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The Inn at Lathones: Stylish Dining at St Andrews, Scotland

Just outside St Andrews, a short drive south on the A915, is a jewel in the crown of independent eateries in Scotland. Behind the unassuming facade of the Inn at Lathones lies a restaurant that is, at best, deserving of its two AA Rosettes, but at the very least, worthy of much more. Focusing on fresh produce, and advocates of the ‘slow food movement’, the Inn showcases the very best of seasonal Scottish food with fresh locally-caught seafood high on the menu.

The Inn’s owner, Nick White, began his early career in hospitality as a chef, and although he’s turned his hand to other areas of wining and dining, his knowledge and understanding of food is clearly the driving force behind the success that his restaurant enjoys. That, and the skill and vision of his chef as well, he’s quick to inform us.

Dining at the Inn is an absolute pleasure. They’ve deliberately taken a step away from aiming for the dizzy heights of Michelin acclaim to focus instead on producing a delightful bistro-style menu. But that doesn’t mean that their food is presented with less flair. In fact, the stylish plates of well-cooked, gratifying food that arrive before diners in this relaxed dining room, have been plated with all the mastery and expertise you’d expect to find in restaurants at the top of the food chain. Pardon the pun. And that’s undoubtedly one of the reasons why they enjoy such popularity, not only with the locals who call this place home, but also with golfers from nearby St Andrews who clearly recognise the Inn as a veritable competitor to their usual 19th tee haunts.

And it’s not just the food that’s enjoyable here. There’s a clear understanding of how a good wine should taste as well, like the £35 bottle of Albarino we were encouraged to try. This 2009 Casal Caeivo white was refreshing and fruity, with a hint of blackcurrants, although maybe that’s just my palate. It worked every bit as well with red meats, and wasn’t lost by the robust flavour of the lamb.

When we visited, we found their summer menu to be frustratingly tempting. The pan roasted cod with a side of crispy anchovies was tantalising, as was the thought of cannelloni of local langoustine with parmesan crisp and a seafood bisque. We finally settled on seafood chowder, made with seafood caught locally at nearby Pittenweem, and a terrine of chicken and ham confit, dressed with housemade apple jelly to start. We followed that up with a heavenly braised shoulder of local spring lamb, served with a pan fried chump and perfectly cooked vegetables, a and local corn fed chicken breast main with artichokes.

Desert was equally as difficult to narrow down, but a soft and refreshing vanilla mousse and raspberry sorbet, along with a well chosen cheese board won.  It’s the first time I’ve tasted pickled celery – I have to say, I may now be a celery convert.

It’s the care that goes into the food here, that makes dining at the Inn special. They take care of their produce from the very beginning, using meats that are tracked by the Scottish Beef Club from field to table. Everything is locally butchered just a few miles away from the Inn, giving a certain degree of comfort in knowing how fresh and well-sourced the food you’re eating is. And when the Inn finds something special, something to show off about, that’s exactly what they do. Catering for larger groups, particularly with the famous golf courses of St Andrews just up the road, is something this outstanding restaurant is perfectly used to doing, and it’s a chance for them to get creative. Take their seafood nights, for example. We narrowly missed one such occasion, and how we rued that fact. The thought of long slabs of wood, laden high with fresh lobsters, a variety of other saltwater crustacions, and an outsized champagne bucket filled to the brim with fresh mussels in a white wine and cream sauce, sounded like seafood heaven. No starters, no need for deserts, just seafood. And lots of it.

The menu we dined from is the Inn at Lathones’  summer menu for 2012, but they’re working on their winter menu already. Anticipate plenty of fresh local estate game, with pheasant and partridge likely to feature on it. And the seafood will undoubtedly be making an appearance again too.

Click here to visit the website for the Inn at Lathones: http://www.innatlathones.com/

 

 

 

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Northern Belle; The Orient Express on Scotland’s West Highland Line

It was only eleven o’clock, and I was cautiously eyeing my first ever Bellini and wondering whether drinking alcohol this early was a good idea. Not when I had an article to write and there was the promise of Champagne – Laurent-Perrier no less – a little further down the line. But the tall monogrammed glass, with its pressed peach puree and sparkling Prosecco taunted me and I felt somewhat obliged to take a sip or two. I justified it to myself with the knowledge that it was a very Venetian drink, the invention of one Giuseppe Cipriani at the original Harry’s Bar in Venice. Certainly fitting, it was also crisp and fruity, refreshing and light. Suddenly pre-lunch drinking was entirely acceptable, and I swiftly liberated the glass of its entire contents.

