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8 course luxury at Sandemans, Pitlochry

Published: July 11, 2015

Something primitive comes over me when I eat. I don’t like to be watched, or fussed over. I blame something instinctive deep in my cerebellum, which wants me to eat my spoils at the back of my cave, where other hairy cave-people can’t try to pinch my mammoth T-bone.

Thus, a lengthy tasting menu isn’t often my first choice. Usually, the series of courses come with lots of unwanted attention, stiff-backed chairs and a selection of cutlery like the metalwork on a dentist’s tray before a root canal.

Hooray, then, for the three AA rosette Sandemans – named after Fonab Castle’s original owners, the eponymous sherry and port merchants, and with head chef Paul Burns, formerly of Airds Hotel in Argyll, at its helm – for easing my primitive cranium’s troubles.

To suit a two-year-old, five-star hotel, the interior is swanky indeed, but homely and relaxed, too. And dark-ish, like my genetic memories of the homestead cave.

They bring you your food (£70pp, or add £35 for a matched wine flight), talk about it briefly, then leave you alone, and there’s not too much topping-up of glasses, faffing or staring.

The courses are well paced, too. So there was a digestive pause after our amuse bouche of a single sand-coloured scallop with a smudge of sweet potato purée, anise jus and an ivory coloured bubble of a scallop crisp, which was followed by beautifully bouncy nuggets of lobster with neat stubs of saffron potato, tendrils of cress and pinkie nail-sized petals of radish and black truffle.

The plates also look organically beautiful, like still lifes that have been set up so you can get your easel out.

Then came the musky squab pigeon with pats of salt crystal-dusted foie gras and an oozy halved quail egg, with a yolk the colour of rust. This was a comfortingly umami option that had a built-in alarm clock of sweet and sour pickled raspberry – ziiing. Clever.

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From game, back to fish, with a tranche of turbot with a spume-topped slippery vegetable spaghetti of carrot and leek and knobs of langoustine, all doused in a slightly dry and bitter sauce made from gavi wine.

The poached and roasted fillet of Scotch beef was satisfyingly springy but rather anaemic, thanks to the cooking method. Not so good for my inner cave-person, but I loved the accoutrements of morels, the single shoulder blade beignet with a crispy coating, a lone spear of asparagus, neatly shelled peas as green as lime Skittles, plus fondant potato and Madeira jus.

If the next course counts as a salad, then reincarnate me as a rabbit. It was a perfectly balanced and joyous jumble of apple matchsticks, creamy Blue Murder cheese (formerly Blue Monday cheese, as created in Tain by Alex James, formerly of Blur), grapes, toasted macadamia nuts and micro herbs. Put me in my hutch, stuff in some hay and shut the door.

The size of the pudding was slightly misjudged, what with it being totally massive and our stomachs already being bloated by the previous seven courses, like mummies stuffed with linen and sand.

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Still, this rhubarb crumble souffle was an especially delicious puffball of sugar, with an oaty sprinkling on its lid and a scoop of milk ice-cream on the side (not to mention a jug of creme Anglaise). Lovely. There were also petit fours with our peppermint tea – sticky nougat, pink macarons and some squirrel-baiting cubes of chocolate-covered peanut squelch.

And nobody watched me as I ate them, or tried to fiddle with my cutlery. This place takes the pain and pomp out of tasting menus –  at last, a five-star experience that’s suitable for a troglodyte.


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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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