‘We spent the whole summer listening to Rock Me Amadeus on a ghetto blaster while playing on the rope swing over the lake, right here.”
My other half grew up in Fochabers, and has a tale for every square metre. Not so much on the food front though.
His village boasts a deli, a couple of pubs, a Chinese takeaway and an ice-cream shop, but you wouldn’t call it an eating out destination.
There was one place (it shall remain nameless) we thought about trying, but my sister-in-law had already been. Her macaroni cheese arrived, cold.
She complained to the waitress, who stuck her finger in it and said, “So it is”, before taking it away to be microwaved and returning it, digit hole intact. We visited Gordon Castle Walled Garden Cafe instead.
I’ve been meaning to pop by for ages. Tomorrow, they’ll be holding their annual Highland Games, where there will be a tug-of-war, bagpipers, skippy kilted dancers and the usual.
This year, there will also be an attempt to promote and revive the Gordon Setter, a breed that’s seen a 60 per cent decline in Kennel Club registrations over the last six years.
I couldn’t eat a whole one, though I could manage some of the produce that this cafe has harvested from their nearby garden, served as part of the food list here. On the lunch menu, those without teeth will be pleased to see two soups as potential starters.
Neither of us fancied boring old pea, so we shared the Cullen skink (£6.50).
It was a deeply lush, ivory-coloured version, with loads of leeks, plus slippery yellow smoked haddock and potato chunks. This came with two of their square and roughly hewn rosemary oatcakes (they sell these in their shop, along with their own gin, beauty products and other stuff), though you can also have “artisan bread” if you want something less crumbly and more dunkable.
Main courses are mainly bread based, apart from the fish and chips.
I tried the Sriracha fried chicken burger (£12.95) and it was a stunna, with a steak knife driven right through its centre, like an onlooker impaled by an ill-judged caber. This provided structural support for two feathery surfaced Panko-crumbed strips of chicken breast, pulped avocado, disc of sweet tomato, melted slice of Swiss cheese and smidge of coral-coloured Sriracha-infused mayo, all bundled into a chargrilled bun.
There were also some decent chips and a scoop of mayo-clad red cabbage slaw, as well as some vinaigrette-sluiced frilly-edged frisee, lettuce and rocket leaves, plus cucumber and peppers. Satisfying.
The wild mushroom and truffle toast (£9.45) was a showcase of Parmesan-topped mushies – fat, small, skinny, small hats, large hats, earth brown and Moon pale. They were clinging to a thick slice of lightly toasted brown bread, which was smeared with “truffle and chestnut pesto”, and there was another bouncy freshly-plucked salad on the side.
There are desserts on the board – sticky toffee pudding and whatnot – but a pal had informed me that I should really try the cakes, which are up at the counter.
With hindsight, I should have made a more thorough inspection when going up for a recce (not that anything held massive visual appeal).
To go with my loose leaf Gordon Castle Sage, Peppermint and Rosemary Tea (£2.55), I’d chosen a slice of coffee and pecan (£3.95) sponge, which was rather dry, and its icing had been applied by the baking equivalent of a tight-wad plasterer, with a single nut as the ceiling rose.
Still, the slice of blackcurrant Bakewell (£3.95) was better, thanks to almond chips and a jammy centre, as was the orange and cardamom slice (£3.95), with a good hit of this fragrant spice and a layer of crunchy and syrupy sugar on its roof.
Anyway, pedestrian cakes aside, a visit to this lovely space makes for a memory to file alongside the myriad childhood ones.
Falco soundtrack optional.