Tam's Tall Tales

- Smashing Service at Andy Murray's Place

Scottie and Tam's Expedition to Cromlix Hotel

Scottie and Tam's Expedition to Cromlix Hotel

I suppose I had better start at what went wrong. Reviews of restaurants where everything was spot-on are not nearly as much fun as descriptions of a string of Fawlty Towers type catastrophes.

It started badly. Scottie, the ultimate gadget fan whose new smart watch probably has a sat nav - his phone certainly has - sailed past the entrance to the hotel and only clicked that he had blown it when he spotted the 'Welcome to Perthshire' sign. Fortunately he was put on the right track to Cromlix by a helpful chap who was tending his garden further down the road.

I too blew the transport arrangements, I got to Dunblane, about four miles away, without any bother by train. But taxis were not available that day it seems - one never bothered to even answer the call - and in the event I had to take a bus. It was actually on time but of course dropped me at the end of the Cromlix driveway. I was fair trachled by the time I had trudged up the lengthy road to the hotel. Luckily, it was dry and sunny.

So far, so bad. Hope you are chuckling nicely, dear reader, because that is the last of the "bad" stuff. What followed was a series of delightful experiences, with a fabulous lunch followed by coffee and petit fours in the garden admiring sumptuous views in the Stirlingshire sunshine. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

This adventure started more than six months ago when I saw that Cromlix Hotel had been bought by Andy Murray, the tennis star who was brought up in nearby Dunblane. After considerable badgering by yours truly, Scottie agreed to an editorial research trip, aka lunch, so that we could inform our esteemed readership about the experience. (Life can be tricky at times, but heck, when duty calls, you just have to buckle down to it.)

We had to give way to the Murray family regarding the date for this expedition, because Andy was getting married the week before and had taken the hotel over for the reception.

In fact, we were lucky to get a lunch table at all as the only time available for a booking was 2.00 p.m (doubtless a sign of the popularity of dining at Cromlix). But that was no hardship as there is a modern, comfortable bar area (with a welcoming open fire - though these days it's hard to tell the difference between a real fire and an imitation).

The restaurant is in a bright new conservatory-like extension to the original house (a family home with its own chapel until 1981). There are good views out to the garden and the open kitchen is in full view of the diners.

We were surprised right at the start when some amuse-bouche arrived on biscuits and special spoons. These are single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre with intense flavours not ordered from a menu by patrons, but, when served, are done so free and according to the chef's selection. According to Wikipedia, they are served both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to the art of cuisine. A nice touch - and apparently a de rigueur offering at Michelin Guide-starred restaurants and those aspiring to that category.

As a starter, Scottie had ordered the "foraged wild Scottish leek and rooster potato soup with smoked herring roe cream" and looked visibly surprised when a large soup plate arrived with just some cream sitting in the middle. Then the soup arrived - in a dinky little jug and poured with great style into the plate - causing the cream to float to the top. The flavours and textures were just as impressive and surprising and got the taste buds into overdrive.

My starter of purple sprouting broccoli, Granny Smith apple, goat's curd and toated hazelnuts was unusual but delicious and was a good precursor for my lamb dish which was served with rosemary, garlic and broccoli and puy lentils. It too was absolutely spot on. The meat was succulent and cooked to perfection.

Scottie opted for the fillet of Loch Duart sea trout which came with lemon and garden dill, risotto of cracked Bulgar wheat and accompanied by charred baby gem lettuce. It was a generous portion and the fish was moist and full of flavour. Scottie ia fan of trout (and salmon) and thought the texture and flavours were the best he had ever tasted.

I realise that I have only got through two courses and am already running out of superlatives but it would be a travesty to deny the credit which the Cromlix team are due. Perhaps this is the place to point out that the mastermind for these dishes is top French chef Albert Roux and run by award-winning executive head chef Darin Campbell. If only Andy could assemble a team like the one at Cromlix to support his tennis ambitions, he would win all those elusive Grand Slams!

I finished up with three excellent cheeses from the well-stocked trolley. I was somewhat surprised and pleased that the cheese course did not attract a supplement to our fixed price (£28.50) lunch. Scottie transported to a sort of catatonic but pleasant pudding-induced trance with his pistachio ice-cream served over a "Pear Clafoutis" (a kind of crème brulée, which had a little pieces of pear as a sort of bonus ball.

Since it was a sunny day we accepted the suggestion of having coffee and petit fours on the terrace outside the restaurant. That prompted us to wander round the gardens and observe the flowers (including young magnolia trees), large outdoor chess set (see below), croquet lawn and tennis court (graphic below).

Oh, one other important thing. The service was just excellent. Sometimes I can feel a bit overwhelmed by the service in a posh restaurant, but we were looked after most attentively by a group of really pleasant and unstuffy waiting staff. Loved them, loved the grub. Sorry to be so boring. I Wonder if I can persuade Scottie to go back again just to make sure it's always this good? He would probably point to the revues in places like "Tripadvisor" where Cromlix is highly rated at 4.5 out of 5 and and reviews there are peppered with such phrases as "It's game, set and match to Cromlix!" and "Grand Slam Winner."

If you want to see more on Cromlix there is a smooth Web site at www.cromlix.com/ - don't forget to click on the Gallery of graphics!

Please give me whatever feedback comes to mind via tamfromrampant@gmail.com.

Tam O'Ranter
April 2015

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