The hopes and dreams of finally sharing a meal out are realised in special fashion as Murray Chalmers visits The Tayberry in Broughty Ferry.
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away….
Towards the end of April, blind with optimism, dumb with hope and finally dressed up and legal, I went to a restaurant and someone brought us delicious homemade bread and butter. It was sunny and Lovely Day by Bill Withers played as we looked at the menus.
I glanced around to make sure nothing much had changed since lockdown started last year and that’s when I noticed that the large clock on the wall had remained resolutely frozen in time at 2.20 and I wondered in which hellish month of winter had it given up the ghost and just stopped moving forward.
For me, that halt happened for much of late January, when spring, a hug from a friend and being offered the vaccine seemed an eternity away.
On the worst of those interminably dark winter days, my body clock was barely ticking and the enormity of facing this pandemic alone became oppressively overwhelming. It wasn’t fun.
There was now unbridled comfort to be found in the fact that the Tayberry’s clock could be rewound to work again, ready to mark many more moments of joy and celebration in our lives (I don’t think you need to be Freud or even Dr Hilary to read anything allegorical into this).
We asked Alex Patterson, the Tayberry’s restaurant manager, how she had coped during lockdown and whether any of the staff had lost their jobs (they hadn’t). After this reassuring discovery we settled down into this newly-mystical environment where the only thing to think about was pleasure – because everything here had been quietly designed to maximise it.
Focusing on a large painting on the wall I recognised as being by Natasha Todd, a standout work from a past degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone college, I marvelled at the ability of art and great food to transport us to another world – a free bus pass that has been much needed in the last year.
As the sun streamed in the windows, all we heard was the gently reassuring hum of chat from fellow diners whilst music played at a tolerable level. It was someone’s 70th birthday and the restaurant produced a small cake with a single candle burning brightly against the dazzling afternoon light.
It became symbolic; everyone watched enraptured as the cake got closer to the table and the recipient’s face beamed with joy. I wanted to start a chorus of Happy Birthday, even though I can’t hold a note, am quite shy and knew I would feel shame later. It really felt like we were feeling some basic emotions for the first time, like babies learning to crawl; that annoying platitude “simple pleasures” suddenly made perfect sense.
Our food arrived, it was faultless, and with each minute my shoulders relaxed and my breathing became softer. I kept beaming as I looked around, feeling grateful to be alive, with enough spare cash to buy a nice lunch – but really, what price for such infinite joy?
We’re back in business and it feels so great.
What did you do on that first day of freedom from lockdown?
For me the anticipation became so high, the choices so momentous that I just went to the gym, did my training and then came home.
For a second though my mind played some huge tricks – shouldn’t I be out there having a pint at 11am or queuing for TK Maxx to open?
Shouldn’t I be huddled under a makeshift canopy, drinking a latte, resolutely trying to pretend we were basking in the sunshine of St Tropez instead of the driving rain of Union St?
Shouldn’t we all be living life to the full just in case someone decides to take it all away again?
I went home from the gym, flung open my balcony doors, fired up the Dansette and played Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring very loudly, followed that with Culture Club’s It’s A Miracle, and suddenly all seemed right with the world. By the time Vaughan Williams’ lark was ascending I was ready to face the world and a rain-soaked pint in a bus shelter if need be.
The Tayberry is quite a totemic place for me because it was the first restaurant I found when I moved back to Fife from London. Actually, that’s not quite true – there were others but they didn’t quite get it right. The Tayberry did – and it gives great pleasure to report that it still does.
Despite many of the awards on the wall – Adam Newth was voted Young Scottish Chef of the Year and Young Scottish Seafood Chef of the Year – I feel that Adam is sometimes taken for granted locally.
He shouldn’t be, because for me he’s by far the best chef in Dundee and the surrounding areas and I like the fact that he just gets on with producing great food without any reliance on hype or PR nonsense. I really rate him.
