Cringletie House Hotel
Philosophers tend to be depressives. Rather than dwell on the implications of this otherwise irrelevant introduction – those who think hard about life and what it's worth tend to get the dumps – I intend to take a simple and optimistic message from it: it's good to treat yourself every so often.
Treats. Few populations have nailed the personal treat so consistently as the British Middle Classes. Americans want pleasure on tap. The French may be hypochondriacs but they have wine for lunch every day. Swedes listen to black metal and burn down churches. Russians only allow themselves periodical revolutions. So while The Skinny may like to think it has the measure of the counterculture, is down with the kids, et cetera, sometimes there's no harm in taking after the great BMCs and doing it proper.
Cringletie House is a luxurious hotel in an old castle about an hour south of Edinburgh on the road to Peebles. The hotel and reception rooms are all individual and expertly tasteful; the restaurant has a grand mantelpiece and a full Victorian painted ceiling (it's the little thingsÃ‚Â…), and wood burning fires abound. There are, as you'd expect, stunning views in all directions.
Apart from its 'treat' status as a fancy destination, Cringletie has one great selling point: new head chef Jimmy Desrivieres. He's the dog's bollocks in the kitchen. In fact, in the kitchen, he'd probably fry the dog's bollocks in lark's tongue sauce and serve them you on oyster toast. And you'd be well pleased, because it'd taste amazing. A culinary star has come to Scotland.
I know this to be true because this month I found myself trying the menu degustation at Cringletie: seven courses (nine if you count the canapés and amuse bouche) of the best food I've tasted. The only vaguely concise reportage I can offer is a list of highlights: the names will mostly do the talking. The canapés include a foie gras and mushroom crisp with a port mousse. I haven't eaten too many other foie gras and mushroom crisps, or port mousses for that matter, to compare to Cringletie's; this is touching the top of the scale of my dining experiences.
The entrées – yes, there are two – include scallops on a puree of celeriac and truffle, and, even better, roast pigeon with smoked pancetta served with chestnut cappuccino. Half way through is the granité, a sorbet-like palette cleanser made from Glankinchie whisky and blood oranges, served between the main courses. The fish dish is sea bass on black rice and sea urchin risotto, the meat lamb with pistachio croûte. After local cheeses the desert is a kind of chocolate heaven thing. A lot like heaven; a lot of chocolate.
To run through the dishes in such a way may be descriptively lazy, but goes some way to demonstrating the range of Desrivieres' scope (he is generally southern French in his inspiration, grounded by locally sourced produce) and the risk-taking confidence of his combinations. Luxury living is often excessive, useless and irrelevant, but this exquisite food has character and joie de vivre. The food at Cringletie tastes so good it could be a cure for existentialism.
The Menu Degustation is £55 per person, but oh so worth it. Other dining options, including afternoon tea, are available.
Cringletie House, Edinburgh Road, Peebles