It was a Sunday morning on a marvellously clear day and I was on a crowded train in Scotland, heading north-northwest on the West Highland Line to Oban. But this was no ordinary train – I was seated aboard the elegant Northern Belle, sister train to the infamous Orient Express.

Around me the carriage was a hub of activity. Every seat was taken and travellers were clearly in awe of their surroundings. The interior design of the new Duart carriage is impressive to behold, and it’s not often you find yourself on such a remarkable train enjoying such a unique experience. But the views that were flashing by on either side were vying for our attention as well. The shimmering waters of the Clyde Estuary, the dark crevices of the Cobbler and its neighbouring mountains, the murky depths of Loch Long and Loch Lomond. It was hard to know where to look first.

The Northern Belle is the epitome of luxury, as you might expect from a train that bears the mark of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Stepping aboard, I had to wait a brief moment as a liveried steward in a smart maroon tunic laid a red carpet below the step of the train. My jacket was taken and stowed overhead. My ticket, in its smart brushed-leather folder was checked, and my personalised menu card was left for me to read over and confirm. It was quick, efficient and downright polite. Far removed from any rail journey I’d taken before.

The Duart is the newest edition to the Northern Belle. Once part of the Royal Household train, it’s now had a makeover and received the Orient treatment. It suits its new colours and livery, and at the front of the train, it offers space for twenty-four privileged passenger to travel in style. Every aspect of its transformation has been carefully managed over the past four years, with hand painted panels, restored woodwork and beautifully upholstered seating, there’s been nothing missed.

In fact, everything aboard this impressive locomotive screams quality and luxury. From the heavy silver salt and pepper pots, to the specially commissioned glassware and the Dudson Fine China plates which read ‘Made exclusively for the Northern Belle’, there’s nothing that doesn’t ooze originality here. And that extends to the food – but then isn’t that one of the real reasons travellers book aboard these trains? The experience, the sights…and the victuals?

Brunch began with a refreshing seasonal fruit salad ladled from a large silver tureen, and was swiftly followed by a toasted crumpet topped with a smoked salmon and scrambled egg parcel, caviar and a light drizzle of hollandaise. It didn’t last long. Fresh pastries followed soon afterwards, along with a strong and smooth fair-trade coffee.

By early afternoon we had rumbled past Arrochar, Ardlui and Crianlarich, and around Dalmally, a light lunch arrived. Roasted chicken with asparagus and a barley risotto. A glass of house Chardonnay, again, specially commissioned for the Northern Belle, was poured. We waited in Dalmally for the single track to clear, gazing out of the windows at the mountains around us. They were growing in stature the further north we went.

The landscape flattens out again as this line gets closer to the sea, passing alongside Loch Awe and the inimitable Cruachan ridge with its underground power station. Nearer Oban, the Connel Bridge comes into view. It marks the point where the ocean meets Loch Etive with such force that the current reaches a swirling, terrifying 14 knots and forms a whirlpool almost directly beneath the crossing. The waters here are home to only the hardiest of marine life and on the odd occasion, a foolhardy diver or two as well. We trundled on, the clacking of the Belle’s wheels on the track transporting us back to the Golden Age of travel. Everything was leisurely and timed to perfection.

Our arrival in Oban was marked by the haunting sounds of a bagpiper, fully dressed in all his regalia, and it was off to enjoy everything this fascinating seaside town has to offer. Seal-spotting excursions, kayaking tours, boutique shopping, and much more. You could spend a week or two on this edge of the coastline and still not find the time to experience it all.

After a visit to the Oban Distillery, one of the smallest in the country, we wandered aimlessly for a few hours, taking in the sights and enjoying the fresh sea air. Although there’s plenty to do, the excitement of our return journey was mounting and guests were returning to the Northern Belle well in advance of her departure time, such was the collective eagerness to board her again.

If the outgoing journey had been extraordinary, then it’s fair to say that the return journey continued to impress. We were welcomed on board by Jess, one of our stewards, this time dressed in black for dinner service, holding a slate tray elegantly laid with a selection of hors d’oeuvres. Duck and grape chutney crostini, blue cheese puffed pastry, and so on. Each row as mouth-watering as the next. The champagne flowed freely the minute we sat down, and almost moments after we set out from the station, dinner began. A red pepper and sweet potato soup, flavoured with just enough chive crème fraiche to ease the hidden spice, was followed at a precise, but unhurried pace, by a large medallion of beef and perfectly cooked vegetables.

