When I think of our previous visit to Dumfries and Galloway last summer, what sticks in my memory is the food. Dougie and I were fortunate to enjoy excellent cuisine at all four of our chosen hotels but our favourite was the dinner served by Scotland’s current Chef of the Year, Ian McAndrew, at the Blackaddie County House Hotel. Another visit was always on the agenda for this year’s graduation road trip with our son, Rory. What better way to treat the lad than give him a good feed!
Having left Knockinaam Lodge, we spent a glorious day in Alloway, the birthplace of Robert Burns, before heading to Blackaddie, knowing we would be treated to excellent hospitality from Ian, his wife Jane, and the rest of the dedicated team. I wrote about Ian’s culinary career in my review of the hotel last year, explaining how he became the youngest British chef to gain a Michelin star in 1981. He and Jane bought the Blackaddie in 2007 and it’s now acknowledged to be a first class restaurant with luxurious rooms.
Last August we spent the night in the Grouse room, luxuriating in the jacuzzi bath and four-poster bed. This time, because we were a family of three, we chose to stay in one of the Riverside Cottages which are in the grounds of the hotel, overlooking the River Nith.
Although not as sumptuous as the newly renovated hotel rooms, the converted stone cottages are comfortable. They are next on the list for updating but in the meantime they provide good value, spacious accommodation. Our cottage had two bedrooms, a large lounge/kitchen/dining area, one bathroom and a very useful utility room housing a large chest freezer. No wonder it’s called the Fishing Cottage, as this is perfect for the day’s catch. There’s a garden too, with a table and bench seating in an idyllic setting next to the river. All three cottages are dog-friendly and one cottage has wheelchair access.
Although we were here principally to sample Ian’s cooking, there is such a lot to do in the area, it’s worth considering staying longer. The hotel and cottages are metres away from the Southern Upland Way so if you’re keen walkers this is the perfect spot. Salmon and trout fishing is available on the river, golf at Troon or Turnberry, bird-watching, canoeing and even gold-panning at Mennock Valley. It’s also just a short walk to the local swimming pool and a five minute drive to the amazing landscape of Crawick Multiverse.
With memories of last year’s dinner still very much on our minds – the roast breast of quail, the trio of pork, that divine iced lemon posset parfait – we headed for the hotel bar and ordered drinks whilst perusing the evening’s menu which has two choices for each course. There’s something so relaxing about the Blackaddie. It may serve exquisite food but the bar is very down to earth, with warm tartan touches and the fabulous Elaine Johnson ‘coo’ paintings, one of which we bought last time we were here.
The dining room has an Edwardian feel, with pale green walls and crisp white tablecloths, but it exudes serenity rather than formality. The food was faultless from the warm bread rolls and Cullen Skink appetiser to the heavenly strawberry dessert. I do have some photographic evidence of the stunning cuisine which Ian served us that night but occasionally we just couldn’t wait, and the dishes were attacked before I had the chance to sneak a quick snap.
Just look at Rory’s starter of grilled mackerel on charred watermelon with herbs, flowers and shoots from the garden and cucumber sorbet. Isn’t that the most colourful plate of food?
Dougie and I chose to start with A Taste of Scotch Beef: beef sheet terrine, beef ragout, warm beef terrine, quail’s egg, tomato marmalade and lightly pickled shimeji mushrooms. This was unbelievably good, the flavours of the marmalade and rich beef complementing each other perfectly.
To herald in the main course we had fireworks in the form of a dazzling carrot sorbet. An intense sweetness but so refreshing, with a wonderful crunchy carrot accompaniment.
We all chose the main course of seared loin of roe deer with a rich venison ragout, red cabbage puree, millefeuille potates, acidulated chocolate and braised gooseberries. Can you picture that in your head? Good, because I can’t help you with an image. But I can certainly vouch for chocolate as a partner for venison.
“How do I love thee, strawberry? Let me count the ways.” Ok, Elizabeth Barrett Browning didn’t quite say that but I’m sure she would have agreed that Ian McAndrew’s celebration of strawberries was worthy of such passion. Fresh, coulis, parfait, sorbet, meringue and jelly. Berry good indeed.
Coffee and handmade petits fours to finish before a short walk back to our cottage. We were heading off early the next morning so didn’t have the chance to savour Ian’s scrambled eggs or porridge, more’s the pity.
If you’re anywhere near Sanquhar, and by anywhere I really mean anywhere in Scotland, find a way to dine at the Blackaddie Country House hotel. Make sure you’re passing through at some point in your travels and, I assure you, it will be worth it. Fine dining in a relaxed setting with very personable hosts: it’s a winning combination.
Blackaddie Country House Hotel, Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway, DG4 6JJ, Scotland.