Girl Versus Food

Reviews, recipes and thoughts from a Scottish food blogger

Month: May 2015

Monachyle Mhor and Mhor84, Balquhidder

Balquhidder is 35 minutes drive north of Callander but feels about a million miles from anywhere. Peace, tranquillity and beautiful surroundings. The Lewis family have two venues in the area – Monachyle Mhor and Mhor84. Monachyle Mhor is a 14 bedroom boutique hotel set in a 2,000 acre estate on the shores of Loch Voil. Our budget didn’t quite stretch to the Monachle room rate so we opted for two nights in sister venue, Mhor84. The motel opened two years ago and has seven simple rooms and a restaurant and bar.

We were greeted warmly by staff on arrival and had a lovely surprise awaiting us; a glass of fizz that a friend had arranged to welcome us with. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the £80 room but I was suitably impressed with the Scandinavian-chic minimalist room.

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On our first night we had dinner in Mhor84. The dining room, like the rest of the motel was quirky and relaxed.

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To start with I went for the haggis croquette with turnip, potato and whisky sauce while my husband opted for half a dozen Loch Creran Oysters. Both got a big thumbs up. The oysters were fresh and the haggis had just the right amount of peppery kick.

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For our mains we both opted for venison; I went for the venison curry while Mr GvF chose the venison haunch. I think the venison haunch just won the battle of the mains. It was perfectly cooked and the anchovy mustard was delicious. The venison curry with cashew nuts and saffron rice was really flavoursome but the meat could have been a little more tender to make it even better.

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On to the desserts. With my sweet tooth I opted for the chocolate brownie with ice cream. It was so rich and fudgey and definitely one of the best desserts I’ve had this year! The cheese board was fine but I noticed there wasn’t as much emphasis on provenance as there had been with the rest of the meal.

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The presentation throughout was good, portion size was generous and staff were friendly. Overall, an excellent meal which came in at around £80 including drinks. The bar was a lovely place to relax afterwards for a nightcap though being a gin-enthusiast I’d love to see a wider selection of Scottish gins next time I visit.

Breakfast at Mhor84 was fantastic and featured fresh sour dough bread from the family bakery in Callander. I went for scrambled eggs on sour dough toast while my husband opted for the full cooked breakfast. A great start to the day and just look at that view from the breakfast table!

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Guess what else they have at Mhor84? Cakes! Delicious, homemade cakes! The weather was quite wet during our break so after a visit to Loch Katrine we retreated to the lounge area for a game of Monopoly and a huge chocolate hazelnut meringue. Bliss (apart from the fact I was thrashed twice at Monopoly)!

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Our second night in Balquhidder featured dinner at Monachle Mhor which has a set price of £55 per person for three courses. Next time I visit, I’d love to see an option with matched wines for each course. We enjoyed a glass of champagne as an aperitif with some delicious amuse bouche while browsing the menu in the bar.

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We were then taken through to our table, where I tried my first ever oyster, courtesy of the chef, which was in a shallot and 10 year old Glengoyne whisky dressing. And what views to enjoy my first oyster; breath-taking even on a dreich Scottish evening!

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For starters, Mr GvF chose the monkfish tail with Parma ham and cauliflower while I went for west coast crab with black pudding. Both dishes were well-presented and did not disappoint in the flavour-stakes.

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Our mains were outstanding – lamb for me and duck for my husband. Both dishes were cooked to perfection and the accompaniments were perfectly matched.

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Our deserts were a pineapple tarte tatin topped with homemade ice-cream and another chocolatey one for me! The chocolate ganache with coffee ice-cream was really good but I think the chocolate brownie at Mhor84 was still the winner for me.

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Whilst both restaurants used high quality, locally-sourced ingredients, we noticed a step change in the level of complexity and presentation at Monachle Mhor. Monachyle is definitely in the fine dining category but this doesn’t take anything away from Mhor84’s relaxed gastro-pub feel. Both venues are truly an escape from everything and I’m looking forward to a return visit to Balquhidder; next time we may even have saved enough for a night away in a gorgeous room at Monachlye Mhor!