The cheese board arrived as no cheese board has done before, a large slab of wood that stretched between the tables on either side of the carriage, literally groaning beneath the weight of the different, but carefully chosen cheeses. Desert was a sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream, light, airy and ineffably tasty. Coffee, wine, more champagne, petit fours…the list went on, and it wasn’t long before I was groaning every bit as much as that cheese board had been.

The service onboard the Orient trains is perfectly managed. There’s no austerity here, none of the sombreness that I had imagined there would be. It’s not an ‘airs and graces’ type of experience – unless that’s what you’re looking for. It’s perhaps best described as having a certain civility about it, a chivalry that’s not often enjoyed in today’s modern world. And that’s a pleasure that I think most of us secretly yearn to savour.

The stewards, resplendent in their immaculate uniforms clearly enjoy their work, and it shows in the manner they deal with their customers. They treat you well; give you the service you expect, but chat along when you’d like them to. They know their train, that’s perfectly apparent. Simon, the Duart’s head steward clearly demonstrated his lengthy service by answering every question with facts and figures, both about the train and the company itself. And it’s refreshing to see people take such an interest in their place of work.

I travel regularly, and as most of you will know from reading these posts, I have a bug for exploring as far abroad as I can reach, but I’ve seen my home country in a new light now. I can go so far as to say that I feel truly privileged to have been part of the Duart’s maiden trip along this line. The next time I find myself travelling that direction I know I’ll be looking towards the rails and hoping for a glimpse of the graceful Northern Belle passing alongside.

This journey is ‘bucket-list’ material, and it’s not to be relegated to Number 50 either. Jot it down and book a trip up. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Fiona Galloway, Editor

Verve Bar & Grill, Village Urban Resort Dudley

After travelling all day, and with two hungry kids in tow, I feel tired and considerably underdressed. I’m sitting in a contemporary booth in the Verve Bar & Grill restaurant of the Village Urban Resort Dudley, and I’m wearing jeans, a T-shirt that barely made it through a sticky visit to Cadbury World, and a pair of trainers. Around me, diners have at least made more effort than I have, and they slip into the elegant surroundings in smart casual wear and considered accessories. Our accessories are two children, a couple of stuffed lizards courtesy of nearby Dudley Zoo (not real ones), and my husband’s indiscreet chocolate stain. Bournville, if you must know.

The Verve is one of those restaurants where all of the above don’t actually seem to matter though. It may have an appealing, modern menu, decidedly crisp napkins and a wine menu that a Sommelier wouldn’t shake his head at, but none of that makes it pretentious, and even our trainer-clad family, too exhausted to change for dinner, is heartily welcomed in.

If you have a passion for food and you like the sound of a tasting plate with olives, ciabatta and balsamic oil, Eggs Benedict with homemade hollandaise, and chicken liver parfait, then this is a restaurant for you. Although the menu is far from extensive, it’s well conceived and very well executed. Mains include roast chicken and creamy garlic mash, and salmon and asparagus with crushed potatoes. Kids won’t be disappointed either, and favourite children’s meals are presented with a little bit of DeVere flair. This is dining in style and comfort, yet it manages to offer a unique blend between high-brow service and relaxed family feel, something that’s relatively difficult to achieve.

There are three menus to choose from here. The A La Carte, with some interesting options, including a tempting Sea Bass dish or choice of steak has something for everyone, but there’s also a set menu to choose from, and the promotional 2 Dine for £29 menu.

If you can’t decide, and that’s perfectly possible, the staff at the Verve are happy to give you some recommendations. I left my choice of starter and glass of wine up to Matt, who really couldn’t have chosen better.

It took us over two hours to eat that night, something our family, always on the go as we are, doesn’t normally achieve. I can only put that down to the relaxed atmosphere and attentive, but unobtrusive staff, as well as the delightful food. Incidentally, if you’re staying in the hotel, the Verve is also where you’ll have breakfast every morning – with a range of cooked foods, cereals, fresh fruit and continental pastries to decide between.

To read more about the Village Urban Resort Dudley, follow this link, and to visit their website, click here.

Garden Restaurant, Stone House Hotel, England

Dining at the Garden Restaurant is both enjoyable and surprising, in equal measures. When I visited on a busy Friday evening with my husband and two young children, I was delighted to discover that we weren’t relegated to a ‘child-friendly’ section of the dining area – you know, the furthest corner of that upmarket restaurant, where you’ll be less likely to annoy other guests with the inevitable chaos that ensues from dining with toddlers in tow. Especially noisy ones like mine. The Garden Restaurant, however, seemed entirely non-plussed, and seated us dead centre in the middle of the restaurant, and right on top of a (probably very expensive) woven rug. A great sign that they cater well for children, but I don’t envy their cleaning bills much!

