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Saturday, August 20, 2011

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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