On a bright Friday morning at the end of last month we headed to Kingussie and the tasting menu at The Cross. This restaurant with rooms in the Highland enclave has been run by Derek and Celia Kitchingman since they took over from the previous owners, David and Katie Young, in July 2012.
"The colours made it worthy of a still life, but it was scoffed before the artist had a chance to get his brushes out"
Not shy of a challenge, these veterans of the hospitality trade, who have done time in the Lake District and on the Isle of Skye, have been gradually refurbishing The Cross’s eight bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms as well as managing the four-acre garden (which hosts a family of comical red squirrels) and fine-tuning the menus.
In this endeavour they are greatly assisted by their chef, David Skiggs, who counts Inverlochy Castle Hotel among his previous employers.
Can this pedigree deliver? There was only one way to find out. For those who fear they will be overstuffed by a tasting menu, rest assured that the portion sizes are considered and the cheese course is optional.
If you are still worried about the Mr Creosote effect, there is also a three-course dinner menu at £55 per person, featuring many of the dishes on the tasting menu, which costs £60. You can match wines for a further £25 per person. We had spent the day navigating the contours of Coire an t-Sneachda behind the Cairngorm Funicular in white-out conditions, so felt we had earned our seat at the tasting menu table.
The Cross was built as a water-powered tweed mill in 1885 before being sold to a woollen manufacturer in 1890. In 1945 it underwent change of use to become a hostel and its life as residential and holiday accommodation began in 1954. There are two lounges – one upstairs and one downstairs – and a pretty terrace for lunches and afternoon teas which could be taken to the restful soundtrack of the River Gynack.
Today the dining room combines original rustic touches – the rough hewn white walls and dark wooden beams – with fresh modern style, including a double-sided gas fire in the partition that cleverly splits the dining room into two spaces. Bright paintings of Highland scenes by North Berwick artist David Henderson adorn the walls and the layout comfortably allows room for around 18 covers.
We began with an amuse bouche of a white onion soup decorated with a vivid purée of wild garlic. This was deliciously smooth and sweet, and about as far removed from its French onion cousin as you could imagine.
A tasting plate of duck including smoked breast, confit leg and parfait followed. These dinky mouthfuls reminded us of the versatility of the often overlooked quacker, with the morsel of smoked breast being our favourite of the three incarnations on the plate.
We moved to plunder the seas next with John Dory, Parmesan gnocchi, cauliflower, spinach and fish velouté. The colours of this pretty dish made it worthy of a still life, but it was scoffed before the artist had a chance to get his brushes out.
The Cross has an excellent wine list and we chose a bottle of Anselmi San Vincenzo (£28), which was a crisp and refreshing taste of Italy and a good introduction to the garganega grape.
We might have been slightly flagging after eating absolutely everything that had been put before us – including delicious homemade mini rolls, variously topped with sesame and caraway seeds and served warm – but the standout dish of the meal was approaching.
Local butcher George Gow is credited with supplying the loin of lamb, served with a cannelloni of shoulder, glazed carrots, violet artichoke, spinach and lamb jus.
What a treat. Each element worked together beautifully, with the artichoke providing an extra lush texture to the dish.
A huge amount of thought has gone into how all that hard work in the kitchen is presented to diners, and I have to mention the choice of crockery because so often restaurants get it wrong – choosing awkwardly shaped bowls and oversized cutlery in an effort to seem cutting edge.
Perhaps the finest example of this thoughtfulness during our meal arrived hosting the dessert, the MasterChef-ly titled, rhubarb cheesecake, rhubarb sorbet, pistachios. The shiny grey plate made the jewelled pink tones of the rhubarb gleam even more magically. A note to the sweet-toothed, if you like cheesecake you will be very happy with this choice. The crumbly, buttery biscuit base, paired with its creamy, inch-thick filling and sharp glazed rhubarb lid, was the stuff of dreams.
Shinty, squirrels and now superlative dining. Who knew there were so many reasons to visit Kingussie?
The Cross at Kingussie
Tweed Mill Brae
Tel: 01540 661166