The design and decor of the restaurant lends itself to fine dining, and the menu prompts you in that direction as well; you won’t find pies and deep fried chicken for dinner here. What you do get comes as a bit of a surprise, but a very pleasant one at that. Fine dining, without the fine portion sizes.

The children’s meals arrived first, which is always helpful for parents and very much appreciated, but forget the run-of-the-mill ‘bangers and mash’, because the Garden Restaurant doesn’t do things that way. The sausage and mashed potatoes that landed in front of my 4 year old could have fed an army of 4 year olds…for a year. The gravy, which tasted fantastic, was real onion gravy – but it had two downsides; firstly, my husband kept eating it, secondly, my 4 year old picked the onions out. Still, the majority he consumed a fair amount, and for a fussy child, that’s a pretty good result. My 3 year old had a pasta dish that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an authentic Italian trattoria, and again, portion control was more than adequate.

We tried the chicken liver pate and the melon starters, before moving on to a gammon steak and a duck breast with orange mains. Everything was cooked well, and a favourite sign of mine that a chef knows how to cook, is ordering duck and getting it with perfectly rendered skin. I don’t do flabby duck breast – trust me! The meal was relaxing (or as relaxing as it can be with two under-5’s causing mayhem), so we eventually settled for coffee and dessert in the private gardens outside, which was a delightful way to end the meal.

It’s clear that the restaurant of the Stone House Hotel is a firm favourite with locals. It’s location, which is right off the main road, is still isolated enough to give you a feeling of solitude and privacy but there’s a very welcoming and homely feel that is an obvious attraction. The terrace and garden area is well used, and I suspect that the long warm summer evenings make this the perfect spot for a lazy summer lunch or an after-work drink.

Check out our review of the accommodation at the Stone House Hotel, part of the Oxford Hotels and Inns group, by clicking here.

Dine at the Boathouse, Cameron House

Part of the Devere Group of hotels, Cameron House is one of those iconic locations that attracts travellers from around the world, keen to enjoy not only its sumptuous facilities, but also the stunning surroundings of Loch Lomond.  And as you might expect, a hotel of this standard doesn’t let itself down when it comes to its dining options either.  With no fewer than five bars and restaurants, you could dine differently every day of your stay here.

The Boathouse is likely the least well known of the restaurants, partly because it’s not attached to the hotel itself.  It’s one of those intimate places that guests who are ‘in the know’ tend to head for, tucked away at the marina and edging onto the hotel’s private golf course.  It’s a small bolthole – a relaxed open-plan space where good food is served by friendly staff throughout the day.

The menu here is not extensive, but it is eclectic and there doesn’t seem to be a particular theme.  You can go All-American with a burger the size of a large baked potato and wedge-cut chips that are to die for, go Spanish with a paella that showcases Scotland’s freshest seafood, or experience Italian with a penne pesto pasta dish with fresh parmesan cheese. In most restaurants, that amount of choice would lead to an element of brand confusion, but here it actually works – the menu may be short, but it’s carefully chosen, and I’ve never yet visited with a guest that hasn’t been able to find something they like to eat.

If the weather is favourable then outside dining is an option as well.  The terrace is gently lit at night, and the view extends over the small marina and its jetty’s, complete with an array of yachts and cruisers, to Lomond Shores at the foot of the Loch.

The Boathouse at Cameron House is one of the best kept secrets on the banks of Loch Lomond, but I’m happy to get the word out there just so more discerning diners can enjoy what it has to offer.  And for members of the Devere club, you also enjoy a discount off your final bill, which was 20% the last time I looked.

Get Fresh in Las Vegas

Welcome to the middle of the Nevada desert, home to the bright lights and big fun of notorious Las Vegas.  With such a liberal attitude to entertainment the city has earned itself the arguably well-deserved title ‘Sin City’, and it features regularly in Hollywood movies with equally relevant scripts.  But let’s not dwell on the glitz and hype because under the bright lights is a real city, with real people and real places to go.  If you bypass the endless wedding chapels (apologies to all you romantics out there), manoeuvre around the Blackjack tables and wend your way through the sea of slot machines in search of the less obvious side to Vegas, you’ll uncover one of the newest and most exciting restaurants for miles around – and it’s still on the Strip.

