16 March 2009

Eek...

Cor blimey, where does the time go? Two days of long drives and no decent connection - or stupidly expensive connection, shame on you supposedly modern Edinburgh hotel - and then Mrs L joined me in Glasgow for the return leg... Yeah, you're right. Mealy-mouthed excuses.

The real reason? I was too busy eating more good food to want to write about good food, and the eating and the Scottish air and the long drives and the whisky left me feeling very relaxed and sleeping for silly numbers
of hours every night. Anyway, I'm back now and energised and, save for a bit of Indian eating this Thursday, I shall use the next few days to reflect on last week's hospitality.

Last Monday saw me at The Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen, a spa hotel owned by Stewart Spence. Assorted Scottish friends I ran into later in the week made appreciative murmurs and declared it "the best hotel in Aberdeen." Admittedly, they also then went on to suggest it's number one in a field of one but never mind. It was clean, spacious, the staff were delightful, the room was comfy - if not to the elaborate standards of an £850-a-night suite in Luton Hoo - and the meal was simple and excellent. After the elaborate creativity of L'Enclume, a more straightforward dinner seemed in order. Not that it meant nuking the luzury quotient though...

The Marcliffe has become famous for two culinary offerings. The first is Jumbo Russian Red King Crab, those evil bastard crustaceans off that Extreme Fishing programme
. The second? Steak. "People in Aberdeen will only eat steak and chips," said the waiter, "but Mr Spence decided to offer the best possible steak." He then proceeded to tell me I should eat the steak because "it'll be the best steak you've ever eaten." That where I come from is fighting talk, so what else could I order? I'll have the 10oz ribeye then, matey, and let battle commence...

But first the King Crab. I've never really understood the point of crab. Yes, it's great if it's fresh and someone else has done the work for you, but a plate of claws and a shiny metal spike to remove about a teaspoon of meat? Sod that for a game of soldiers. The King Crab though is different, and a fine marriage of quantity and quality. Apparently Mr Spence tried it in a restaurant, declared it the most delicious thing ever and went about sourcing it for his restaurant. I'm glad he did. It's big, juicy, incredibly meaty, rich, yielding... and the meat flops out of the shell in a most alluring manner. And when you are forced to dig around for the remaining morsels, you keep finding bite after bite after bite. I had it served warm with a shirt-staining and delicate garlic butter. It was delicious - and fair play to the first person who looked at one of the huge homicidal, butt ugly beasties and thought "hmm, I wonder what THAT tastes like?"


And so to the inflammatory slab of Aberdeen Angus. The best steak I've ever eaten? No... But I'd put it in the Top Three. Properly charred, cooked to medium perfection - deeply purple with the fat just starting to melt - and gently resistant to the knife. It demanded proper chewing and released deep beefy flavour and juices aplenty as reward. Given that I liked it so much, I thus decided to hate the traditional / naff accompaniments of chips, onion rings, tomaro and mushroom. Only I couldn't. Yes, the chips could have been crisper but the onion rings had a satisfying crunch, a pleasing lack of oiliness and a wonderful fried onion flavour, while the mushroom and tomato had been well sourced, their respective, full bodied bite and juicy sweetness making an appealing foil to the excellent meat. I may even have let out a sigh or two at the sight of all the juices mingling so appealingly with the exemplary Bearnaise sauce. As you can imagine, a good hotel in Aberdeen is going to be rather popular to Texan oilmen and there's a bunch of chaps who know a thing or two about steak. The large group of loud Americans to my right all seemed to be return visitors, judging by the banter, and their companions - some very expensively dressed Japanese gentlemen who also know a thing or two about eating cow - all seemed to tuck in with gusto.

Pudding should have been an impossibility but those Scots are excellent hosts and smooth-talking swine. Mind you, when there's a dessert on the menu called Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb I don't need much arm twisting. A combination of four rhubarb dishes, it filled the remaining gaps with sharp, fruity efficiency. A rhubarb sorbet of gentle sophistication cleansed the palate, a spoonful or two of perfectly cooked, just yielding stewed rhubarb filled the mouth and came with a delicate rhubarb foam, while rhubarb crumble and rhubarb tart ticked all the relative boxes.

As dinners went, there was nothing here to scare the parents or reinvent the wheel. But as an "antidote" - not that one was needed - to the delightful, probably Top Three of All Time delights of L'Enclume, this was as good a return to "real" eating as you're going to find. The Marcliffe, I salute you... And for the record, they also do a damn good breakfast. Tomorrow: Old Pulteney (undoubtedly the best, most "real" distillery I've ever visited), snipe pate and bits of red deer in a green pepper sauce...

2 comments:

William Leigh said...

Awesome, share the rhubarb love. Steak looks winner.

Robin said...

That steak looks lovely. Nice blog by the way... great title ;-)