Today’s meal was ace and, to me, signified a shift in Adam’s cooking, a change he later confirmed when we chatted. Personally, I’m sick of a lot of the affectation and faffing around food, which is probably why I continually return to the brilliance of James Ferguson at Kinneuchar, a chef who wouldn’t recognise the emperor’s new clothes if they arrived by express courier delivered by Tom Ford himself.
I want authenticity in food, especially right now, and I want gutsiness in place of garnish, flavour in place of frippery and most of all I want a sense that each dish is pared down to the very essence of its being, however complex an amalgamation of flavours and textures that might be.
It’s not a coincidence that James Ferguson and I recently ended up messaging about the genius of Marcella Hazan, a conversation that had me running to my copy of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, buoyed by James’s enthusiasm.
True master chef
Adam does authenticity and more. He’s introduced a special “welcome back” menu for the first few weeks of reopening and this is what I felt compelled to have.
Someone was cooking for us! I didn’t have to open any bloody buggery boxes or snip any plastic bags or watch videos or read instructions in order to create my lunch because someone else – a true master chef – was cooking it for me. All I had to do was eat.
Here’s what I ate on this special menu, available until May 17:
- Tayberry fish cake, brown crab mayo, dill, caviar.
- Cauliflower velouté, parmesan, English mustard, crispy capers.
- Fennel cured cod, lovage puree, dill beignet, burnt cucumber.
- Linlithgow black haggis, seared foie gras, lentils, beetroot, shitake.
- Dark chocolate crème brûlée, violet ice cream, brownie crumb.
My highlights? All of it. But if I had to just have soup and a dessert from this menu before I shuffled this mortal coil I’d be pretty happy, or as happy as you can be when you know you might draw the short straw and be reincarnated as Douglas Ross, a goat or Willie Rennie.
Whilst I feasted on these exemplary five courses, David took the less gluttonous approach and had a superlative late spring dish of a soft poached egg, asparagus, orzo, truffle and chives. Even though I had plenty of food in front of me I tasted his and it was wonderful.
To follow he had a cheese course starring a notably good St Marcellin with shallot and tomato jam and some crunchy, petite crudités. These courses were from a very good market menu, reasonably priced at two courses for £22 and three courses for £27.
Had I managed to persuade him we might have added a Tayberry shortcake to his order because the idea of a rose crème, Tayberry sorbet, dressed berries and a fennel sable was mightily attractive.
Really, words can’t properly express the joy of this meal because the emotional resonance behind it – our first meal out after lockdown – was so huge. Even when Adam Newth himself delivered our dessert and cheese you felt like leaping up and hugging him and exclaiming “You did it! You survived! We did too!
We’re still here!”.
This wasn’t just us eating great food cooked by a maestro, although of course it was that – but this felt like a communal experience that everyone in that restaurant had pinned their hopes and dreams on. That’s a lot of bang to expect for your buck but
It’s worth noting that one of the new additions to the Tayberry menu is a special selection to take away and eat either on the beautiful beach across the road or at a few tables outside; dishes such as a crispy buttermilk chicken burger, marinated in Tabasco hot sauce and served with garlic mayo, and a pork and chorizo burger with celeriac and apple slaw are priced at £8 and sound just the thing for an alfresco lunch.
Chatting to Adam later he explained: “I’ve made some quite big changes to my style, having had a year off. But I’ve also been to work with chefs like Tom Kerridge at the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, before lockdown. These inspirations have made me realise even more than I did before that the ingredients we have in Scotland are key.
People import amazing Scottish produce all over the world.
“When I was in New York I was served Scottish grouse in a two-star Michelin restaurant, for example. This has made me look at making less fuss with garnish and focusing on the main ingredient as the showcase, rather than the chef’s flair being the showcase. I’m delighted to be back in the kitchen working with smaller local producers whose focus is quality”.
The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Marcella Hazan. £19.99
The Tayberry. 594 Brook St, Broughty Ferry, Dundee. DD5 2EA. 01382 698280. www.thetayberry.co.uk @tayberrydundee