Oyster with Tequila - another favorite

Located in Aria, a new hotel complex on Las Vegas Boulevard, Sage is an American diner with a difference.  When Chef Shawn McClain moved from Chicago, he brought with him an ethos which involved using only farm-fresh produce, and seafood with truly sustainable sources.  Now, perhaps these concepts together are a bit of a novelty for the inhabitants of a desert where water would be scarce were it not for the formidable Hoover Dam but, nevertheless, McClain’s philosophy has certainly taken off.

Opening at 5pm and closing at 11pm (but don’t bother going on a Sunday when it doesn’t open at all), Sage boasts a temptingly written menu which excites the appetite as much as the food itself.  With a starter of Maine Lobster Ravioli costing $20, and a New York Strip weighing in at $49, this won’t be the cheapest of the local restaurants, but if you can persuade that part of your conscience which has a firm grasp on your wallet that this farm-fresh food is so good for you that it’s worth every cent, then let go and enjoy the heavenly experience of perfectly cooked, melt-in-the-mouth beef and scrumptiously tasty shellfish.

And just to ensure your niggling conscience doesn’t get the better of you, relax in the chic yet comfortable surroundings and take the edge off with one of their hand-blended cocktails, made with fruit that has received the same VIP treatment as the rest of the produce.  This high-roller menu is competing, elbow to elbow, with the best restaurants in the city, so grab a reservation when you arrive and make plans to savour some of the best food in town.

Written by:  Fiona Galloway, Editor

Monte Do Casal; An intimate boutique hotel in Portugal’s Algarve

Nestling on the sloping hillsides just north of Faro on the southern Portuguese coastline is a delightfully romantic hideaway that you’d have to look twice to notice.  A stone’s throw from the Algarve’s popular tourist hotspots and bustling sandy beaches, the Monte Do Casal is a charming boutique hotel that offers a five star service with all the intimacy of a private European villa.  Hidden behind a leafy driveway, and nuzzled into a fragrant olive grove, the traditional terracotta colors, warm woods and tiled interior give its winding passageways and random staircases a deserved Mediterranean feel.

Hotels that can truly be described as romantic are a fairly rare find.  Offering spa facilities and a nice view, or tagging on the label ‘adult only’, is often the only standard that needs to be applied to a hotel description to attract an amorous couple or two, so it’s exciting to trip over an idyllic bolt-hole like the Monte Do Casal that really does earn the label.

The hotel is an intimate, converted villa dating back two hundred years, and with only 18 individually designed bedrooms, each with their own private terrace and stone-paved entranceway into the landscaped gardens, you could easily spend days here without bumping into other guests.  It isn’t the sort of hotel to visit if you want 24hr room service or valet parking.  There’s no waiter standing discreetly over your left shoulder as you lounge next to the pool, and reception closes at 6pm every evening.  But frankly, being left alone is all part of its charm.

What you do get when you first step through the ivy clad entranceway to the Monte Do Casal, is a warm welcome and attentive service.  It’s not often you visit a 5 star hotel that seats you in a plush, upholstered antique chair to book you in, presses a cold glass of Champagne into your hand and whisks your luggage discreetly up to your room before you even notice it’s gone.  Evenings can be spent on your private terrace gazing into the perfectly clear starlit skies, and mornings here bring breakfast served on the same terrace with just a gentle knock at the door to announce it’s arrival.

Dining at the Monte Do Casal is another reason to visit, and in fact, it’s one of the reasons that its restaurant is often very busy at weekends.  The world class menu offers a degustation tasting menu with tempting delights such as fresh fois gras, stuffed quail and mushroom risotto, and freshly picked mushroom specialities, with all the ingredients sourced from the local area.  Fresh fish and seafood appears on the menu daily from the nearby market in Olhao, and the olives and oranges are picked on their own grounds.  Even the house wine bears the Monte Do Casal label; the white has a beautiful citrus zing that perfectly complements the signature tempura prawn dish and leaves none of that lasting aftertaste.

Although this is a small hotel, it still offers the best of luxury services.  The spa facilities are located in a small wooden outbuilding perched over the Koi carp-filled pond that is gently lit every evening.  Staff can accommodate couples massages and other exotic treatments in the pagoda or in the comfort of guest suites if you prefer more privacy, and if you’re inclined to learn the art of massage yourself, they’ll even throw in a few lessons.

Monte Do Casal is a short taxi ride to Faro with its plethora of shops and dining experiences, and just further west lies Villamoura, the hedonistic marina town of the Algarve, often brimming with high-profile celebrities and rich sailing enthusiasts.  The Ria Formosa National Park, an unusual collection of marshlands and islands that form a barrier to the sea beyond, is the ideal location to get lost in for a few hours, and boat trips or evening champagne cruises are a perfect addition to any romantic holiday.  Adoring couples might consider a trip to the Ilha Deserta (Deserted Island) to indulge in a little quality time alone together before heading back to the Monte Do Casal hotel, one of the Algarve’s largely undiscovered gems.

