Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Inn at Kippen

The Location
Kippen is a charming little village just 8 miles west of Stirling, nestled at the foot of the northern edge of the Campsie Hills, enjoying views to the Highlands to the north. Kippen is thus an ideal base for visiting Stirling Castle and other historical sites nearby such as Bannockurn Heritage Centre (that's the statue of King Robert the Bruce in the graphic), the Wallace Monument, Doune Castle (just as famous as the set for the films "Ivanhoe" and the British comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" as for its history), Dunblane Cathedral and also for visiting scenic attractions such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, including Loch Katrine and Inchmahome Priory on an island in the middle of the Lake of Menteith.

It was in Kippen in 1891 that Duncan Buchanan planted a vineyard within a glasshouse and soon one of the vines grew to be the largest in the world. When fully grown it had an annual crop of over 2000 bunches of table grapes with a record, in 1958, producing 2956 bunches. The Kippen Vine covered an area of 5000 square feet spreading across four greenhouses. It became a famous tourist attraction and people travelled miles to see it, up until 1964 when the Kippen Vinery unfortunately had to close. The memory of that Kippen Vine is perpetuated by the logo used by the Kippen Inn (see graphic).

The Restaurant
The Inn at Kippen is now operated by Gordon Wright and Ron McKinnon who have many years of experience in the catering world. They have made a number of improvements, including re-instating a feature log fire to provide additional warmth between the entrance hall and the dining room.

This is a country inn, combining a cosy, welcoming pub atmosphere, soft lighting, rustic charm, polished pine circular tables with candles and comfortable chairs and sofas in a variety of fabric and leather covers. Around the walls are large, modern prints of Scottish scenic views. Out in the front of the Inn are wooden picnic benches (see graphic at the top of this page) for summer time drinks and lunch (when the weather permits).

There is a small, casual bar area adjacent to the restaurant where you can enjoy the same menu as in the restaurant. The Inn at Kippen also has a separate, large function room which can accommodate parties of up to 70 for weddings and other celebrations whether it is drinks and canapés or a full dinner service.

The bar itself has a very wide selection of wines representing the best of the world's wine producing areas. Along with cask ales, they also have a large selection of bottled and draft beer. Based on the proprietor's long career in the Scotch whisky business the bar boasts a superb range of spirits which can be enjoyed on their own or turned into classic and contemporary cocktails.

The Food

John Milloy, Laurie Newlands and the kitchen staff specialise in creating imaginative menus using seasonal, locally sourced and freshly prepared ingredients. There are two menus - choose from a set menu of two or three courses from 1.30pm until 6.30pm and an à la carte menu in the evening - though there is an overlap between the two. On a cold winter's night I must say I was very tempted by the soup of the day, especially when I heard it was sweet potato, coconut, chilli and ginger - I was thinking of that when I wrote "imaginative menus" above. While I would certainly have liked to try that tasty sounding soup, I always like to take photos to illustrate these reviews - and soup is not (usually) the most photogenic of subjects. So I opted instead for a salad of goats' cheese, figs, pecans, orange, rocket lettuce and shallot dressing. That certainly satisfied the "photogenic" requirement and on taste and texture it was a great choice too. The waitress apologised for the fact that there were no figs - but the parsnip crisps adorning the salad were a more than adequate substitute. Made on the premises they were delightfully light, crisp and tasty.

It's always a nice problem to have difficulty deciding what main course to have and that was certainly the case with the Inn at Kippen. Even the set menu had five attractive choices including, on the evening I was there, braised haunch of venison (with parsnip mash, winter vegetables, button onions and port jus); or pan fried sea bass, (with fine herbs, linguine, mussels, prawns and smoked haddock sauce). And the à la carte extended the choice to eight mouth watering selections including sirloin steak (with mushrooms, roast tomato, peppercorn sauce and hand cut chips) or orange and star anise scented duck (with sweet potato dauphinoise, Savoy cabbage and port wine jus). There are well-known restaurants in Edinburgh that don't even try to match the range on offer at the Inn in Kippen!

Even though it was two weeks before Christmas, I eventually opted for the roast breast of turkey (with apricot and sage stuffing, roast potatoes, cranberry compôte and bread sauce). In other words, turkey and all the trimmings! As you can see, the portions are generous - a dish fit for a King of Kippen indeed! The aim is to satisfy the hearty appetites of the locals (many of whom are farmers) as well as hungry travellers. What are not easily visible in the photo are the fresh peas, carrots and broccoli hidden beneath the turkey slices. And that's a roast parsnip adding to the picture (and the taste). The turkey was the real deal, with slices carved from a nicely roasted bird and the vegetables were cooked just right. And the sauce (ok, "jus") was light and well flavoured. I must admit that the generous portion size had me struggling towards the end - and I also knew I just had to have a dessert (so that I could write about it in this review, you understand)!

Ah yes - the dessert! It was just as well that I was sticking to the set menu (with "only" four desserts to choose from and not the à la carte (seven choices). I thought that a picture of clootie dumpling with butterscotch sauce and Chantilly cream might be a good choice for readers unfamiliar with Scottish fare, but in the end my taste buds won the day and I went instead for dark chocolate & kirsch roulade, cherry compôte and chocolate sauce, accompanied by cherry ice-cream. You'll notice that the word "chocolate" appears twice in that description. Although I wasn't likely to forget it, I did take a note while enjoying that dessert which said "really, really choclatey!!" And the cherry compôte was delicious too, while the ice cream blended well with the other ingredients.

And I must also note that, just as important as the decor and the food, the staff serving in the restaurant were all helpful, welcoming and attentive.

The Bill (December 2011)
The set meal is £17 for two courses and three courses £21. À la carte main courses range from £11 (venison pie) through £15 (pan fried sea bass) to £19 (sirloin steak). Desserts mainly £6 but there is also a selection of Scottish cheese (Clava brie, Mull of Kintyre cheddar and Dunsyre blue) at £7.50.

As I drove home from the Inn at Kippen to my home on the northern edge of Glasgow - in lashing rain and strong winds, but with that taste of the dark chocolate roulade still lingering on my taste buds - my only reservation was that Kippen wasn't closer to home to make it easier go to there more frequently. Then, as the rain stopped and the moon and stars came out, it dawned on me that as a result of the recent improvements to the motorway between Glasgow and Stirling, it had only taken 65 minutes to get there... I just have to make sure the next time that I am able to do justice to those generous main courses and still have space for that chocolate roulade!

Further Information
The Inn at Kippen is at Fore Road, Kippen, Stirlingshire. See the Inn at Kippen Web Site for more information or contact the Inn by Email. The UK telephone number for reservations is 01786 870 500.

While the bar is open during normal Scottish licensing hours, the restaurant opening hours on weekdays are from 12.30pm till 3pm and 5.30pm till 8pm (9pm on Fridays). Restaurant hours on Saturday are 12.30pm till 9pm and on Sunday 12.30pm till 8pm. Between 3pm and 5.30pm soup & cakes are available from the bar.

There is a page on staying at the Inn at Kippen elsewhere on Rampant Scotland at Great Places to Stay - Inn at Kippen.

December 2011


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