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Restaurant review: The Kailyard, Dunblane

The Kailyard
, Dunblane
01786 822 767
Cuisine: Scottish
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Odd as it seems, there is a discernible shared problem between veteran rock stars and chefs: namely the tension between wanting to innovate but also giving your fans what they want.
Do you turn into the culinary equivalent of the Rolling Stones, creating crowd-pleasing menus of familiar hits but without the critical acclaim, or take the Brian Eno route and eschew mass market appeal, but continue innovating. Judging by him by these standards, it would be fair to say that with his latest venture, The Kailyard, Scots celeb-chef Nick Nairn seems to be embracing his inner-Jagger.
He has already gone on record to say that the restaurant in the Dunblane Hydro will focus on his own ‘greatest hits’ from 25 years of cooking, as surely the presence of signature dishes – fish pie, brown shrimp cocktail and gourmet cheese burgers – suggests. Of course, this is not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, but where innovation is not uppermost and, to stretch the musical metaphor close to breaking point, everyone knows how the songs go, execution becomes everything.
This move has been further complicated by the fact that Nairn himself is not doing the day-to-day cooking, instead maintaining a consultancy role and letting former Gleneagles chef Colin Halliday take the lead.
Certainly, his choice of venue is on the nail: the hydro has just been refurbished with a tasteful, low-key theme - lots of dark slate walls, cream furnishings and heather and mulberry tartan textiles - stressing the essential Scottishness of the venture without falling into parody, and though large and busy, it avoids feeling like a canteen.
After a bit of a tussle over the starters, I opted for the slow roasted pork belly, stornoway black pudding with caramelised apple and crispy bacon salad, while S plumped for warm chargrilled aubergine, buffalo mozzarella and smoked paprika salsa.
The pork was beautifully cooked, meltingly soft and moist, complimented nicely by the nutty tang of crumbled black pudding, giving a warm smokey flavour, while the apple and the salad added a salty-sweet top note that gave the dish a vital third dimension. S declared the aubergine to be excellent, but added that what the salsa had in smokey flavour, it lacked in real bite and texture. Turning to the main courses, S headed for the Pancetta-wrapped pork fillet, braised pig's cheek with fondant potato and buttered kale, while I ordered roast Scrabster cod fillet with a stew of chorizo, mussels, haricot beans and basil cream sauce.
As two very hungry people, it became apparent on the arrival of our dishes that a side of shoestring fries would be necessary, which appeared impressively barely three forkfuls into our mains.
S’s two pork variations proved to be an interesting combination: the soft, giving pig's cheek, accompanied by rich, almost sweet gravy, contrasted with the firm pork fillet and its salty pancetta. However, a slightly heavy hand on the burner the fillet meant it was a little overdone for S's taste.
I could argue the same problem for my cod, whose nicely crisped top seemed to have been attained at the cost of some of its moistness. However, this was a minor complaint, as the flavorsome sauce accompanying the dish more than redressed this shortcoming. The other components of the stew were there in reasonable numbers, and the overall effect was a warming, earthy dish. Reaching the desserts, I ordered a passion fruit delice with mango sorbet. Light and sharp, the mousse coralled by a biscuit curl, with a fruity zing that tempered the sweetness of the sorbet. S went for a baked bitter chocolate tart with crème fraiche and spiced orange syrup, and declared it ‘fine, with plenty of spice'.
So what to make of The Kailyard? Well, we certainly enjoyed ourselves, there was little to complain about, food-wise; the service was excellent and the bill – including two glasses of a fine Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, champagne and coffee – came to £80.75, wasn’t astronomical.
But while it was a good evening, it fell short of being a great one. Nairn is a big name, one that comes loaded with expectation - and certainly, to take us back to the old rocker analogy, his signature dishes are like great tunes: comforting, familiar and appeal to all ages. And yet, in giving us a menu of greatest hits, he leaves you yearning for the chance to sample new, challenging dishes, simply because you're sure that they'd be pretty damn good.
But then again, as the king of the greatest hit gigs is still singing: you can’t always get what you want.







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21 February 2010
By: Craig Brown
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