I love a tasting menu. In fact, if I could have a tasting menu for every meal, I think I would. So when I was invited along to Boclair House Hotel just before Christmas to sample their first tasting menu, I readily accepted their kind invitation.
Built in 1890 as The Buchanan Retreat, the mansion was built from legacies left by three sisters, the Misses Buchanan of Bellfield in Ayrshire, who wished to provide for poorer members of the Buchanan clan in their declining years. In due course, the restriction to those of the Buchanan name was removed and it became a home for elderly men until the town council acquired the property and it was opened as the Municipal Buildings by Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon in 1962.
After many years of being used as offices for East Dunbartonshire Council, the Grade B listed building was added to the already impressive stable of hospitality properties owned by Manorview Hotels & Leisure Group.
After an investment of almost £3m, the building was lovingly refurbished and opened as a luxury boutique hotel last year. Boasting 12 individually-styled suites, a standalone restaurant serving fresh, locally-sourced Scottish produce, and a stunning grand ballroom which can cater for weddings parties of up to 160 daytime guests and 200 evening guests, Boclair House Hotel has quickly become one of the top wedding venues in the West of Scotland.
Dinner was served in Annabel's Bar, an art-nouveau bar inspired by the decor of Hotel Coates in Paris with red velvet and dark wood panelling creating sumptuous surroundings for our upcoming meal. When we were there in early December, the bar was dominated by a huge, well decorated Christmas tree.
The menu was presented as a 9-course tasting menu although only as only six of the courses were served with a matched wine, I think that nine courses was a little misleading. As it was a school night (and I was driving) we decided not to go for the matched wines with Nicola sticking to a couple of glasses of the house Trebbiano instead.
The first course was 'Homemade bread with butters' and was exactly that. I'm not sure that bread should be counted as a course, after all, most restaurants serve bread as standard. Don't get me wrong, the selection of fresh baked bread with creamy butter was very nice but perhaps a little filling when there's a lot more food to follow.
The next course was on the menu as 'Nibbles' which was actually a warm butternut squash velouté served alongside a haggis bonbon and a Parmesan biscuit sandwich filled with cream cheese. This was a great tasting appetiser - the butternut velouté was well seasoned and wonderfully creamy. The crispy haggis bonbon was well made with a nice balance of spice plus a little sweetness from the addition of grated apple.
The next course to arrive, and the first 'proper' course was Smoked Venison with Brambles, Raisins & Apricot. This was a fantastic course! The lightly smoked venison (served cold) was matched well with a well flavoured apricot chutney and zingy apricot gel whilst super sweet raisins and sharp blackberries gave the dish perfect balance. This was a great way to start the meal, in fact, this was probably our favour course of the night.
Next up was Beetroot & Gin Cured Salmon, Celariac, Wasabi Mayo and Grapefruit. This was another pretty dish, the salmon had clearly taken on the colouring from being cured with beetroot although the salmon hadn't taken on much of the flavour from either the gin or beetroot. That said, this was another great dish, the salmon was still very nice and balanced with the potent wasabi mayo while the celeriac remoulade with wholegrain mustard added the necessary crunch. The only question mark was concerning the grapefruit segment that brought a bitter flavour that wasn't welcome on the plate.
The next savoury dish to come out was Foraged Mushrooms, Truffle, Egg, Warm Brioche & Parmesan Emulsion. Overall, this dish had some great elements - the foraged mushrooms were cooked well and packed huge flavour while the poached egg and Parmesan emulsion helped create a lovely sauce for the dish and the grated black truffle added further depth. The only downside to this dish was the warm brioche that sat under the mushrooms and egg which was far too sweet for the savoury flavours from the rest of the dish.
The last savoury course was Duck Breast, Duck Leg Confit, Pearl Barley Risotto & Butternut Squash. This was a hearty dish packed with a ton of flavour. The duck breast was cooked pink which suited us both although the duck fat could have been rendered down a little more for a crisper finish. The confit duck leg was soft and tender, balled inside a braised savoy cabbage leaf. The duck was accompanied by butternut squash purée and a disk of pearl barley risotto which had been cooked with assorted vegetables. The pearl barley was a good idea as it brought an earthiness to the plate but we both felt that it resulted in a heavy risotto that we both struggled to finish.
After a short break we were served the cheese course which included a creamy Brie, a decent piece of cheddar and a slice of Shropshire Blue served with a chutney and a selection of crackers. Each of the cheeses were very nice however the crackers looked like an afterthought, grabbed from the biscuit barrel and plonked onto a tea plate. Perhaps a few hand rolled oatcakes might have been a better option?
Our dessert of Buttermilk Pannacotta, Blueberry, Honeycomb and Icecream was a fantastic way to end our meal. The pannacotta was so creamy and had just the right amount of wobble. The combination of jammy blueberries and burnt sugar flavour from the honeycomb added just the right amount of a sweet to the pudding. Normally I'm not a fan of ice cream but have eaten a huge bowl of the creamy vanilla ice cream that accompanied the pannacotta. This was one of the best desserts that we had in 2016.
We were both feeling pretty stuffed by this point but still managed to squeeze in a coffee and some very nice petit fours. The homemade truffles and white chocolate coated ganache cubes were so more-ish and I almost asked our waitress for an extra helping to take home with me!
Suitably stuffed, it was time to make our way home but not before grabbed a quick pic of the huge Christmas tree that dominated the reception area.
The cost of the tasting menu was £39 per head which represented really good value for money, especially when you consider that you could get five matched wines and a cocktail for just an extra £20! For a first attempt at serving up a tasting menu, I think the chef and his team done a pretty good job.
All of the little issues that I have noted above were fed back to the waiting team on the night and although we were invited as guests of Boclair House Hotel, my review is an honest account of our experience on the night.
With Christmas now behind us, the team at Boclair House Hotel will be launching their tasting menu, running in conjunction with the new a la carte menu from week ending 27th January. I'm not sure if the costs will be the same as before but for more information you can check out the Boclair website for more information.