The Monte Do Casal can be booked through the Small Luxury Hotels of the World website: http://www.slh.com/

Written by:  Fiona Galloway, Editor

Brothels and Bagels; A View into Secret Paris

Somewhere beneath the Parisian streets, in a secluded basement on Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, is the wonderfully historic Delaville Cafe.  With its rather dubious, and certainly notorious history as a popular brothel, it’s undoubtedly not the sort of place my mother would like to find me in; but it’s clearly proud of its past, clinging to its origins with worryingly dark decor and some traditional red lights, not to mention some exquisite early 19th century tapestries which still hang on its walls.

The Delaville is a local favourite, a trendy cafe by day and popular bar by night.  Frequented by mainly Parisian locals, you’ll certainly fit in if you speak fluent French, but you’ll still be welcomed if you don’t.

The menu for the cafe-come-restaurant is remarkably chic, yet unusually eclectic.  Scallops and salmon tartare, or panned fois gras with green tomato chutney, demonstrate a typically French flair with food.  But, these wonderful dishes sit on the same menu as Italian and Iberian antipasti dishes, a Brooklyn inspired bagel, and English fish and chips, which somehow seems strange.  But whilst the continuity of the menu choices may be in doubt, the dishes themselves are not.  The food is fresh and beautifully cooked and the service comes with a smile.  Definitely worth venturing in for.

Stay with the Delaville right through to evening and you’ll be in for a treat with regular live DJs and a calendar of special events that really pull in a crowd.  Sip a cocktail or two and enjoy the hyped up atmosphere as this bar, which is used to revelling in the night, really springs into life.

Written by:  Fiona Galloway, Editor

Las Ramblas Tapas, Glasgow, Scotland

Located in a quiet back street, just off the main road through upmarket Bearsden in Glasgow, is an unassuming building that houses one of the best Spanish Tapas restaurants this side of Andalucia.  Las Ramblas is an authentic slice of Spain from the food through to the deçor, although you might not think it at first glance.  From the outside it seems relatively small, crammed into the corner of a tiny car park, but when you enter the tardis you discover that there’s more than enough room to swing a Matador or two with ease.

Beautifully decorated in warm Mediterranean colours, this traditional Taverna style restaurant emulates its Continental cousins.  The interior decoration is authentic, not a single dodgy sombrero in sight, and there are a few unique touches (the sublime slate wall, for example) that elevate it to the ranks of classy chic.

The atmosphere in Las Ramblas is lively, and every bit as colourful as it’s owner; of Asian descent, he serves traditional Spanish food cooked by his Brazilian chef and served by Scottish waitresses.  Now that’s what I call ‘fusion food’, and we’ve not even discussed the menu yet.

And speaking of food, the dishes here are outstanding in both taste and imagination.  Traditional Spanish ingredients are married with Scottish fare to create a unique combination of flavours and textures.  Try the Champiñones Rellenos (mushrooms stuffed with chorizo & black pudding cooked in chilli oil) to get an idea of what we mean.  But if traditional Spanish is what you’re after, then you’re definitely in the right place.  Fabulous paellas, tantalising seafood and tasty meat dishes adorn the menu.  It’s like a 5* degustation meal without the price tag.

Diners really need to take time to digest the menu and decide between the choices on offer, and if you’re the indecisive type, you might find this difficult.  But, that’s the beauty of Tapas.  With all the portions in small, manageable sizes, there’s no reason why you can’t try as many as you like (or can manage).  Or better yet, take a friend and share.  Just remember to leave plenty of room for dessert, because with their signature homemade sticky toffee pudding on the menu, you’d be silly not to!

The service here is quick, but you won’t be made to feel hurried.  The staff are happy to let you relax and chill out, and even on the busy Friday night that we visited on there was no pressure to vacate our table in this packed, lively restaurant.

So, next time you fancy dining with a difference, take yourself up to the back streets of Bearsden and stop in at Las Ramblas.  You won’t be disappointed.

