The Peat Inn
Some restaurants seem to appear and disappear in little more than an instant; like a mayfly they emerge, their existence sudden and urgent, before they fizzle out and splutter to an ignominious end. Others, meanwhile, seem to have been in existence since time immemorial, or at least since the very first mayflies took to the skies. Or, reining in the exaggeration just a little, at least since the 18th century.
The Peat Inn is surely in one of these latter categories. Originally a coaching inn dating to the 1700s, I knew of its reputation before I moved to Scotland in 2005. Not long afterwards I visited, treating myself to chef Geoffrey Smeddle’s cooking, alongside a bottle of 2000 from Château Angludet (at the time still a fairly young vintage, and it showed – funny how my memory of the wine eclipses my memory of the meal). Far too many years later I decided to return; what better way could there be to lift the spirits between one Covid-19 lockdown and the next?
Geoffrey Smeddle arrived at The Peat Inn in 2006, taking over from David Wilson who had been at the helm here for as long as anyone could remember. It took him just three years to earn his first Michelin star, and more than a decade on this is an accolade he has retained every since. Front of house is Ian McRae, another long-term fixture, while looking after the guest bedrooms, which are situated in a lodge just behind the restaurant, is Geoffrey’s wife Katherine.
First the rooms; it is worth arriving in plenty of time to make the most of your room for the night. I arrived late afternoon (it was the best I could manage!), on a fairly dreich (which is Scottish for dull, misty or gloomy weather – if you’re going to live in Scotland, you do have to use a few of the local words) day. The room was a warm and welcome retreat. Set over two levels, on the ground floor looking out onto an attractive (but rather misty) garden there is a bedroom with en suite bathroom which comes well equipped with luxury toiletries. Upstairs is a small sitting area with a cosy sofa, television and radio, as well as a chiller stocked with complimentary soft drinks and homemade (or should that be Smeddle-made?) chocolate brownies. It is up here that your continental breakfast will be served the following morning.
After a welcome snooze I headed over to the restaurant for dinner, and while I normally pick and choose à la carte on this occasion I found myself salivating over the six-course tasting menu. Why resist, I told myself. After amuses bouches the evening began with basil langoustine with citrus marinated calamari, mouli, cucumber and satay sauce, a blend of surprisingly delicate flavours, the satay sauce subtle and not overly spiced, allowing the highlight of the dish, the langoustine tail wrapped in a wafer-thin batter, to shine. While this opener was all about delicacy, the next course, roast monkfish with couscous, steamed surfer clams, Serrano ham and saffron nage, was more about substance. The ingot of monkfish took centre stage here, flanked by three tiny clams each served in the half-shell. The substance came from the couscous, the Israeli large-grained style, upon which the monkfish rested. The ham, I imagined, was a nod to the how monkfish is often cooked, but here it certainly took second or even third place and it felt superfluous. It was still delicious though!
Leaving behind the two fish courses, next up was a mosaic of chicken and sweetbread with beetroot and blackberry purée, young beetroots and diable sauce, which certainly did not disappoint, again striking a slightly homely note, the chicken working surprisingly well with the little beetroot and blackberry jewels. It was not the star of the show though, as this accolade went to the final savoury dish, a honey glazed breast and confit leg of Scottish partridge with savoy cabbage, sauerkraut purée and Madeira jus. Hands up if you think that sounds delicious. If you put your hands up, well done, you’re correct. Pink partridge, warming Madeira jus just oozing with umami meaty texture and flavour, and my third-favourite vegetable (yes, really, doesn’t everyone rank their vegetables?), cabbage. What’s not to like?
Some might say the great advantage of a tasting menu is double dessert. I started off with marinated pineapple and mango with ginger, chilli and lemongrass sorbet and rose foam, which was dominated by the undeniably perfumed flavour of rose. I much preferred the hot soufflé of Scottish bean to bar chocolate with coconut sorbet which followed it. This was rich and full of dark chocolate intensity, the flavour running right through the dish, from start to finish. It would have played havoc with most if not all wine choices (I’ve never been a fan of trying to match wine with chocolate, why bother?) but by this time the bottle was empty. Having scanned the wine list for suitable Loire Valley options (as is my wont) I went completely off-piste with a bottle of the 2014 Beaune Premier Cru Les Aigrots from Hubert de Montille. And what a great choice it was, brilliantly tense with acidity, but full of early Chardonnay evolution. It made me regret that promise I made to myself many years ago, never to fall in love with Burgundy and, more importantly, never be tempted to start writing about it. It is probably wise for me to stick to my two specialist subjects.
I retired to bed a happy diner. Breakfast the next morning was as delightful as ever, with yoghurt, fruit compote, toast, pastries, boiled eggs, ham, cheese, tea and coffee. Obviously I didn’t eat all that, it’s just an example of what you can choose from. I set out for home very content with my lot. Hopefully it won’t be too long, once the ongoing lockdown lifts, until I can return to The Peat Inn. I’m pretty sure it will still be going, for as long as mayflies keep appearing in spring.
Prices: The six-course tasting menu costs £78, and there is a £9.50 supplement to add a cheese course. If you wish matched wines are available, £68 for the ‘classic selection’, or £115 for the ‘prestige’ wines. The Beaune from Hubert de Montille was £96. The best deals come from combined room and dinner packages; a Luxury Break package, with double bedroom with en suite bathroom, including dinner for two and breakfast for two, but not including wine, costs £440. (5/3/21)