Cringletie House, Peebles
I had been to Cringletie House a couple of times in the distant past for lunch, in the vague belief it was where one took older relatives for a treat. But this time its proximity to Edinburgh made it seem like a good bet for a couple of days away in the Borders in drear-nighted December.
The house is a lovely mid-Victorian building in its on grounds overlooking the Tweed valley and has been decorated with minimal Scottishisms. The tasting menu looked immediately interesting, with some imaginative combinations that seemed worth forking out for (at £55 with £35 matching wines it’s very reasonably priced). This turned out to be an excellent idea and we had some really exciting food.
After some light and nicely contrasted canapés in the bar, we had an amuse bouche of a pea and chorizo soup, of some depth of flavour and with good textures (attention to texture was a hallmark of the whole menu). Next a perfectly roasted, plump scallop with a kind of custardy mango jus in a glass. Now, while the jus wasn’t overpowering or especially sweet, I’m not entirely sure that mango and seafood are a good combination, so this wasn’t my favourite. Then a really thoughtful dish of crowdie raviolo with mushrooms and a Jerusalem artichoke veloute that more than compensated for recent experiences (see Hotel du Vin). A lot of restaurants will tell you they use local/seasonal ingredients, but this menu really did make the most of what’s available at the moment. The slight sourness of the cheese went well with the mushrooms, and the delicate/earthy combination of the sauce brought it all together.
The next course was surprisingly successful as you wouldn’t have thought monkfish (a piece of tail with a delicious deep fried cheek) would go well with sauerkraut, but it was a triumph—the chef managed throughout the meal to produce quite strong flavours but with subtlety. The main course was venison—a perfectly cooked piece of loin with a really lovely ball of braised meat. This, for me, was the only course you could fault—it came with a piece of quince of which it was hard to discern the flavour, and some cranberries that gave a rather sour, raw edge to the dish. There could also have been a little more of the accompanying game sauce—something needed to happen to bind everything together. But these are pretty minor quibbles.
Most tasting menus make the cheese optional, and this might not be a bad idea at Cringletie as one can easily become proteined-out. They generously throw in some slightly predictable cheeses with a nice, light chutney. Pudding was a witty, dis-assembled version of Black Forest Gateau: light, moistened sponge, cherries with the right sweet/sour note and subtly flavoured vanilla cream. It’s not the sort of dessert one would want very often, but it was fun.
In sum the cooking was outstanding—thoughtful, imaginative and generous with flavours and combinations. As one would expect at this price, everything was very correctly cooked, but more than that, there was a sense of real enjoyment and exploration of flavours and textures about the whole enterprise.
Service was excellent—a delightful and knowledgeable French maitresse d’ who showed a real interest in the food and who was assisted by some friendly and well-trained locals. It was all very efficient but informal. The only false note was the looped Beatles track in the nicely-restored Victorian dining room, and a loud medley of ABBA and soft rock in the bar.