If, at this time in January, the word feast has you reaching for the Gaviscon, you’re not alone. Around 33 percent of us will have overindulged at Christmas, and may be looking to cut down or cut back on certain foods or drinks.
But as is common at the start of a new year, thoughts turn to plans for the rest of the year (especially things to look forward to). It’s with a frisson of excitement among foodies that Ballintaggart Farm in Perthshire has recently released all the 2024 dates for its feasts.
A dining experience with a menu full of seasonal and local ingredients, this communal dining set up has been on the go since the cook school, dining location and accommodation opened in 2016.
Despite the ongoing cost of living crisis, they remain popular, as consumers look to spend less often, but well and on experiences.
Chris Rowley, co-owner of Ballintaggart explained this, saying: “people are carefully choosing to spend their money on interesting experiences and collaborations and the more way out there, the more popular. Late last year we hosted a collaborative feast night on the Isle of Luing, which sold out within a week.
"While there is a cost of living crisis, people are spending money to travel for that kind of remote dining experience. We challenged ourselves to use all produce from the island or as local as possible. It was something a bit different.”
It’s with this in mind that we visited for the Yuletide feast on a chilly night in late December. What could be more of an experience than a festive night in a beautiful, remote setting? It’s certainly a change from me cooking in a tiny kitchen and hosting in a dining room/living room in Glasgow, that’s for sure.
We arrive with some time to spare before welcome drinks in the dining room, so check out the Farmhouse, the newest self-catering accommodation which opened last year.
Paired back, with white walls, wooden floors and simple, stylish furniture (and a swoon-worthy kitchen), it’s available to book for up to 14 people, if you find yourself once again feasting with friends and family, post-Christmas.
After this we ventured to the cosy dining room for a glass of fizz and to meet our fellow diners, before sitting down at the long table in the larger dining room that’s home to the large wooden table, which is decked out with small sprays of seasonal greenery and candles, and a roaring wood burning stove at one end.
We started this communal feast with sharing snacks of Ballintaggart sourdough, whipped smoked butter, rapeseed oil, Great Glen charcuterie, Perello olives.
Basically a wonderfully, deconstructed sandwich, the meaty, briny olives (a favourite) paired well with the thin slices of pepper flecked venison charcuterie while the softly flavoured butter was best spread thickly on slices of the signature bread.
Once we’d all made light work of this, it was on to sharing bowls of beetroot, Strathearn, walnut and whey; Shetland mussels, leeks, pancetta, tarragon and smoked wood pigeon, berries, endive.
The beetroot dish was a lively mix of soft wedges of deeply flavourful beetroot, matched with the classic combination of the earthy taste of the cheese and welcome crunch from the walnuts.
The wood pigeon was served in small chunks, easy to eat alongside the tart berries and crisp, bitter endive - another classic combination. The mussels, softly scented with herbs, were left to shine alongside buttery leeks and salty pancetta.
After the sharing starters, we were served the main course which was Halibut, burnt lemon and confit shallots with sharing sides of Brussels sprouts, parsley, smoked lardo, almond; and celeriac, bay, thyme, salsa Verde.
The large, meaty piece of fish with crispy skin was sat on top of soft, whole shallots and covered in a zesty, rich sauce and sprinkled with herbs.
Another simply cooked dish that let the flavours of the fish stand out. Both sides were a masterclass in how to take vegetables that some people may love and turn them into something amazing tasting.
The celeriac, cooked whole on the fire, ended up with a caramel, nutty taste which the herbs cut through while the sprouts, nothing like the soggy ones we all hate, were given a new dimension with the parsley, lardo and bite from the nuts - this dish also proves that everything is made better with some kind of fat added to it.
This was followed by a small but delicious cheese course which consisted of a slice of soft and fragrant minger on top of rye bread with a smearing of raspberry - a salty, sweet and cereal mix that was very moreish. Dessert was (thankfully) light - a slab of burnt cheesecake served with softly stewed apples and a dollop of creme fraiche. A final sweet treat of Aberfeldy tablet was also served alongside Glen Lyon coffee and Pukka teas.
Each course could be paired with an optional wine pairing, picked by Andrew Rowley, Chris’s brother, who’s usually found at The Grandtully Hotel. This night it was a range of natural wines with the red being a standout.
Ballintaggart has become known for its warm welcome, understated yet stylish home from home atmosphere and, of course, its food.
The feast offering is no different, with the chance to chat to new people over platefuls of adventurous dishes (many of which are cooked over fire) and wonderful wine, there’s no better way to celebrate the new year, Burns night, springtime and beyond - without a packet of Gaviscon in sight.
The Feasts at Ballintaggart for 2024 include Slow Sunday, Burns night and Shellfish, and prices start at £35 per person. You can find out more on their website. Accommodation at the (dog-friendly) Farmhouse or rooms at the farm or sister site, the Grandtully Hotel, can also be arranged alongside a Feast booking.