One of the more pleasing things about our new enforced tier system has been that I’ve been out and about in Fife more.
Although I grew up in Dundee and often lazily refer to it as the place I returned to after 40 years as a Londoner, the fact is I’m a Fifer now.
This has meant many things, not least that the restricted movement devised for our safety has made me start to view St Andrews as my nearest source of metropolitan exploration, rather than Dundee which for now must glimmer in forbidden colours to we outsiders.
Apart from the fact that there is something superficially thrilling about living in a kingdom, Fife has a foodie scene that grows more enthralling by the week. Much of this has been well-documented but new treasures continue to emerge and it was gratifying to find one especially good new enterprise on a recent sunny Saturday trip to the East Neuk.
My day started uneventfully enough in my local village Spar shop. What would we do without a Spar? They are so ubiquitous that I’ve seen them located in historic buildings in some of the most beautiful villages in France and here in the UK it’s safe to say that many small villages would be lost without them.
Writer Alison Boshoff and I once had an idea to do a cookery book using only ingredients you could find in a Spar shop, and I still think it’s a book that would sell – there is a lot to be said about making something delicious using a paucity of ingredients.
Our compact shop often displays unexpected culinary delights among the generic Spar products and certainly packs a lot into a small space. Whatever they do though it will always be a long way from my previous local Spar, the legendary gourmet paradise in London’s Walthamstow, which boasted an in-house pizzeria and brilliantly sourced products long before “artisan” became a culinary cliche.
But there was a price to pay for such elitism and I’d often return home with ingredients for a simple supper of spaghetti carbonara which I might as well have bought in Harrods Food Hall, such was the cost.
This time in Wormit, I was tempted by cakes from Temptations Boutique Bakery in Cupar who specialise in deliciously dense confections that include very good cheesecakes, vegan cakes and an excellent raspberry crunch.
Two cakes cost £5 and although they are small they are so rich that I cut them into squares, thus negating the guilt of eating a whole one. For me these are the ultimate treat for that 3pm slump when all you need is for Boris Johnson’s much heralded cavalry to gallop in with a supply of sugar and then a vaccine, or at least some insulin.
These cakes are not for the faint-hearted in that they pretty much play one note and that note is primarily sugar.
As monochromatic notes go though, I’ve had worse; just as it’s hilarious to hear Prue Leith comment that some cakes are too sweet, these treats are like the Classic FM of the baking world – you know what you’re going to get, it works, and you’re ready to take on the world again.
Another new find in the Wormit Spar is a small selection of flowers from The Garden Fairy Fife where small bouquets range from £10 and charming “flower hugs” in a jar cost a fiver.
There is also a selection of Christmas wreaths, eucalyptus and dried flowers, all beautifully presented. For a small treat at a time when we can’t even touch each other, the idea of a £5 flower hug is strangely moving.
After cakes and flowers, the next Fife stop was the Kinneuchar Inn to collect a box of goodies from their new “at home” range.
I’ve written about this place a lot but I feel that this new offering from James Ferguson is worthy of your attention because, while the inn is temporarily closed, you can now sample a selection from one of the best chefs in the country to enjoy in your own home.
Menus are posted weekly on their website and you collect your order on a Friday morning, which really does help the weekend take some shape.
Proper mince pies! Available online from our kinneuchar at home store and also from our stall which will be @…
Everything is notable here but if you order a pie I guarantee it will be one of the best pies you’ve ever had. The larger ones would feed three or four people but I live alone and am ashamed to say that I demolished James’s chicken pie for dinner and – oh, the shame –breakfast the next day.
This is proper, skilled cooking in the form of a perfect pie but if you don’t want to order a larger pie then the pork pies are a bargain at £8.
Last week’s order from Kinneuchar also included some smoked trout and rye bread which made next day’s breakfast that of a champion. It would also be perfect for a Christmas starter. The trout is smoked over alder wood and the rye bread is unusually moist, possibly due to the use of Guinness and Marmite as ingredients.