 

Girl Versus Food

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Hopetoun Farm Shop Masterclass

I’ve long been a fan of Hopetoun Farm Shop, sourcing ingredients for countless dinner parties from the well-stocked butcher counter and delicatessen. That’s why I was excited to attend their recent Masterclass which was hosted by Craig Wood, head chef of The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry.

The sold-out event focussed on Hopetoun Farm Shop’s free range chicken. The chef started off by showing us how to butcher a whole chicken and I have to say he made it look very easy. I might even have the confidence to try it myself now. Craig emphasised the importance of using the best quality produce, even if that means having chicken a little less often.

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Chef Craig demonstrated three different springtime dishes. First up was a ballotine of chicken supreme with pistachio nuts and spiced peppercorn jus. The poached chicken was filled with a chicken, cream and pistachio mouse and accompanied by the jus. After tasting the first dish, I could tell why Hopetoun Farm Shop’s free range chicken has won awards! Though a bit more expensive than the average mass-produced supermarket chicken, these birds are full of flavour and taste really, well, ‘chickeny’!DSC_0861

The next dish was roast chicken breast with garlic, lemon and herbs, asparagus and truffles. Technically, this was the easiest dish of the night with herb butter being stuffed under the chicken skin before it was oven cooked and then topped with asparagus and truffle shavings. Though simple to make, the flavour combination blew me away.

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Each of the amazing dishes were paired with wine by Philippe Larue from wine merchant L’Art du Vin. Philippe is a big fan of organic wines and chose a summery Pinot Blanc to go with the roast chicken. The acidity of the wine perfectly cut through the copious amounts of butter in the dish!

Last, but not least, was the confit chicken leg with spelt grain and wild mushroom risotto. I’ve tried lots of confit dishes before but I didn’t actually know the process involved. Craig explained that in the past, confit was a way of preserving food by sealing it in fat. In modern day cooking, to confit generally means a long slow cook in fat. After being cured overnight in a mixture of salt, sugar and spices to draw out the moisture, the chicken legs had been cooked in duck fat for two hours. The result was meat so tender that it was falling off the bone. The spelt risotto with mascarpone and Parmesan was a delicious and indulgent accompaniment. Phillipe had selected a fantastic Pinot Noir from Bulgaria which was served slightly chilled.

It was a relaxed evening with plenty of opportunities for the audience to ask questions. I left with lots of inspiration and some great tips and tricks from a top chef. Oh and also a new place to add to my wish list; I hope to pay a visit to The Wee Restaurant very soon!


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Review of Gordon Castle Gin

For some it’s new shoes, others designer bags…. but what I get really excited about is trying out a new gin! This is especially true if it is a Scottish gin! No surprise then that I was intrigued to try Gordon Castle Gin from Moray in the north-east of the country. The gin is distilled using botanicals grown in the estate’s walled garden, with notes of lavender and mint. 

London have been quick to pick this one up – I spotted it on the menu when I visited the gin Mecca that is the London Gin Club in Soho a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods recently named Gordon Castle “gin of the month” in their stores.

I was lucky enough to be sent a wee sample to try, but just look how pretty the full size bottle is!Gordon Castle gin

The taste is really crisp and summery. After adding some FeverTree tonic, I was swithering about which garnish to include; so I tried one with lime and the other with fresh rosemary from my garden. I was really impressed with both combinations and couldn’t pick a favourite. The clean flavours make Gordon Castle a really versatile gin and I think it would be difficult to come up with a ‘bad’ pairing. Next time I’m going to try it out with some toasted grapefruit peel…. or maybe strawberry with a twist of black pepper…..hmmm so many possibilities!

