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The Peat Inn

by Tom Cannavan, 06/13

In this installment of our occasional series looking at Restaurants with Rooms we visit The Peat Inn, near St Andrews in Scotland. The Inn has been on wine and food lovers' radar for decades, but when Chef/proprietor David Wilson sold up after quarter of a century, some people doubted whether the Peat Inn's magic could be retained. Speculation was rife about who would - or could - take over a beloved institution that helped cement a new reputation for Scotland's ability to deliver modern haute-cuisine matched to an extraordinary fine wine cellar.

It was all change in June 2006, when Wilson, who had won every plaudit in the book over 30 years behind the stoves, retired. I personally was very heartened when the new chef and proprietors were announced as Geoffrey and Katherine Smeddle. Geoffrey had until then been head chef at Etain in Glasgow, and one of Scotland's brightest culinary talents.

The truth is that in the final year or two of David Wilson's ownership, whilst the cooking remained exemplary, the fabric of the Peat Inn - always one of the most inviting and comfortable dining rooms in Britain - had become a little frayed around the edges. The first thing regulars will notice is how tastefully the old place has been updated, with the lounge and bathrooms totally refurbished in a muted colour scheme of fawns and chocolate browns, whilst the sunny main dining rooms has been brightened with new carpets, lighting and a lick of paint. Even the garden, the focal point for diners through the large picture windows, has been spruced up. The old place has a new lease of life, recognised in spectacular style in 2009 when Michelin awarded one of its coveted stars.

the rooms

The Peat Inn's eight suites were a later addition to the restaurant building, housed in 'The residence', a separate block just a few steps away. Each of the suites is different, split over two levels with a sitting room upstairs offering views over the garden to the Fife countryside, and en-suite bedroom downstairs. The cosy, thickly-carpeted sitting room has a work-desk in one corner, but is otherwise given over to relaxation with a comfy sofa, flat screen TV and small sound system. There's a supply of mineral waters, Sherry, coffee and home-made biscuits. Bedrooms have huge king-size beds and good-sized bathrooms, with all the luxury trappings of robes, spa-toiletries and essentials like irons and ironing board. The Smeddles have upgraded here too, with all rooms refreshed, and a rolling programme to replace the still perfectly serviceable bathrooms with more contemporary fittings. A homemade continental breakfast is served in your room by cheerful, bustling staff, who will set a table upstairs with copious amounts of fresh fruit and compotes, boiled eggs and local hams and cheeses, yoghurts, breads and croissants.

the restaurant

Katharine Smeddle runs front of house with calm authority. The mood is fairly hushed, but never formal. Food-wise, Geoffrey Smeddle hasn't done too much to scare the regulars who always loved Wilson's masterful way with fish and game, but there's a new edge of precision and modernity to the food now, that builds beautifully on the concept of local produce, sourced according to its season.

A dinner menu is available for just £40, and a seven-course tasting menu at £65 looked tempting (matched to wines for another £50), but we chose to dine a la carte from a succinct menu offering six or eight choices at each course.

My first course of Anstruther lobster used barely a food mile to make its way down the Scottish coast and into my warm salad, where a coriander and lobster dressing added a faint exoticism to a beautifully fresh and delicate dish. I also tried the Carpaccio of beef with Scottish girolles which was simple and delicious, the addition of almonds and lemon confit adding pin-points of texture and heightened flavour.

The main course highlight for me was a slow-braised daube of beef, which was an elegant interpretation of comfort food. The succulent beef fell apart at the threat of a fork, and was served with marjoram-crushed potatoes and a red wine sauce studded with pancetta and green beans.

For me, soufflé is normally irresistible, and so it proved here as I chose a hot peach version served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. Sometimes soufflé can be rather wan and lacking in flavour, but not here, the essence of peach infusing a fluffy, light middle as the ice cream melted through the soufflé's crust. Coffee and fine, clever home-made chocolates (fresh mint flavoured was my favourite) rounded off a quite brilliant meal.

The wine list at the Peat Inn was always a treasure trove of mature, great wines at rock bottom prices. Very few could have afforded to buy David Wilson's extraordinary cellar, and indeed much was sold and many of the cherries made their way to the Wilson's personal cellar I believe. Today's wine list may not scale those rare heights, but I am delighted to report it still has plenty to delight, with mature bottles of great crus at reasonable prices. At the top end £550 will buy the 1985 Mouton-Rothschild for example, whilst a more modest £85 will buy the 1996 Lafon-Rochet. There are plenty of inexpensive choices too, and a fine selection of half-bottles.

I have to say that the Smeddles have done an extraordinary job in gently guiding this great restaurant with rooms in a new direction. For the food and wine lover, the Peat Inn experience is possibly even better than it ever was.

The Peat Inn
Peat Inn, near Cupar
Fife KY15 5LH
Phone: 01334 840206
   Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner
Lunch from £19, dinner from £40
Suites from £150