It’s also worth noting that the weekly Kinneuchar at home menu includes a small selection of wines starting at £12 and includes the excellent St John Bourgogne Rouge which is my new end of week treat.
Annoyingly, St John don’t deliver to domestic addresses in Scotland, so this is a good way of sampling some of their range.
A final word of warning though; it’s best to order from Kinneuchar early in the week because I’ve just been online to order and the fish pie and the smoked trout and rye bread has already sold out.
Cooking up a storm
The final stop on my East Neuk odyssey was a new pop-up in Bowhouse Market, just outside St Monans. This is where ace chef Jess Rose Young is cooking up a storm every weekend in December – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, takeaway only (there is seating outside should the weather be agreeable).
Jess was formerly head chef at the fantastic Ballintaggart restaurant with rooms in Perthshire, so that fact alone made me eager to taste her food at Bowhouse. My few visits to Ballintaggart when Jess was there made it clear that here was a chef of huge skill and confidence. Now we have a chance to try her food in a very different environment and I have to say it’s exactly what we need more of right now.
Over the course of two visits I ate very well. A carrot and lentil dahl served with pickles and carrot top salsa (£4.50) took one of my favourite dishes to new heights of flavour while the pork and fennel sausage roll (£3) was a perfectly balanced object of delight.
Even something fantastically simple, like the beer bread roll with St Andrews cheddar, onions and apple (£5) was a joy greater than the sum of its parts.
If anything, my second visit was even better. The Balkaskie beef bone broth, chilli, ginger, baby leeks and barley (£4) was wonderful, even better for being eaten on a bitingly dank day, the nourishment from the beef bones seeming to seep into every pore. I could eat this elixir every day.
David had a celeriac soup with sourdough breadcrumbs (£4) that was just as comforting while his huge sandwich of charred cabbage, harissa and hummus (£5) was assertively punchy and flavoursome.
Sea buckthorn doughnuts (£3.50) and East Neuk honey and cardamom doughnuts (£3.50) were as special as they sound. Good coffee is £2.
This place really lifts the spirits for many reasons, not least because it’s an example of what I love best – a skilled chef presenting their food without affectation or unnecessary fripperies.
Here everything relies on the ingredients – the meat, for example, comes from the almost legendary Meat Sophie who is herself stationed at the other end of the market, and the vegetables are local.
The other thing to gladden the heart about this pop-up is that here is someone doing something new at probably the worst time you can imagine – and it’s working. If Jess Rose Young can make this happen now, imagine what she would be able to do in this space when normality returns? For now we must hope that she decides to continue once this short-term stint at Bowhouse is over.
My food journey to the East Neuk concluded with buying two pieces of onglet steak from the aforementioned Sophie at the Butchery at Bowhouse which I cooked and served with watercress and chips. If I had some pink fir apple potatoes and if girolles were still in season I’d do something posh but really I’d probably still be secretly lusting after chips, mustard and watercress with the onglet.
Gem of a place
Before heading home I reluctantly bypassed the superlative David Lowrie fish and ended the day with a visit to Crail Pottery.
What a gem this place is! Although their simply glazed tableware is what I normally buy, this time I was drawn to two richly painted bowls, hand-painted by one of three potters in this magical place, tucked away in this beautiful village. What a delight.
SPAR Wormit, 1 – 5 Mount Stewart Road, Wormit, Fife DD68NH. t: 01382 541638
Kinneuchar Inn, 9 – 11 Main St, Kilconquhar, Fife KY9 1LF w:kinneucharinn.com
Jess Rose Young, Bowhouse, St Monans, Fife KY10 2DB Instagram jessroseyoung
Butchery at Bowhouse. Address as above. t: 01333 720200 Instagram butcheryatbowhouse
Crail Pottery, 75 Nethergate, Crail, Fife KY10 3TX. t: 01333 451212 w:crailpottery.com