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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

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!


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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