If you are heading to Perthshire forget all the anachronistic images you might have of Scottish food being all about shortbread and deep-fried Mars Bars. Perth, Scotland’s newest city, and Perthshire these days boast the country’s only two Michelin star restaurant, produce 90% of Scotland’s soft fruits and offer some of the best freshwater fish and lamb in the UK.
Perth, the ancient Scottish capital, is no foodie newcomer jumping on the bandwagon though. It was Scotland’s first Cittaslow town in 2007 (www.perthcittaslow.org.uk), committing itself to caring for the environment and preserving the town’s history, but also to developing ‘slow food’. Perth’s Farmers’ Market (www.perthfarmersmarket.co.uk) was also the first in any Scottish town. It is held on the first Saturday of each month. Foodies can browse between stalls trying the delicious local jams, richly flavoured smoked venison or one of the fine Scottish boutique beers.
Kicking off in the south of Perthshire in the wee village of Bridge of Earn The Roost is the sort of homely place that everyone wants in their own neighbourhood. It is run by the supremely welcoming Tim and Anna Dover, who’ve recently starred on Marco Pierre White’s Kitchen Wars TV show on Channel 5. Here the simple, but superb cooking, is all about seasonality with a dash of creativity. The menu at the moment sports the likes of local wild mushroom tart and Shetland plaice fillet with homemade saffron tagliatelle.
It is Perth, though, that is really at the epicentre of the region’s restaurant renaissance. There may only be around 40,000 inhabitants, but I think that there are far more decent restaurants per head of population than perhaps anywhere else in Scotland. Dean’s at Let’s Eat is an old timer that still delivers, with dishes like ‘Deans Local Venison Three Ways’, with a pink loin, casserole and brochette with potato gratin cake, creamed celeriac and banana shallots in a game sauce.
The Parklands Hotel enjoys a great location on a little bluff overlooking the green lung of South Inch Park. It houses No. 1 the Bank Bistro, which has just been named Bistro of the Year at this year’s Scottish Hotel Awards. The hotel also boasts a fine dining option 63@Parklands, where local star chef Graeme Pallister offers such delights as rump of lamb Provencal and shepherd’s pie with local girolles and smoked tomatoes.
The restaurant that really stands out on the local scene for me, though, is 63 Tay Street. Perthshire born Graeme Pallister is again at the helm in his signature eatery. His philosophy is straightforward, aiming to be ‘local, honest and simple’. That is slightly underselling Pallister’s talents with elegant dishes such as roast quail, with confit garlic, crisp polenta and black pudding or duck egg and truffle shallot omelette with spiced shitake mushroom. Beyond these I also like Kerachers for simple seafood and have heard good reports about hotel restaurant Opus One, with its French chef Romi Denesle.
Perthshire’s restaurant renaissance goes beyond its capital these days too. A scenic drive to the north I checked out a grand country house that epitomises new Perthshire. When I visited Ballathie House by the banks of the River Tay I feasted on Chef Scott Scorer’s 2AA Rosette cuisine. Now is a brilliant time to eat here as Autumn is when the estate’s game birds and venison come to the fore. Scorer is also a creator, dishing up such wonders as sautéed Pittenweem langoustines and pancetta with garlic butter and a green pea velouté.
And that brings us to Perthshire’s most famous chef. Local boy made seriously good Andrew Fairlie is a man at the top of his game at his eponymous restaurant at the luxurious Gleneagles Hotel. I won’t spoil the myriad surprises about the dining space, the stellar service and the wonder that is his sublime cooking. That is it for my foodie introduction to Perth and Perthshire. There is a lot more out there so I’ll leave it to you to report back to us any more wee restaurants, market gems and up and coming chefs you uncover on your foodie forays.