SCOTLAND has the most impressive gourmet cooking in Britain outside London, according to Egon Ronay, whose new guide to the UK’s 200 best restaurants includes 17 north of the Border.
The renowned food critic said "Celtic sensitivity" often produced more intuitive chefs, and described Scotland as "gastronomically the UK’s most impressive region" in his first guide for eight years.
Mr Ronay told The Scotsman he was not surprised because Scotland always had high standards of basic cuisine. "Not so long ago, the level of cooking outside London was dire," he said. "But in Scotland you could ways find good bread and good soup."
His new guide, published in association with the RAC, lists 29 two-star restaurants across the UK, with two in Scotland: Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, and Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh.
It also includes 141 one-star restaurants, of which ten are north of the Border, and 56 unstarred restaurants, five of them in Scotland.
Budapest-born Mr Ronay, who is credited with revolutionising Britain cuisine since his arrival in the late 1940s, criticised the drive among some young chefs to break with tradition, calling it "testosterone-driven cooking".
He writes: "It sometimes looks more like hubris when the result arrives on your plate and you rush back to the menu in order to discover precisely what it was that you ordered."
He admonishes chef Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in Berkshire, saying he "is possessed of an urge to indulge in gastronomic eccentricity" with combinations such as oysters and passion fruit jelly.
It is Mr Ronay’s first restaurant guide since winning a court battle over the right to use his name in print. He lost the right in 1985 after selling his famous guides to the AA, but began legal action after 1992 when the AA sold the rights on to another party. He has since produced only a guide to pubs.
Yesterday, he said: "I did think that most of the 200 restaurants would end up being in London but the standard of cooking in the provinces is very high. Over the years, I have noticed the Scots often have the makings of more intuitive chefs than others, which no doubt has something to do with Celtic sensitivity.
"In regional terms, the food served in restaurants - and our rating - showed proportionately more positive results in Scotland than elsewhere."
Throughout Britain, his list is distinctly non-metropolitan. The three winners of the three-star award are Michel Roux’s Waterside at Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire, Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus in Ludlow, Shropshire, and Restaurant Tom Aikens in London.
Wales has two two-star winners: Tyddyn Llan in Corwen and Ynyshir Hall in Eglwysfach.
Among the Scottish starred entries is Ballachulish House, near Glencoe, whose chef Allan Donald recently won a Michelin star. Marie McLaughlin, the owner, said: "We are delighted but this really reflects the hard work put into the kitchen. We try to impress all our guests, not just Egon Ronay inspectors."
Tom Lewis, owner of Monachyle Mhor at Balquhidder, in the Trossachs, said: "We’re really pleased - we didn’t think we could top last year, and it proves that the best cooking isn’t always in the cities."
Willie Macleod, director of industry services at VisitScotland, said: "It is especially interesting to find so many of these restaurants in rural areas, demonstrating that it is not just in Scotland’s cities where residents and visitors can eat well."
TOP SCOTS CUISINE
Scotland’s two-star entries in the UK guide are: Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles; Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh.
Scotland’s ten one-starred restaurants are: Ballachulish House, Ballachulish, Argyll; Braidwoods, Dalry; Champany Inn, Linlithgow; Inverlochy Castle, Fort William; Kinnaird, Dunkeld; Monachyle Mhor, Balquhidder; Number One, Edinburgh; Plumed Horse, Crossmichael; Sangster’s, Elie; Three Chimneys, Colbost.
Unstarred: Westward Restaurant at Crinan Hotel, Lochgilphead; Glenmoriston Hotel, near Inverness; Peat Inn at Cupar, Fife; La Potinire at Gullane, East Lothian and Silver Darling in Aberdeen.
Total: 17 out of 200 across the UK.