the Kitchen on the Kelvin

Recipes, news and reviews from my cubby-hole of a kitchen on banks of the River Kelvin, Glasgow


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Home: the Isle of Arran

The beautiful Brodick Bay, Isle of Arran

I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most incredible places the world has to offer, but, no matter how I look at it, the Great Barrier Reef, New York City and Maya Bay just don’t quite compare to the humble Isle of Arran.

Situated off the west coast of Scotland, this island was the destination of almost every holiday I enjoyed during my childhood. Come rain or shine, I spent my days in and around ‘The Bungalow’ – my gran’s unique island abode – in Whiting Bay. Proudly elevated above Shore Road, the sandstone-fronted bungalow overlooking the beach had been extended several times over the years and became a residence of many elements: the front house (the luxury quarter where my gran lived); the back house (the self-contained, no-frills accommodation for family units on a fortnightly stay); the annexe (a small cupboard off the back house kitchen with a bed wedged in and no door – exclusively for the use of my unfortunate male cousins when beds were in short supply); and the penthouse (an unrenovated loft space with mattress for my even more unfortunate male cousins when the comparably opulent annexe was occupied). The bed policy was unashamedly sexist, but I wasn’t going to complain about it and risk spending a night in the penthouse with spiders the size of salad plates.

Unfortunately when my gran passed away some years ago, the house had to be sold and my heart was shattered into quite a few pieces. But thankfully I still get to spend a bit of time on Arran now that my family members have bought their own island boltholes.

Last December, however, I spent a couple of nights in a hotel on the island for the first time ever. I was enticed into this unprecedented move as a result of the no expense spared renovation of the iconic Douglas Hotel. Situated directly across from the pier in Brodick, this once-grand red sandstone pile had degenerated into an eyesore over the years but has been completely transformed into a luxury boutique hotel. Craig and I had a fantastic winter break and knew it wouldn’t be long until we returned.

A couple of weeks ago, thanks to a generous gift from Craig’s mum and dad, we spent another weekend at the wonderful Douglas and – once again – it did not disappoint. The decor, the atmosphere, the staff and the food make it the perfect balance of contemporary and traditional, of stylish yet relaxed.

After a wander during the day and a couple of G&Ts before dinner, we settled into the bistro for a delicious meal. To start, I opted for the beetroot, peppered goats cheese, cider poached pear and pumpkin seeds. I’m seldom able to pass over a goats cheese starter and this was one of the best I’ve had. Not only did it look stunning on the plate, but the goats cheese had the creamiest whipped texture which was cut through beautifully by the sweetness of the beetroot.

A work of art: beautiful goats cheese, beetroot, cider poached pear and pumpkin seed starter

Craig hit the foodie jackpot with his choice of Loch Fyne scallops, parma ham, confit duck and caper and lime sauce. The combination of scallops and duck struck me as a little unusual but it well and truly worked a treat. I only managed to snaffle a mouthful or two for myself but from that I can tell you it was excellently prepared and, should I get the chance to order this in future, I’ll be keeping every last mouthful for myself.

Sublime: Loch Fyne scallops, parma ham, confit duck and caper and lime dressing

Here I have to make a special mention to the hotel owner, Sean, who – by a series of bizarre coincidences – had met Craig in St Petersburg back in 2006 and showed him and a couple of his travelling companions a wild time over the space of a week. Sitting in the hotel bar mid-afternoon, Craig couldn’t quite believe his eyes when he recognised Sean and his wife as they passed our table, and it was even more to our surprise when we realised he also owns the place! After chatting before dinner and enjoying a couple of drinks with his family, Sean very generously sent us over a lovely bottle of champagne between our courses which we gratefully guzzled over the next couple of hours. He was a wonderful host and really has done a marvellous thing in bringing this decrepit hotel back to life with a resounding jolt, miles better than it ever was before.

A little too ‘distracted’ by the liquid offerings on the table, I didn’t manage to capture any more photos of our meal but I can tell you that the 28 day dry aged rib eye of beef, roast shitake mushrooms, white anchovy butter and chunky fries was a most satisfying feed. The beef was full of richness and the chips – served in kitsch mini frying basket – were top class and of the delicious crispy-on-the-outside, perfectly-fluffy-on-the-inside variety. Craig, meanwhile, had a hearty venison chasseur which I know he gobbled down gleefully. We couldn’t even manage a dessert to share, so full of delicious goats cheese, scallops, duck, steak, venison, chips and champagne we were. It was a veritable feast and one I wish I could relive right now.

