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Thursday, February 23, 2012

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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