It’s that time of the year - when the mornings start to get a bite of frost and the days become much shorter - in which a hearty pub lunch becomes more appealing.
Whether it’s a Sunday roast, steak pie or fish and chips, it’s the season for the type of fayre that’s served by a roaring fire and with a few glasses of something that glows in its glass.
These gastro pubs, which are often traditional watering holes, are a beacon after a long, bracing walk and many have a specials board of something in season, a warming drinks menu and ultimately offer a place to linger on a cold weekend afternoon.
I had all of this in mind when I booked a table for lunch at the Kinneuchar Inn, located in Kilconquhar village in Fife’s picturesque east neuk.
The pub was closed for two years whilst undergoing refurbishment and reopened in September 2019, with chef James Ferguson and partner Alethea Palmer at the helm.
James, who has worked alongside the likes of Angela Hartnett at The Connaught in London, first saw the 17th century inn back in 2018, and used the covid lockdown to really imagine what the business could be.
Originally from Halifax with Scottish/Greek heritage, James grew up helping in the kitchen of his parents’ acclaimed Yorkshire restaurant and Alethea has been general manager at Arnold & Henderson - a restaurant and catering company in London.
Although the 32 cover restaurant has a minimalist interior, with dark blue and white panelled walls and light wood, Scandi style chairs (and a wood burning stove that’s so appealing at this time of the year) the Kinneuchar Inn also has a more traditional pub area, which has long been at the centre of village life, a private events space, and a cosy nook for drinks and bar snacks.
As well as the chance to breathe new life into this historic building, the couple were also drawn to the abundance of high quality local produce that offers up a range of options for the ever-changing menu.
From fruit and veg to meat, cheese and fish (not to mention local drinks such as beer and whisky), Fife is a quiet contender for one of the best locations for produce in the country.
We visited just after the Inn opened on a chilly Sunday afternoon, having come from the celebration of Fife and Scottish produce that is the monthly Bowhouse Market.
My mum and I had started the day with coffee and pastries at Baern Cafe and were unsure if we’d made a mistake (as delicious as they were) given how good the small but interesting menu looked.
After ordering some soft drinks (a sweet and sharp local apple juice for me and a subtle ginger and gooseberry fizz for my mum) we decided on a fully veggie meal starting with a shared snack of grilled friggitelli peppers (£5.50).
A bit like the more recognisable padron peppers, these vibrant green vegetables were served in a tangle, shiny and soft from the grill and with a dash of grassy oil which gave a freshness to their slightly sweet and spicy flavour.
I then chose two starters for my main course - fish soup (£12.50) and poached leek and porcini mushrooms (£14) while my mum ordered a roast squash stew with butter beans, cavolo nero and pumpkin seed pesto (£19.50).
We also shared a side of pink fir potatoes (£5.50). The soup, a frothy bowlful of autumnal shaded broth, on top of which was a large toasted piece of bread topped with shavings of gruyere cheese.
This hearty dish would definitely chase away any chills, with its chunks of fish and hints of saffron and cayenne pepper. Meanwhile the glossy plate of poached leeks and mushrooms were in a buttery, herb sauce and topped with a bright, sun-like, orange egg yolk.
Cooked to perfect softness, the vegetables were mellow and comforting with richness from the sauce. With hindsight, some of the house sourdough would have been an ideal addition to mop up any excess sauce.
Over the table, the stew was a riot of bright orange and yellow half moons of squash, thin strips of deep green cabbage and large discs of butter beans, all served in a deep white bowl and topped with blobs of pesto.
It was delicious, with the sweetness of the squash offsetting the tangy cavolo nero and the pesto and beans adding some bite. The potatoes - a good portion - were waxy and full of flavour - served topped with herbs and a bit of butter.
We surprised ourselves by clearing the plates, although it’d be hard not to with food this good.
Although desserts of discovery apple sorbet and vodka; pear and sherry trifle and treacle tart looked appealing, we were too full to further indulge so took our time finishing our drinks, before heading out for a walk in the village.
It may not serve the traditional dishes you might expect from a country pub, but the Kinneuchar Inn is showcasing some of the best seasonal produce from the area (the specials included rabbit, partridge and steak for the carnivores), and doing so in a delicious style.
Even when spring comes and the fires go out, I can see it still being a place that’s well worth the journey.