Dalmore Inn & Restaurant Perth Road, Blairgowrie 01250 871088; www.dalmoreinn.com
It wasn’t an eyesore in the same way that the Barnton Hotel and Raeburn House Hotel had become an embarrassment for Edinburgh residents, but nor did it present a good image for a vibrant small town in Highland Perthshire that should be a centre for tourism.
Three years ago, the Dalmore Hotel was taken over by the Bannerman family, who own the Red House Hotel in nearby Coupar Angus and the Number Thirty One pub in Blairgowrie, and was completely renovated. It’s now a 110-cover restaurant that’s airy yet intimate, functional yet comfortable. There’s no formality or stuffiness – exactly the sort of place where you can come for a regular meal and not worry unduly about the effect on your wallet.
In fact, on the night we visited, we could hear there was a sizeable party in the other half of the restaurant – it turned out to be the local wine club, whose members eat here on the last Thursday of each month and bring their own wines to try alongside the food. They were in commendably high spirits, but then buckets of fine wines alongside a £15.75 three-course steak dinner is enough to put a smile on even the sourest face.
Indeed, the joy at finding such decent value applied to us too, though the three of us chose the à la carte option, which came in at £20 to £25 each for a formidably hearty three-course meal. In an area that has always been best-known for fine dining – Ballathie House Hotel and Kinloch have long ruled the roost here – the Dalmore has now joined Little’s, the Meikleour Hotel and the Laird’s House in providing slightly less formal and less expensive low-key dining options.
The menu is as substantial as the portions turned out to be, with ten starters and a couple of specials, and a dozen main courses plus specials. In a place as busy as this, however, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so we opted for the cured salmon and asparagus terrine with mint and cucumber dressing, the platter of venison (salami, chorizo and smoked venison), and the crab and crayfish tart with truffle mayonnaise.
I long ago learnt not to judge a book by its cover or a restaurant by its decor, but I was still taken aback at the sheer quality of the starters. That they were agricultural-sized servings wasn’t a complete shock, given the likely local customer base, but the quality was a revelation. My crab and crayfish tart was actually a quiche but was beautifully moist and packed with meat. Although I couldn’t find a trace of truffle mayonnaise, it didn’t detract from two superb slices of top-quality comfort food.
Angus was similarly impressed with his monster platter of venison, and in particular the salami, while if Mrs Beeton had ever produced shooting or fishing lunches, I bet she would have turned out something that looked and tasted exactly like Simon’s impressive slab of classic cured salmon and asparagus terrine.
If we were surprised at our starters, we weren’t caught unawares by our mains. My breast of Gressingham duck with Stornoway black pudding, rosti, caramelised onion tart and beetroot jus was big, robust and once again perfectly cooked, with beautifully pink and succulent slices of duck.
Simon was equally impressed with his rib-eye of British veal with black pudding, a meat that is regrettably becoming an increasingly rare sight on menus. Just why that should be a cause for regret was demonstrated by this dish: simply conceived, it depended on the quality of the ingredients and came through with flying colours.
If there was one cloud on our otherwise sunny vista, it came in the shape of Angus’s strips of chicken breast, which came on a wild mushroom and tarragon risotto topped with parmesan shavings. The chicken was fine, but the risotto – which, along with a soufflé, is the standard benchmark to gauge a kitchen’s expertise – was heavy and overcooked, the only black mark in the first two courses.
In fact, so far there had been very little reason to reproach David Cochrane and Iain Naysmith, the two young chefs who run the Dalmore kitchen. Between them, the two locally-born chefs have some pretty impressive names on their CVs, ranging from the Greenhouse and Le Gavroche south of the border, to Kinnaird and Kinloch House north of it.
If the excellence of their training showed on the starters and main courses, it was an altogether different experience when it came to the sweet stuff. This time there were only two of us eating – we’re all watching our waistlines, you see, though Angus and me as they expand – but neither dish lived up to the promise provided by the first two courses.
Our complaint was the same in both cases, with a beautifully presented dish ruined by the almost total absence of the main flavour. My caramelised ginger parfait with poached rhubarb may have looked wonderful, for instance, but the lack of any discernible trace of ginger converted a win into a loss. Angus delivered exactly the same verdict when it came to his whisky crème brûlée, which may have come with lovely macerated raspberries and a nicely tart raspberry sorbet, but it was almost totally devoid of whisky.
Still, even for someone with a tooth as sweet as mine, these are relatively minor quibbles. This was a hugely enjoyable meal at exactly the sort of mid-market restaurant we so badly need to see more of. The service was extremely efficient, the wine list full of affordable favourites and the food sensibly priced and delivered in portions that were generous but not ridiculously large. It sounds like a winning combination to me.
Dalmore Inn & Restaurant, Perth Road, Blairgowrie; 01250 871088; www.dalmoreinn.com
Starters £4.25-£6.50, Mains £9.95-£22.95, Puddings £5.25-£5.95, Cheese £5.95