Perthshire in early spring can be glorious. Which is why, at the first glimpse of sunshine, we had decamped to a lovely little lodge near Crieff for a weekend of country air and country grub.
There had been talk of walking through Glen Lednock, taking us by the Deil’s Cauldron. But Perthshire in early spring can also be chilly, damp, drizzly and cold – so we didn’t actually get any further than the car park at the start of the walk.
"The Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and parsnips were fighting a losing battle against all the liquid, and the overwhelming impression of the dish was watery"
As luck would have it, that was also the car park for the Deil’s Cauldron, a lovely traditional cottage that has been converted to a restaurant with a welcoming bar as you enter, a more formal dining room to the left and cosy tables towards the back in front of a roaring fire.
It was a dreich day outside, so the warmth of the fire felt greatly comforting after our arduous trek in from the car. As was our first look at the menu. Filling favourites such as rib eye and confit duck leg rubbed shoulders with lamb haggis and beef bourguignon. It was food designed to stick to your ribs.
A set lunch menu (Tuesday-Saturday, two courses, £15.50) initially seemed exactly what we wanted.
I chose the mushroom hot pot – a spectacularly filling dish of button mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce. With just a touch more flavour – possibly some tarragon or thyme, certainly more salt – and a lot more bread on the table. I could have happily spent the afternoon soaking up the sauce.
Mr Turner chose the tiger prawn tails, which were four perfectly plump crustaceans in a light batter.
Ruth opted for the smoked salmon and Arbroath Smokie paté, which was a slightly odd dish. When it arrived, we were all convinced that there had been a mistake with the order as it looked for all the world like a dessert. A scoop of paté sat on top of a terribly elegant zigzag of balsamic vinegar. Ruth could only be convinced that it wasn’t sweet once she had tasted it. And even then, she found the experience somewhat disconcerting. Because the texture of paté was so smooth and the look of the dish so, well, pudding-y, she just couldn’t escape the feeling that she was eating an iced dessert.
The decision on our main courses proved a touch problematic. We dithered for ages, but couldn’t make a decision from the set menu. This was not helped by my eye repeatedly straying towards the Deil’s Lasagne (£11.90) over on the regular menu. Our delightful server assured us that it would be no problem at all for us to mix and match from both menus.
Mr Turner went all in for the roasted rib eye of Scottish Beef with Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes and parsnips, which was available as a small (£9.90) or a regular (£12.90) portion. I don’t think you need me to tell you which he opted for.
Regular turned out to be an enormous serving of well done meat swimming in gravy. I’m really not a gravy fan – even in small amounts – so the dish was doing very little for me. The Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and parsnips were fighting a losing battle against all that liquid, and the overwhelming impression of the dish was a, well, watery one.
The lasagne promised to be a classic with the restaurant’s own added twist of mild chilli. Served with a salad and garlic bread, it sounded like the perfect plate to keep out the cold. And indeed it was. Normally I would avoid chilli, but the idea was so intriguing that I just had to try it. It turned out to be great combination, so much so that I could easily have taken a little bit more heat from it. The lasagne was slightly overcooked, giving it a chewy base – but I happily confess to loving that about a good homemade lasagne. The accompanying sticks of garlic bread were beautifully moist with garlic butter.
Ruth showed a more restrained appetite and stayed with the set menu, opting for the ragout of seafood, which consisted of salmon, smoked haddock and king prawn tails in a creamy herb sauce with steamed rice and vegetables. Again, for me, there was too much sauce. The fish – which was excellent – felt swamped by the blanketing cream. Ruth, however, said that she really liked the sauce and happily mixed her steamed rice throughout it all.
Overall, the food seems too timid. A little more punch in the sauces – and a little less of them altogether – and the promise of an exciting menu would have been fulfilled.
That said, we were all happily stuffed by the end, so the Deil’s Cauldron did its fiendish job.