Half way through an excellent Sunday lunch at the Drovers Inn Murray Chalmers was already planning his next visit – it’s really that good.
The joy of the experience was probably compounded by the knowledge that a few recent reviews had illustrated bad experiences in other Tayside restaurants; it’s never great to have to be critical and yet these reviews must honestly reflect the food and the experience, otherwise they’re meaningless.
But after a few duds you really want to hit the jackpot and it gives great pleasure to state that with The Drovers Inn in Memus, near Forfar, we did just that.
We had booked to eat in the dining room but, on arrival, the bar looked so much more inviting. Two log fires roared on a crisp Sunday; a well-stocked bar, a happy mix of customers, dogs and a feeling of good times in the air make this a very welcoming space. And we’ll take the just-vacated table, next to the two ladies being served the most perfect-looking Sunday roast.
The menu is expansive, given that there is a daily specials plus a bar menu to add to the lengthy a la carte (there’s also a kids’ menu). I could have eaten so much here and, over the next few months, I intend to.
The place looks great. It’s really a classic, traditional village pub but done with a level of elan that gives it a wonderful sense of place. There are enough Scottish elements to remind you that you’re minutes away from the beautiful Angus Glens, but it’s not overdone.
The colours, which look like Farrow and Ball classics, are dark and totally sympathetic to the environment. It’s hugely pleasing. Despite the two log fires though it’s a bit nippy…
The food was ace. Probably not since eating at the now venerable Kinneuchar Inn have I had such good food locally; although the style is very different to Kinneuchar, this is also food that hits the spot with an ethos and an honesty that is so refreshing. There are only so many fumbled attempts at fine dining a man can suffer before he wants food that just tastes beautifully of itself.
My starter was lamb sweetbreads with pea puree, pea mousse, petit pois, asparagus spears and bacon popcorn (£8.50). It was delicious; perfectly cooked sweetbreads centred a dish of subtlety which, in truth, sang of summer – but that’s a song I’m happy to hear right now in the dark depths of a Scottish winter.
David chose deep fried Brie, pear vinaigrette and micro herb salad (£6.50), also from the daily specials menu. Again, it was a textbook presentation of a fairly cliched starter – but done to precision, the micro herbs adding a wonderful fresh burst of flavour to the wodge of unctuous goodness that was the Brie.
The main courses were even better. My hazelnut and herb-crusted loin of venison was served with caramelised quince, roasted butternut squash, creamed kale and venison jus (£17.95) but, delicious and perfectly cooked as the pink venison was, the star of the show was some braised leg meat that had been cooked down to the very essence of the beast. It was jaw-droppingly good.
Just like attempting to wear double-denim without looking like Status Quo, double cheese ordering is something best left to the experts and David was the vegetarian for this job. His carb overload of macaroni cheese and chips and salad (£12.95) was actually from the kids’ menu but no one noticed that that particular merry-go-round had galloped past him by a good 50 years, and so the dish duly appeared with no fuss. It was pronounced the best macaroni cheese of all time.
By now we were on the home run. But just to make sure that the previous four ace dishes hadn’t been flukes, we ordered dessert. The first triumph was the treacle tart (£6.95) which was better than many that I’ve sampled in much more famous restaurants both locally and in London.
The pastry was taken just to the edge of being overdone which lent it an extra depth – and of course the filling was such a sublime sugary hit that I’m surprised we weren’t bouncing off the perfectly painted wall. An accompanying shard of praline and crystallised ginger were like ornamental buttons on a favourite coat.
My poached pears (£6.50) were done in mulled wine and came with a brilliant crème fraiche sorbet which cut through the festive flavours like a broken bauble. A lavender tuille, caramelised plums and (I think) a burst of lemon balm completed a great dessert.
It has to be said that not only did this food taste great but the presentation was stunning. This was a truly lovely Sunday lunch. The service was faultless and apart from a slight chill factor, there’s nothing not to like here. I guess sit near the fires if you can, or wear a thicker jumper.
But really this place is a quietly unassuming big-hitter, serving excellent food in very nice surroundings. And it was cheap! Our bill, including a half pint of Guinness and a large bottle of sparkling water, came to £63.85. For three courses of deep joy that’s really good value.
When we left we walked around a bit to see the dining room etc. It’s all good; on a winter’s day I prefer the ambience of the bar but, in summer, the dining room would come into its own. Food is served from noon – 9pm. Really, what’s not to love?
On the door I spotted various awards that this place has won over the years – too many to list here. I’m not at all surprised. A really great place to which we will return often.
The Drovers Inn 47/50
Memus, By Forfar DD8 3TY
t: O1307 860 322
Price: Starters: from £5.25; main courses from £12.95; dessert from £6.50