite the good initial impression, I remembered I was in Ayrshire ( I come from here), so decided to play it safe with a gin and tonic. They have a reasonable Gin selection including Hendricks but not Blackwoods, so Hendricks it was. And what a good G&T it was. It was served correctly with the requisite slice of cucumber. Now, I was not asked how I wanted it served and I am giving them the benefit of the doubt that there is no other way of serving Hendricks than with a slice of cucumber, so points on. We sat by the cosy fire sipping our G&T's getting quite comfy on the mammoth sofa. We both remarked that it would be a fine place to come for afternoon tea, and to while away the afternoon, reading, drinking and lazing about before heading in to dinner. We were given the menu to look at and to make our choices for our main course and pudding.

K then made his second blunder of the evening, proving that his manners are on par with his navigation skills, by ordering before me. A slip up the waiter clearly noticed.

Whilst we sat we were given our amuses- bouche which were a sea-bream beignet, Parmesan foam with crisp, and cube of pork belly with rhubarb. The sea bream biegnet was good, I usually find cream filled beignet boring but this had flavour to it, the Parmesan foam was very intense-it captured the essence of the cheese exactly and the pork belly cube with rhubarb was a revelation (oh my! A revelation!). The rhubarb danced on my tongue. This has happened a few other times. One memorable time was with particularly fine duck dish at Etain before it went under. That dish was like sunbursts. Taste synesthesia. Before Ratatouille came along I thought I was the only one.

Once we had finished our drink we were led into one of two dining rooms. Our room held about 9 tables ranging from 2-3 diners at each. I was pleased to find that my request had been taken into account and we were seated at a table at right angles to each other. Points on. Despite our reservation being last minute I thought our table was reasonable, it was near the front of the room which allowed me to watch the movements of the serving staff. I have to say they were excellent - unobtrusive, attentive and chatty which was good because otherwise it could have been a staid affair. Reading what I have written makes me check myself, I usually don't use such praise laden adjectives, but in this case they were merited.

This is what we had. As it was my first time there I did not take any photos as I am still a bit bashful about the whole thing. Next time.

Friday 21st March 2008

Wild Mushroom Velouté with Cep Foam and Roasted Cep

This was amazing. I have had many incarnations of this dish, the first being at Royal Hospital Road, but this is the best so far. I could have eaten a whole bowl, and then probably been sick as the stock he used for the base was so rich. My mouth is watering just remembering it.

Ballotine of Foie Gras with Spiced Pineapple and Pain D’Epice

This was very clever. I am a bit fed up a Foie Gras. Every restaurant with aspirations to a Michelin Starr ( or indeed, with a Michelin star) serves it these days (recently Hotel Du Vin, Sat Bains, Martin Wishart, No 1 at Balmoral..) , but this I liked. The Pain D'epice was a dusting on the outside of the Foie and the sweet tartness of the pineapple cut throughout the richness and made what can be a very rich dish quite light and pleasant. I know Sat Bains has done a version that has Foie Gras with gingerbread in it. I wonder if the same thought was behind these two dishes?

Roasted Sea Bass with Fennel and Dill Purée and Fennel and Vanilla Salad

The was one of the weakest courses but still good. Sea bass cooked perfectly and the fennel and vanilla combo that I had not had before but which worked.

Roast Brochneil Farm Chicken with Wild Mushroom Risotto, Morels and a Thyme Sauce
Fillet of Cairnhill Farm Beef
with Braised Onions, Carrot Purée and a Red Wine Sauce

I had the beef medium-rare, which I think must have been cooked sous-vide, but forgot to ask about. K had it rare and though it looked rare and was rare it was not bloody. It tasted bloody good though.

Choose from our Scottish Cheese Selection Served with
Rosemary and Raisin Bread and Oatcakes

This was great, you are given a little booklet with about 10 Scottish cheeses. Excellent. At Martin Wishart, my current favourite, they have a lovely cheese trolley but with mostly French cheeses which may not be that surprsing given it's a French restaurant, but I prefer British cheese personally. I had had most of their blues before including Arran blue (my favourite), Strathdon, Dunsyre and Lanark. They had a couple of Cheddar's whcih I had not had so we had a plate with 5 cuts including Arran, Mull and another one I can't remember and two soft cheeses. One of which was Caboc. Now this was reccommended to us by our very jolly server, but it was like eating butter. Now those of you who have seen my bagels know I am not averse to a bit of butter but after 5 courses, it's a bit much.

Dark Chocolate Tart with Orange Sorbet
Passion Fruit Soufflé with Passion Fruit and Banana Sorbet

Again a weak course, nothing wrong with it but not as inventive or exciting. It is a chocolate tart after all- a safe choice.

Freshly Ground Sumatra Gayo Coffee
with Petits Fours

May we suggest the following wines to accompany
this evening’s dinner menu

White Wine ~ POUILLY-FUISSÉ “Les Vieux Murs” Jean Paul Paquet 2004 £30.00

Red Wine ~ SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE Domaine Lucien Jacob 2002 £33.00

Dessert Wine ~ BOTRYTIS SEMILLON 2005
Blewitt Springs Hillsview AUSTRALIA £7.50 per100ml glass

There is not actually a sommelier, but the man who made us our G&T's seemed to know what he was talking about and was very helpful. I had a Pedro Ximenez sherry with my tart which was like drinking rum and raisin ice cream. Lovely.

So, a very fine meal, excellent service, and a lovely environment with a sense of occasion. I would go back, and am actually in the process of trying to plan my next trip back. I just wish I had taken some photos.

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