Candidtraveller loves Las Ramblas, and you’ll be seeing us there again soon!  Click here to visit their website or go to: http://www.lasramblastapas.co.uk/

Pump Room Restaurant, Roman Baths, Bath, England

To step into the Pump Room Restaurant in Bath, is to seriously step back in time.  The room, which would once have been an important gathering place for ancient Romans, is still every bit as ornately designed as I imagine it would have been all those years ago.  High, lofty ceiling complete with sparkling chandelier, stone pillared walls, almost ceiling height windows giving a view into the old Roman Baths themselves, and a tapestried floor and swags.  A feeling of old world decadence all in one place.

What makes this experience even more grand is the splendour of the restaurant stylings as well.  The crisp linen table cloths, impossibly elegant floral arrangements and the sharp black suits of the servers is only completed by the dinner jacket-clad pianist tinkling the ivories in the corner.

The glass of Bath Spa Water with Lemon in the background

The menu here is delightful and served with a modern twist.  Light lunches of soup and a sandwich may sound café-esque, but the creamy mushroom and cauliflower soup and smoked salmon with créme fraîche bloomer that arrived before me was considerably more upper class than the menu might have suggested.

The Bath Spa Water fountain in the Pump Room Restaurant

The selection of drinks is as varied as you’d expect to choose from in most restaurants, but if this is your first visit to the Pump Room, then your only option is to choose a glass of the famous Bath Spa water.  If the thought of the unusual mineral taste puts you off, then try a glass flavoured with lemon or strawberry and laced with ice.  With the flavour so completely masked you may not feel as if you’re drinking the same water as your ancient relatives, but at least you can be smug in the knowledge that you’re getting the same curative benefits…apparently!

The Pump Room Restaurant in Bath gets a thumbs up from the candidtraveller Team.

Mulberry, Bishopstrow House, Warminster, Wiltshire

Mulberry is the new restaurant at the stunning Bishopstrow House in Wiltshire, part of the successful and desirable Von Essen group of hotels.  So, with a top-class name like that behind it, it stands to reason that I was expecting great food and superb service when I visited recently.  And I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

The Mulberry restaurant uniquely offers three types of dining experiences from the same kitchen.  Diners can indulge in some alfresco platters on the terrace, enjoy the relaxing ambience of the conservatory restaurant, which is a delightful modern addition to the original ancient home, or plunge into the realms of fine dining in the Mulberry itself.

I headed over for dinner with a companion in tow and booked a table for a fine dining meal.  The restaurant is wonderfully designed, with warm browns, low lighting and sheer curtains spanning the full height windows overlooking the landscaped gardens.  Tables were far enough apart to provide us with a degree of privacy, without making it feel empty.

The menu was divine, and the head chef, Frank Bailey, had provided a tantalising choice that made decision-making a relatively difficult process.  The chicken liver and fois gras parfait starter came complete with a hint of tea infused jelly, and was washed down with a fabulous South African Shiraz that was light and refreshing on the palate.

A sample plate at the Mulberry, Bishopstrow House

By the time our mains had arrived, we were truly in foodie heaven.  My fillet steak, although ever so slightly overdone for my personal taste (and I do stress my personal taste), was tender, and only just surpassed by the flavoursome ox cheek and the crisp bone marrow croquette.  Delightful.  My companion’s lamb dish was equally well presented, and I’m sure must have tasted divine, but she didn’t stop eating long enough to tell me about it.

Fine dining often gives the impression that the portion sizes are meagre, and perhaps in comparison to your everyday chain restaurant they may well be, but in reality, by the time our desserts had arrived we were already struggling.

The cheese board was a tempation, with it’s selection of Somerset Brie’s, smoked cheddars and other delightful and well sourced treats, but in the end it was the dark chocolate cherry souffle and chocolate sorbet that won us over – even if we did struggle to finish it all.

I can’t pretend that a fine dining meal here is cheap – it isn’t, and our three courses and one bottle of wine arrived at around £150 – but for the uniqueness of the menu and the attentive, pleasant and smooth service, it is definitely worth every penny.  We didn’t have either the time, or the stomach space, to sample the alternative all-day-dining menu, but for those of you on a budget, the meals on this menu are far more reasonably priced, and undoubtedly just as splendid.

Mulberry at Bishopstrow House comes highly recommended by the candidtraveller team.

Frankie and Benny’s, Milton Keynes, England

Frankie and Benny's restaurant chain.

I love dining out, but if there’s one thing that always frustrates me and guarantees I won’t leave a tip, it’s poor service, and sadly that’s exactly what I got when I stopped in at Frankie and Benny’s in Milton Keynes’s Xscape the other evening.

I was travelling from Glasgow to London for an early morning exam, and by the time hunger struck I was on the approach to MK where I knew there was an Xscape housing some of my favourite restaurant chains.  A quick detour, and ten minutes later I was sitting in a familiar red booth checking out Frankie and Benny’s mouthwatering menu.

