“I have booked The Playfairs for dinner this weekend” said B sounding extremely smug “The Play What?” I retorted grumpily
“Tripadvisor says it is very good” he replied, still smug
“Hmph” I put the phone down
It was my birthday and we were having a very very rare night out alone in St Andrews to celebrate. I had wanted to go to Little Italy (my favourite Italian) however B had not organised it in time and they were fully booked, as was every single other St Andrews restaurant I wanted to eat in. This my friends is why I was grumpy and having been the one to finally find room at the inn as it were was why HE was sounding smug. But I had never heard of the Playfairs Restaurant in St Andrews and I knew everywhere decent to eat …….. didn’t I?
And so it was that we found ourselves with a few hours of precious freedom in St Andrews. Eating out is no good without an aperitif and so we headed to the hottest drinks venue in town – the Adamson Bar. Not content with having a fantastic restaurant (though I lament the day that they lost chef Michael Smith) they decided to open a bar next door, and what a venue it is. The design is simple and elegant and the bar is backed by an impressively huge mirrored wall whose shelves are adorned with beautiful bottles of mysterious concoctions. At times the bar resembles the lab of a mad scientist with dry ice potions and infusions being prepared by the skilled bar staff. Perched on bar-stools we had front row seats to the theatre of cocktail making Heston style. We were a little less adventurous – a simple prosecco to kick of the evening for me and for B (who was now mostly forgiven) an Argentinian Malbec.
Onto the Playfairs …
The Playfairs, it transpires, has been in St Andrews for a very long time and sits nestled under the Ardgowan Hotel. The restaurant is a family business which was relaunched in 2012 when son Duncan left his position at the prestigious Gleneagles to rejoin the family as Head Chef. Since then the restaurant has gone from strength to strength, serving up innovative Scottish dishes.
The Playfairs has a vision – to be one of the few restaurants around who make everything in-house from bread and pickles to their balsamic onions which take months to make. Add to this their passion for local produce and seasonality – and you have a winning recipe for success right there. So perhaps I don’t know every good restaurant in St Andrews (that hurt!) but the proof is in the proverbial pudding, as it were.
The Playfairs Restaurant is relatively small but oh so warm and inviting. There is lots of wood and exposed stone with natural grey brown tones used throughout. It has an absolutely lovely vibe. A moment here to mention the staff – magnificent! Our bearded ‘ever so slightly hipster’ waiter was fantastic. He had a great knowledge of the menu and the wine list and was not shy of recommending dishes or combinations. He had a great demeanour – chatty and fun. It does make a difference to your dining experience I find. Nothing worse than an ill informed surly waiter.
The menu is pretty extensive with lots of fresh seafood and a lovely grill menu. I started with Chargrilled Shetland scallops cooked on a rosemary skewer with a crab fishcake and spiced tomato jam Brian decided to go with Shetland Mussels Marinière with white wine, cream, garlic and garden herbs. First off …. everything was beautifully presented and my shady candlelit pictures do not do this justice. I have a love hate relationship with crab. I want to really love it but often I find it a bit overwhelming. This little crab cake did not intimidate me at all, in fact it tasted rather delicate. The large scallops nestled on top were cooked to perfection – plump and juicy with a nice charring on the outside. It was a perfectly rounded dish. The success of mussels is based on the actual quality of the shell fish. These particular wee blighters were fat and tender and there were not too many closed shells to pick out. My favourite part of mussels is often dipping heavily buttered bread into the sauce. Brian kindly let me indulge (to a point) and I can confirm that it was divine.
Sticking very much with a Scottish theme Brian decided to order Stovies, Playfair style to follow on from his mussels Slow cooked Black Isle beef short-rib stovies, bacon and tomato sauce and Playfair’s oatcakes. Unusually I veered towards the grill for my main course, opting for a Hebridean salmon fillet. Our wonderful waiter suggested that a bearnaise sauce and roast vegetables would be the best accompaniment and who was I to argue. After what seemed like rather a lot of wine I was more than happy to make no decisions.
Brian’s Stovies looked and tasted splendid but it was agreed that the majesty of my slightly blackened salmon married with perfectly cooked veg and thee most perfect sauce trumped everything! It was really such a simple dish but as we all know simple food is hard to perfect as there is really nowhere to hide. Every part of this meal was cooked and flavoured to perfection and shone through both individually as well as working beautifully together. I fell in love with the Playfairs right there and then.
As always, we managed to fit in dessert. Moderation is a life-long lesson for me and I am not a terribly good student. The sight of Clootie Dumpling on the menu transported me back to my granny’s wee house in Pittenweem, watching her pour the delicious spiced mixture into the clean cloot to cook. Lovely as a pudding and supreme fried up for breakfast the next morning. It was a no brainer – clootie dumpling it was. Brian opted for the truly crazy sounding option of Irn Bru crème brûlée with rhubarb sorbet, fresh fruit and ginger wine syrup – wowzer.
Well as it goes the dumpling with clotted cream nearly ruined me – it was quite delicious but a tad on the large side. A heavy old pudding to end a huge meal – I did my best but I was coping none to well by time I conceded defeat. B on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed his concoction which was at least relatively light – interesting and quirky flavours working really well together.
I hobbled out of the Playfairs in search of the best digestif that I could find. We headed back to the lab/bar at The Adamson where I was informed that a Fernet Branca would sort me out. It tasted a touch on the medicinal side but it did the trick. Would highly recommend if you have overindulged on rich food as I tend to do.
For the uninitiated – Fernet Branca is an Italian type of amaro , a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamon, aloe, and especially saffrom, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and colored with caramel.
What a night, what a restaurant, what a bar. One thing is for sure … I did not know all of the good places to eat in St Andrews and who knows where else I have missed. I doubt there is anywhere hiding that is as good as the Playfairs…… but it might be fun finding out.