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So I’m pleased to say Gordon Castle has easily made it in to my top three; and I’m a gal that’s tried a fair few gins! It’s also reasonably priced for a premium gin, coming in at £32.99 for the 70cl bottle. If you fancy giving it a try, you can buy some online here http://www.gordoncastlescotland-shop.com 


Review of Moonfish, Aberdeen

I was glued to ‘MasterChef The Professionals’ which finished just before Christmas. The main downside to watching it was that each episode left me starving and I found myself rummaging in the cupboards to complete my own invention test! I enjoyed the show even more this year because local lad (and friend of my husband) Brian McLeish made it all the way to the final with his incredible cooking.

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No surprise then, that a visit to Brian’s restaurant in Aberdeen was on my Wish List to visit for 2015. Moonfish specialises in seafood and gin – clearly a match made in heaven! We visited the restaurant with two good friends who moved to Aberdeen last year. The place isn’t massive so it’s important that you book in advance, especially if you’re visiting on a Friday or Saturday. The interior is light and airy and made me feel instantly relaxed.

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First of all, I was really excited about the HUGE list of gins available! Lots of lovely Scottish craft gins including a number I hadn’t come across before. Secondly, I was really surprised at how reasonably priced the menu at Moonfish is – £35.95 for three courses. This has to be one of the best value, high quality menus in Aberdeen! The menu is changed every four weeks to keep the emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. However, we were in for an extra treat as Head Chef Brian McLeish had designed an eight course tasting menu for us!

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If you fancy trying out a Moonfish tasting menu for yourself there is a special night coming up on the 4th of July. It’s a seven course tasting menu with matched wine and champagne on arrival. Places are limited and priced at £120 per person, give the team a call to get booked in on 01224 644166.

So… onto the meal itself, or should I say FEAST! My mouth was watering when we were presented with this amazing menu…

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First up was crab accompanied by a ‘Sweet Corn Royale’ which was like eating a delicious little cloud, so delicate and fluffy! A light vegetarian dish followed with courgette, yellow peppers and tomato accompanied by the creamiest of feta cheese. The presentation throughout was stunning; vibrant colours and contrasting textures.

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Confit tomato, feta and courgette

 

Next up was a mackerel dish and my first time trying seaweed (salty and tasty FYI!). The fish was cooked to perfection. The subsequent sweet potato curry which had a runny egg hiding underneath was one of my favourites and I couldn’t believe it when the Chef told us later that he had whipped this course up from things he had to use up in the kitchen. Ingenious!

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Is it weird to look at lambs frolicking in the fields and think “Oh, you look tasty”? If so, I’m weird. The Moonfish lamb came three ways; belly, loin and kidney. The kidney was a wee bit rich for me but Mr GvF wasn’t slow in finishing it off on my behalf! The lamb was in good company with a lovely broccoli puree, a rich jus and an anchovy. It was back to fish for the final savoury course and the halibut with swede puree, fava beans and truffle was to die for. Another set of clean plates all round.
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Then it was time for desserts. TWO desserts, happy days! First a light blancmange topped with raspberries, mini meringues, beetroot and basil dust. An unusual combination, but definitely one that worked. Finally, it was the piece de resistance; the Chocolate Pave with malted nuts and white chocolate fudge.  I kid you not, I would happily eat this dessert every day for the rest of my life and I’m fairly sure that Chef Brian must get proposals after dishing up this treat!

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Chocolate Pave

 

So, full of delicious food and gin, there was only one thing left to do…. time to take a CHELFIE!

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All in all, Moonfish has been my favourite dining experience of 2015 so far. The food tasted amazing, was beautifully presented and excellent value. While the staff were friendly, welcoming and not at all pretentious. If you’ve not been to Moonfish yet, what are you waiting for?

 

Oh and in other exciting other news; you can win a dinner for you and five friends, cooked by Brian McLeish and three more MasterChef finalists and winners. The dinner is to raise money for ABF Soldiers Charity and you can enter by sponsoring the fundraising team here https://secure.soldierscharity.org/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?TeamID=63144#&panel1-2 What a great cause and a fantastic prize!

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