I cannot recommend this place enough. Our room was beautifully decorated, very comfortable and not the slightest bit pretentious. The bar is relaxed, interesting and radiates a great, convivial atmosphere. The bistro, more formal as it should be, is stylish, spacious and bright. And finally, the entire staff is fantastic. Friendly, very happy to help and full of enthusiasm for the place, they make the Douglas Hotel what it is and ensure that we’ll be back time and time again. Check it out on Tripadvisor where you’ll read all you need to know.

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Glasgow’s best restaurant: Ian Brown Food and Drink, Giffnock

This isn’t a review.

I couldn’t for a second pretend to be impartial, unbiased or remotely rational in telling you about this exceptional little eatery in the southern suburbs of Glasgow because it is – by a million miles – my favourite restaurant.

Just a few minutes’ drive from my boyfriend’s family home, this little bit of heaven in Giffnock is the Barclays’ first port of call whenever something calls for celebration. And luckily for me, I get to join them in savouring the beautiful, locally-sourced food that chef Ian Brown creates from his compact little kitchen in this family-run restaurant.

Ian was head chef at Ubiquitous Chip – long one of Glasgow’s most respected and well-known restaurants – for around 20 years before striding out on his own and, from where I’m standing, it’s going very well.

Booking in advance is crucial if you want to secure a table on a Friday or Saturday night: there are only a few covers and this place has nurtured an excellent reputation for quality food and service. The maître d’, Sheila, is as much responsible for the restaurant’s success as is her husband’s masterful cooking. You couldn’t ask for a more friendly, unpretentious and helpful host and we’ve gotten to know her pretty well over the past couple of years. When we went along one evening last year, Craig’s dad was disappointed to find that his favourite rice pudding was no longer on the menu, but Sheila told us to request it on booking next time and it would be prepared especially for him! Infallible personal service like this cannot be bought and it sets Ian Brown’s far apart from its closest competitors.

As it was Craig’s dad’s birthday last week, our next visit had been pencilled in for weeks and I was brimming with anticipation as the day edged closer.

Finally it was here. To start, I opted for the special of scallop and serrano ham thermidor. Served in the shell, it was clear that if looks were anything to go by, this was going to be a sensational dish. The decadent thermidor sauce mingled beautifully with the sweet, delicate scallop enveloped in deliciously salty serrano ham. While this was always going to be an incredibly luxurious dish, I was relieved to find that the ham ensured it wasn’t too rich to enjoy every last mouthful.

To start: scallop and serrano ham thermidor

To start: scallop and serrano ham thermidor

Next up, my main course was also from the evening’s specials: fillet of roe deer with wild garlic potato croquette, spinach, green beans and peas. As you may have gathered from my recent blogging history, I’m somewhat fixated with venison and my mind was made up from the moment my eyes met the word ‘deer’ on the specials menu. As I’d hoped, it provided a beautiful and welcome contrast to the creamy first course I’d just gleefully devoured. The roe deer, more delicately flavoured than its red cousin, was served beautifully pink in a rich gravy and I was left wanting more.

The main: fillet of roe deer with wild garlic and potato croquette, spinach, green beans and peas

The main: fillet of roe deer with wild garlic potato croquette, spinach, green beans and peas

Then came the dessert to rival all others. The dark chocolate fondant was a regular on the menu and I’d contemplated giving it a go at least two or three times previously, but always opted for something different in the end. I’m certainly a chocolate lover and I like to think I have a pretty good palate for the stuff having worked for Kshocolat, a Glasgow-based luxury chocolate brand which is now defunct, during my student days. ‘Chief Taster’ was not my official title, but I felt duty-bound to test each variety once or thrice in order to offer our customers the first-hand advice they sought . . . Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, there was no doubt in my mind that the chocolate fondant would be very good given that I was at Ian Brown’s. As I eagerly plunged my spoon into the delicate sponge pudding, the silken chocolate sauce oozed out sensually, just as it should. But I wasn’t prepared for just how divine it would be on the tongue: not too bitter; not too sweet; melt-in-the-mouth with a wonderfully intense chocolate hit. It was perfect. The raspberry sauce and ice cream were good too, but the fondant itself was so expertly balanced that these additions weren’t even necessary. Desserts don’t get any more decadent than this one, and if you happen to find yourself dining at Ian Brown’s anytime in future then I urge you to plump for the dark chocolate fondant.

To finish: dark chocolate fondant with raspberry sauce

To finish: dark chocolate fondant with raspberry sauce

Now I just need to come up with a new excuse for our next visit. I don’t think I can wait until Craig’s birthday in July! It’s the Queen’s birthday and summer solstice next month. Surely they require some celebrating . . . ?