OK, so we had to go to Inverness – it happens occasionally. But mid-January isn’t the best time for it, so we decided we would like to find somewhere nice to stay where we could get a really nice dinner. We deserve a treat after all, after the early boat, the drive down, an afternoon hanging around and the prospect of the drive back the next day.
After asking around, friends Ian and Caroline mentioned the Bunchrew House Hotel. I investigated their website and found that at this time of year they do an excellent DBB rate, and it all looked rather nice. So the booking was made – not too much in advance of course, in case the weather provoked cancellation!
We arrived at the hotel as the light was fading,, and were welcomed warmly at reception by Stuart, who reserved our table for dinner, showed us the drawing room and suggested that we should come down about 10 minutes early so we could have a little drinky and examine the menu at leisure. Nothing wrong with that plan except 10 minutes probably wasn’t quite long enough for said little drinky – the drawing room was inviting and warm and held promise of a very relaxing place for the little drinky.
Stuart then showed us to our room – probably wisely as in common with many Scottish hotels in old country houses, the upstairs was a rabbit warren, with carpeted floorboards just short of creaky. In addition the owner was obviously a fan of The Prisoner, since none of the rooms were numbered, each had a name – ours was something beginning with K (Kieler, something like that). We were ushered in, shown the delightful treasure chest of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, and informed that the hotel didn’t approve of those disgusting little tubs of long-life milk, and that fresh milk could be found in the fridge which doubled as a mini-bar. He also pointed out that one of the windows overlooked a magnificent cedar tree and – with regret – that although the other window had a view of the Firth through the trees, it also overlooked the bins !! But you had to look pretty hard as they were well fenced in.
Left to our own devices we examined the spacious room with a very comfy-looking kingsized bed. It was very warm, but as hardened Orcadians and with a silent apology to the management for the waste of heat, we turned down the radiator and opened the window. Time for feet up and relax.
Come about 7.30 that little drinky was definitely calling us. So down to the bar we went. Mark had some of the local beer while I had a white wine, served in a Victorian style cut (well moulded) crystal glass no less ! It did make it feel special ! And into the drawing room with an enormous squishy sofa where we were presented with menus and a wine list and left to make our choice. Which was difficult. Very. Not because it was one of those menus with so much on them you get bewildered and where you know everything is just going to come out of the freezer and be whacked into the microwave. No. It wasn’t. There was a choice of four starters, four main courses and four desserts. All of which sounded amazing. I decided that the salt cod starter with Jerusalem artichokes three was wasn’t for me as although I love them, artichokes hate me. Mark decided that smoked eel risotto was a wriggle too far for him and I wasn’t in the mood for salmon ceviche, though it sounded amazing and will need to be tried another time. And we both decided that goats’ cheese tart was the starter for us.
The main courses saw us diverge – Mark opted for scallops with apple and a light curry sauce, only half-believing that the combination would work, and I decided to have duck breast with bon-bons made from the confit leg.
Red wine – Argentinian Malbec – was selected and after a few more minutes to finish our drinks, we were invited to our table. And presented with an amuse bouche from the chef. I can tell you that our bouches were very amused indeed. It was a beetroot puree, with a tiny bit of the best black pudding I have EVER tasted, and a small piece of loin of hare. Now perhaps I should explain here that my mother used to make jugged hare for my father and even the smell would drive me out of the house for the day and the kitchen for about a week. So it was with some trepidation that I closed my eyes and … ate the most delicious piece of hare ! It was amazing. This was served in a very small cup, and the fork didn’t quite get to the beetroot at the bottom, so we waited until no one was looking and dipped our fingers in to get the last bits out – we just couldn’t leave it.
Then the cheese tarts arrived. Not a great big “Orkney farmer portion” but a delicate deliciousness of soft and very savoury cheese tart, topped with a slice of pickled walnut and with a beautifully understated truffle oil drizzle and a sprig of chervil. Oh, and some of chef’s home made bread.
Then came our main courses. Could they live up to their predecessors ? Yes. Simple answer. Yes. They could.
Mark’s scallops were served on a squidge of the creamiest mash, topped with apple puree (not your standard apple puree you understand – a magical cheffy appley delight) and surrounded by a curry sauce. Sounds strange doesn’t it? It wasn’t – it was a combination made in heaven – the sauce was delicate, but just occasionally you got that sort of kick that says “Excuse me, don’t forget me, I AM a curry sauce after all”. The scallops were cooked to perfection – soft, flavoursome and delicious.
As for me, well. Pink sliced duck. Crispy bon-bons. Dauphoise potatoes, all crunchy on top and perfectly cooked and seasoned underneath and braised chicory to give a bit of background bitterness. All served with a sauce/gravy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it that must have taken hours to get to exactly the right degree of unctuousness to go with everything.
Mark couldn’t resist the dessert menu – but I decided that I would “borrow” his spoon ! He also treated himself to a “late harvest Sauvignon Blanc” dessert wine to go with it. So – a chocolate and peanut butter tart duly arrived with peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter brittle popcorn and peanut butter mousse. Not large amounts of each thank goodness or I think he would have burst (and so would I probably). I tried every bit and we both agreed on something.
WE WILL RETURN TO THIS DELIGHTFUL HOTEL!
A comfortable night was spent in our room beginning with K, and we enjoyed Eggs Benedict for breakfast – and my only slight disappointment of the whole stay … the toast wasn’t made with chef’s home-made bread. But it’s not a complaint, it would just have been the icing on the cake. Or the toast in the rack. Or something.
I wonder when we next need to go to Inverness …