THERE is a unique kind of excitement that builds ahead of eating in a Michelin-starred restaurant. You anticipate art, magic, alchemy and the sense you’re in for an unforgettable experience.
Arriving at the Boath House grounds cranks up the anticipation. A handsome grade A-listed Georgian house in Auldearn, near Nairn, it’s set on 22 acres of landscaped gardens, surrounded by rolling lawns, woodland, streams, a lake visited by all manner of birds and a formal walled garden dotted with discreet benches and spaces where much of what is to be served is grown. The menu changes daily and always uses seasonal produce.
There are eight luxurious rooms for overnight guests, who can look forward to knowledgeable and attentive service.
On our Sunday night visit we had a warm-up G&T in the traditional sitting room, amusing our bouches with a tantalising nibble of mashed mushrooms and pickled cucumber. The dining area is an elegant room with views on to the lake.
While there are a handful of options at lunchtime, dinner is a set menu – vegetarian for me and pescetarian for my sweetheart, Paul. While so many restaurants go into purple overdrive describing their offerings, the Boath House
menu undersells dramatically, usually just naming dishes after two or three of the key ingredients. My starter, described as “parsley root, black pepper oil”, was a creamy, rich, silky, nutty soup which still managed to be lighter than air. It had a nub of purée in the centre and the waitress poured the soup (containing the same components but in a more liquid state) over it at the table. It was a foamy triumph that got my tastebuds ready for action.
"The menu belied its splendour. It was a small masterpiece."
Next up was “truffle, apple, meringue”, a delicate, upright oblong of savoury meringue made with balsamic vinegar and a creamy quenelle containing generous slices of truffle, compressed apple cubes and sweet wine gel; the last two elements bringing a flirty top note to the earthy indulgence of the truffle. It was light as a kitten sneeze but crammed with flavour – ephemeral ecstasy.
Paul started with “salmon, horseradish, arugula”, a striking looking dish of cold, poached salmon rolled in fresh chervil, tarragon and parsley with a horseradish smear. It tasted as fresh as it looked, the contrasting colours – the bright pink of the fish and green of the herbs – showing evidence of an artistic eye in the kitchen.
The following dish’s title, “beetroot, quail’s egg, fennel” belied its visual splendour. It was a small masterpiece, with a cross-section of dried fennel sitting upright among a delicate tangle of green chickweed and fennel, the sunshiny gold of the egg contrasting with the verdancy, and bright slices of raw beetroot under beetroot jelly underpinning the work of art. But just as the menu descriptions undersold the quality of the dishes, the look of this one oversold the flavours.
Paul’s main course was “halibut, carrot, anise”, hand-seared fish which had been cured in miso brine. It was quite simple, perfectly moist – expertly cooked – and came with a sweet and orangey carrot garnish cooked in anise.
My main, “quinoa, carrot, onion”, tasted lovely but didn’t look like a Michelin-starred dish. Richly flavoured quinoa with crunchy Japanese artichoke was stuffed tidily into a roast onion, accompanied by the same bright carrot that Paul had, plus bold ribbons of raw carrot sprinkled with sesame seed, alongside carrot purée. It was fun, pretty and tasty, but it wasn’t special.
The cheese course usually gets Paul’s pulse racing. But rather than being served a selection of the naughty stuff, we each received one smallish piece of ripe, smooth Waterloo Brie, with a couple of beautiful soft and crumbly oatcakes, and a fresh, salty fig. It was amazing cheese but, given the £7.50 supplement, it left us wishing there had been more to it.
Likewise, our dessert – “vanilla rice, mango, passion fruit” – was nice, but only memorable in that it gave us an excuse to sing “vanilla rice rice, baby” for a few days. It was a light and creamy pudding given a crunchy lift by small, posh Rice Krispies, with a passion fruit sorbet and mango coulis, sesame and a stick of dried vanilla.
The wine list was intelligently selected and grouped by style, but pricey, with not much under £30.
Our dinner, including a £29 Picpoul de Pinet, came to £140, which seemed a bit steep, but might well feel different for meat eaters. My six-course dinner was £70, and Paul had three courses for £45, plus the cheese supplement, and was left feeling a little bit hungry and wishing he’d had more culinary fun. Me, I wish the quality of my food had remained as high as it started off.
Lunch 2 courses, £24; 3 courses, £30
Dinner 3 courses, £45; 6 courses, £70
Also on the menu:
An indulgent afternoon tea at the Boath House looks divine and it can be served outside on the terrace in the summer months. It includes fancy sandwiches, home-baked scones and other sweet treats for £17 per person or £27.50 if you fancy champagne instead of tea.
Upcoming special events include a 4th of July wine lunch in association with Little Beauty Wines.