After a hard afternoon of spectacularly poor golf on a waterlogged course, there are few things better than a hot shower, a change of clothes, and a cold beer in the clubhouse. One of these better things is having dinner reservations immediately afterwards at The Peat Inn just outside St. Andrews in Fife. (Being able to have both is a distinct bonus, though. I’m sure the layers of caked-on mud would be a distraction to the other diners.)
Having studied at St. Andrews in the early nineties, my darling munchkin wife and I have known about the Peat Inn for a long time. It was always a top choice for graduation lunches and dinners and other fancy occasions, especially when you could get your parents to pick up the bill. Since then, we’ve had it recommended to us by friends, seen it glowingly reviewed in any number of publications, and time and time again we’ve said to each other “we must eat there some time.”
What we found when we dined there two weekends ago measured up to our expectations in every way. When you walk in the door, you find yourself in a small farmhouse style sitting room with comfy couches, heavy wooden tables and sideboards, and a roaring log fire. Even if I hadn’t been hungry already, I’m sure that the smells of food and woodsmoke would have lit the touch paper of my appetite. The Maitre d’ took our drinks orders (their gin and tonic was pretty good, but a little watery from too much ice), and left us to relax with the menus for a while.
Before we ordered, we were treated to a complimentary slice of onion quiche. Yes, I know quiche was supposed to have died at the end of the eighties, but if it’s all as good as this, I have no objections to it making a comeback. Its crust and base were both nicely firm, and the body was velvety smooth with slivers of sweet onion that fell apart in my mouth. It was a slice of “real food” done properly–not a fancy dish that looks good on paper but disappoints on the plate, and that sums up the Peat Inn entirely. The menu is full of wholesome dishes that wouldn’t look out of place on the blackboard of daily specials in a country pub.
Our table was in one of three dining areas, each holding about four tables, and isolated from each other to make the restaurant seem smaller and more intimate. The tables were immaculately laid with fine silverware and Wedgwood china. The wine we had ordered (a half bottle of mature and smoky 1989 Louis Jadot Volnay) was placed on the sideboard next to our table already decanted, with the bottle lined up aside it. Award-winning chef David Wilson is a wine connoisseur, and he insists on all red wines being decanted as near as possible to their storage place, and as soon as they are taken off the rack. My taste buds aren’t sophisticated enough to notice the difference, but I’ll take the advice of the experts on this one.
My starter was a julienne of pigeon breast on spiced pork (£8.50). I had come off the golf course feeling ravenous (and craving steak), so my choices were influenced by a desire for meat, and lots of it. The pigeon breast was tender and gamy. The spiced pork was flavoured only delicately, and a touch on the dry side, but that just allowed it to soak up the rich jus with more gusto. A few large flageolet beans, softened to perfection, were mixed in with the pork, and provided just the right amount of vegetable matter.
For my main course I had chosen a cassoulet of pork, lamb and duck with flageolet beans (£16.00). (Perhaps you see a trend developing here…when my body wants meat, it wants MEAT.) I have to say that I was a little disappointed to find the dish a bit more like a soup than a casserole. It was filled with plenty of chunks of lamb, cubes of ham, slices of home made pork sausage and an entire leg of duck, but in my mind I had been hopping for a thicker, richer ragout. Don’t get me wrong–the casserole juices were fantastic, and I didn’t leave a single drop on my plate. And although casseroled, the flavour of each meat (and the beans) was intact. Hearty and filling, I came away from this part of the meal with my meat cravings satisfied, and my hunger stopped dead in its tracks. Which left dessert to be savoured rather than devoured!
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that banana and coconut is the classic dessert combination for the decade. Variations seem to pop up in every restaurant we visit these days, and every time I try one I am delighted anew. This time it was caramelised banana on banana cake, with coconut ice cream (£6.50). The slices of banana glistened and dripped with barely liquid caramel, and were packed on top of the round slice of banana cake. The cake was moist and just savoury enough to stop the ensemble from being cloying. Chunks of coconut were easily identifiable in the only just solid ice cream. Taken all together, they made a delicious mouthful.
A nice touch comes with coffee or tea after dessert. Beside your bowl of brown and white sugarlumps, you two also get a tiny silver dish with a pair of tiny silver tongs, and inside it are tiny little tablets of sweetener. Cute, but hasn’t your diet not just been wrecked already by the mounds of food? On the other hand, if you’re on a diet, then surely you won’t mind your companion tucking into your share of the delicate petits fours, will you? It would be a shame to put those lemon tartlets, chocolates, and chunks of melt-in-the-mouth fudge to waste….
Probably the only down side to the Peat Inn is the fact that it is at least a few miles away from anywhere you’re likely to be staying, so you may have to give up wine with your meal. Since 1987 they do have rooms (which look stunningly luxurious on their brochure), but at £145 for a double or twin suite, you may find them a little expensive.
In conclusion, then, I can heartily recommend the Peat Inn. Its reputation for fine food is richly deserved, and the country-style ambience matches the menu perfectly. My only regret is that we hadn’t visited it until now.