After nearly fifteen long minutes I realised I couldn’t remember what my server’s face looked like any more, he’d been away that long.  I could have forgiven them for being busy if the place had been packed, but only seven other tables were occupied.  And when I did look to see where he was, I realised that all the servers were gathered around one of the tills, leaning on the counter tops and having a jolly good gossip.

When he did return and take my order, the wait was extended, and by the time my garlic mushrooms in cheese sauce starter arrived, congealed and stuck to the outside of the dish, it was lukewarm at best.  He even had the cheek to tell me to watch the hot plate!  Yes, perhaps, if you’d brought it fresh, was my passing thought.

The steak, which was more sinew and fat than edible meat, should have been done rare but arrived without having even been sealed on one side, so it was just as well I don’t mind raw meat.  But by the time he’d taken it away to have the fries changed for the jacket potato that I’d actually ordered, the hot lamps of the serving counter had kindly dried the entire meal out.  The salad it was served with had wilted and adhered to the bottom of the plate, while the peppercorn sauce I’d asked for had been generously poured over the entire dish (including the salad, and I definitely hadn’t asked for that to happen!).

When I complained about the entire service in general, I was politely informed that there wasn’t anyone available to take my complaint.  Apparently the conversation around the till was too engaging to leave.  It’s a shame really, because one of the comforts of eating in a chain restaurant is the familiarity of the food, consistent service and ease of dining, but this Frankie and Benny’s really wasn’t good at all.  Disgusted, I left without dessert or coffee, something I never normally do!

And definitely no tip!

candidtraveller says this is one restaurant to stay away from until the service improves.

The Clachaig Inn, Glencoe, Scotland

The Clachaig Inn, a stunning restaurant and hotel in the heart of the Scottish countryside.

Located at the foot of the Aonach Eagach ridge, and across from the Pass of Glencoe’s Hidden Valley and Bidean nam Bian, one of the highest Munro’s in Scotland, is the delightful Clachaig Inn, a whitewashed stonebuilt tavern that offers some of the best Scottish hospitality that I’ve ever enjoyed.

The Clachaig Inn is legendary in these parts, and further afield as well.  It offers a wonderful mix of bars that cater for sunday drivers and muddy hillwalkers alike, live music, cask conditioned ales and a Whiskey counter to die for.

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The Clachaig Inn on the old Glencoe road (james denham) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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The Clachaig Inn, the best little Scottish restaurant and hotel in Glencoe

When I last visited, just a week ago, the place had changed since I had first sat in their ‘boot bar’ (the section that the weather-worn walkers tend to migrate to) and feasted on a spicy chilli that I still haven’t quite forgotten.  On this occasion I was considerably drier and had swapped my cumbersome rucksack for a husband, two kids, and a scarily large German Shepherd.  Concerned that the policy might have changed, I asked the girl on reception whether dogs were still allowed, and if so, which bar they could get into.  She looked at me as if I was an underager trying to get in without ID, before smiling…

‘Anywhere you like!’

‘Really?’ I asked, ‘He’s a big dog?’

‘Really!’  She said.

Even so, I found myself trying to disguise him as he loped through the door, just in case I’d misheard.  I needn’t have worried.  Inside were more dogs than you’d find in a kennel, and once we’d chosen the biggest table we could find, he was stretched out underneath and out of the way in no time.

The food in the Clachaig Inn is fabulous.  The fish and chips I ordered was perfect, and my husband’s haggis tasted great as well – well worth the cheeky slap I got for stealing a second forkfull!  The kids had fish too, and what wasn’t good enough for them was certainly good enough for the dog.

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Glencoe and River Coe (Doug Lee) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Pass of Glencoe, the view from the Clachaig Inn

During the winter this place has a lovely feel to it – I remember warm log fires and wood burners blazing throughout – but even though the heat wasn’t needed on this perfectly sunny day, it was still a comfortable, relaxed setting and it’s easy to see why mountaineers, hillwalkers and Munro baggers like to wind up their days here.  The Clachaig Inn also caters well for motorcyclists, caravanners and campers, and with accommodation available from bedrooms and a campsite, to self catering properties as well, you could truly immerse yourself in the stunning Scottish countryside with this as the perfect base.

And I have to add that one of the improvements is the fabulous little kids playarea outside, so if you’re passing here on a long journey it’s a great place to stop for some lunch and to allow the kids to let off some steam.

The Clachaig Inn comes highly recommended by the candidtraveller Team!

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