The best food and drink experiences in Ayrshire

Famous for being the birthplace of Rabbie Burns, Robert the Bruce and Johnnie Walker Whisky, Ayrshire is now making a name for itself as the place to go for some of the country’s best food and drink experiences and producers.

Culzean Castle from Croy Shore, South Ayrshire. Picture Credit : Paul Tomkins

Heading south from Glasgow, down the west coast used to be the sole preserve of day-trippers going “doon the watter”, but nowadays the region is gaining recognition for its whisky and gin producers, foodie experiences and tourist destinations, showcasing what this exciting region has to offer.

In October last year, William Grant & Sons unveiled a new home for one of Scotland’s most famous gins, the Hendrick’s Gin Palace.

The latest edition to their Girvan distilling site, which is already home to the company’s grain distillery and the newly opened Ailsa Bay single malt distillery, the palace has been designed as a “playground for experimentation, invention and curiosity”.

Trump Turnberry journalists and supplier day, on behalf of Beattie communications . Copyright photo Paul Chappells 07774730898

Featuring an “enchanting” walled garden, two botanical greenhouses and a flavour library, the new building extends the number of stills to six, doubling the brand’s capacity and enabling them to meet the meteoric demand for this exciting spirit.

Switching from gin to whisky, those with a penchant for Scotland’s national spirit have already been taking advantage of the hugely knowledgeable and experienced staff that run the A. D. Rattray Whisky Experience, which is in a beautifully renovated village school in Kirkoswald, South Ayrshire.

Free to enter, whisky fans can explore the “experience shop”, personalise their own bottle in the cask room, or nose and taste Scotland’s top whiskies in the tasting room (with tastings starting at £25 per person).

Close by sits one of the UK’s top tourist resorts, the iconic Trump Turnberry; already renowned for its golf courses and luxurious accommodation, the hotel has now set its sights on becoming one of the country’s best food-and-drink destinations.

It was crowned Scottish Hotel of the Year as recently as 2018 but, not content to rest on their laurels, general manager Ralph Porciani –
who also won the General Manager of the Year title – and director of culinary Justin Galea are turning their attention to building the hotel’s reputation for offering a “first-class dining experience”.

The first step in this exciting journey was to promote talented chef Callum Dow to lead their experienced kitchen team and extensive dining portfolio, and to place him in charge of the Chef’s Table, an innovative dining experience which takes place at the heart of Turnberry’s main kitchen and allows those guests eating at the table unrivalled access to the chefs making their food and the kitchen in which it is made.

Working with some of the country’s most exciting producers, they are pushing to create a culinary experience to rival any fine dining restaurant in the bigger cities like Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Another tourist location with accommodation that is making waves is the stunning cliff-top castle of Culzean, which has an enticing post-lunch offering which is drawing increasing numbers of locals and tourists alike.

The castle’s Fo’c’sle Restaurant enables guests to enjoy an opulent afternoon tea with magical views overlooking the sea.

Named for the abbreviated form of forecastle – used to describe the upper deck forward of the foremast nearest the bow of a ship – this title reflects the nautical connections of the castle’s former owners, the Kennedy clan, who used the castle’s coastal position for sailing, shipbuilding and even smuggling when they occupied Culzean.

And it’s across the water, on the Isle of Arran, where you’ll find two of the country’s most exciting whisky distilleries, the newly-opened Lagg on the south side of the island, and its older sibling at Lochranza, the eponymous Arran.

Visitors here can discover for themselves the history of Arran’s distilling heritage and see how Scotland’s favourite spirit is made before trying some of the incredible whiskies on offer.

The island is also home to one of the country’s favourite cheesemakers, Arran Cheese, while the Mara Fish Bar and Deli in Corrie is shaking things up for the island’s dining scene with dishes created using ingredients –like Arran venison chorizo and Skipness hot smoked salmon.

Back on the mainland, the region’s lush and fertile hills provide the perfect environment for farming, which has helped beef suppliers like Cairnhill Farm in Girvan – and its retail arm, We Hae Meat – to become a success story with its range of breakfast meats and pies stocked by the likes of Asda, Tesco and Lidl.

And in Kilmarnock, Braehead Foods has, over the past two decades, become one of the country’s top suppliers of game meat, providing game sourced from Scottish estates to expert chefs across the UK and Europe.

Already rivalling more prominent foodie regions like Perthshire, Moray, and Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire is a hidden gem just waiting to be explored.

Trump Turnberry’s ties with Scotland’s top producers

Executive head chef Callum Dow, who previously spent a year working as head chef at the Deseo restaurant at Gleneagles before joining Turnberry, says: “Local produce is at the heart of everything we do. Scotland’s larder is phenomenal and we work hard on sourcing the best and working with suppliers to ensure that we get exactly what we want.”

A former executive head chef at the resort himself, Justin Galea agrees that Scotland’s larder is “one of the best in the world” and is hugely passionate about the produce that comes in through his doors, instilling a philosophy in the kitchen that means that the Turnberry staff will only ever seek to use the best Scottish ingredients available.

For him this means going out and finding unrivalled local ingredients – with the freshest seafood from Fish Brothers, Smoked Gigha Halibut, grass-fed beef from Campbells Prime Meat and cheese from Arran Cheese all featuring heavily within their menus.

Amanda Anderson of Gigha Halibut describes the culinary team at Turnberry as “a joy to work with”, while local lad Stevie Fish of Fish Brothers says that the partnership has been instrumental in the continued growth of their business, and he notes that the freshest Scottish-landed, seasonal seafood is evident throughout the resort in all its menus.

These key partnerships have seen the creation of a luxurious steak and lobster concept at their newly renovated Duel in the Sun clubhouse, all cooked to perfection in their Josper grill. There is also a lavish take on a classic fish and chips at Turnberry’s Lighthouse Halfway House, which features Kilbrannan Sound Lobster and Scallop with Chilli Salt Squid.

The jewel in Turnberry’s culinary crown, the Chef’s Table, sees Callum Dow use the very best produce from the likes of smoked trout from The Tobermory Fish Company, locally-sourced vegetables from nearby GC Growers and charcuterie from East Coast Cured to create a unique dining experience that changes with the seasons and what the market provides on that given day.

Explaining that this focus on provenance and quality will shape the future of the resort’s food offering, Justin says: “You have to be in love with what’s in your fridges as much as you are with what’s eventually going on your plates.

“We have always had the ethos that our guests deserve to eat the best, and we are lucky to have suppliers who believe in what we want to do.”

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Food and Drink 2019. A digital version can be found here.