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Aran, Dunkeld, restaurant review

Everyone wants to be a regular at Flora Shedden's lovely cafe, Aran, says Gaby Soutar

Published: January 7, 2020
Food: 
8.5/10
Ambience: 
8/10

Call emergency book rescue, as the copy of Aran in its namesake cafe is worse than dog-eared.

The hardback spine is cracked, the edges of its well-thumbed pages, once virginal white, are crumpled and grubby. Poor thing, at just under two months old (it came out at the end of October). A book is for life, not just Twixmas.

Still, I can understand why this read, by Great British Bake Off 2015 semi finalist, 23-year-old Flora Shedden, is so well loved.

It’s more than just a recipe book, but an homage to the regulars in the two-year-old cafe, with profiles on their favourite people. I’m sure I recognise a couple of them on our visit.

There’s a sense, in this white painted space, with its vast and impressive swags of flowers above the door, of a middle class community hub. Although they also have a production kitchen nearby, the tiny cafe kitchen is open-plan, so is almost like a stage. Flora has nowhere to hide.

I don’t know how she, or her mum, who works here too, have the energy to be so friendly and welcoming.

As a misanthrope and introvert, I would have to shut myself in a dark room after each shift.

We feel conspicuous, as non-regulars and unsociable city kids, but also because, up at the counter, we’re ordering a ridiculous amount of stuff for two people. There isn’t even a spare table, but we find a couple of stray oddly sized (one high, one low) stools, so one of us looks like a ventriloquist’s puppet, and pull them up along the bread display.

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Our plates are squeezed against a shelf of focaccia, and arms reach past us to grab the granary loaves.

No matter, as we’re concentrating on a bowlful of thick leek and potato soup (£4), which comes with two slabs of tangy sourdough, and is thick and herbal, thanks to rosemary and thyme, with crème fraîche and a drizzle of olive oil on top. Soul food, and the drive up here falls away like a potter’s mould.

Same goes for the haggis sausage roll (£5), which comes with a ramekin of lipstick red fruity plum ketchup.

This pastry is the size of a rolled up magazine, with a peppery and sausagey filling and a thick flaky cladding that’s bejewelled by poppyseeds. Another customer is having one. His usual, apparently.

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Bring me more, Flora! I feel like Paul Hollywood, on a chaise-longue, with crumbs in my manicured beard.

I see the eyes of the regulars upon us as our sage fried egg (£6) arrives. “I wish I’d ordered that,” says the young guy beside me, “Next time.”

It’s a simple brunchy dish of a frilly rimmed fried egg on toasted sourdough, with sage leaves and a few sprigs of tenderstem broccoli, all scattered in sesame seeds.

Since this is turning into an eating competition, we also go for the sausage sandwich (£5), which contains sagey chunks of sausage meat, blobs of ricotta, roasted red onions and salad leaves.

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We are almost tapping out and are quite glad that they’ve forgotten to bring us one of the pastry twists that we pointed at.

“You deserve a medal,” says Flora’s mum. We do, though a selection of cakes, to take-away, would also work.

There’s a gooseberry brioche (£2.50) – bready, pillowy and sugar dusted, with a dimple in the top – a tarn for the syrupy, gummy and tart berries to settle in.

We also have a rich hazelnut and pumpkin seed-laden brownie (£2.25), and a lightly spiced apple and olive oil loaf (£2.50), dotted with raisins and topped with a pale salmon pink icing. Also, the coffee is great here – we had two flat whites (£2.50 each).

Lovely place.

Sadly, geography means we’ll never be regulars and feature in the next book, though I’m still hoping for a cameo – perhaps as the mysterious puppeteer and his very hungry puppet, both of whom ate more than any customer ever.

Aran Dunkeld

2 Atholl Street, Dunkeld

(01350 727 029, www.aran-bakery.com)

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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