There’s nothing I like more than a great hotel restaurant but finding an experience where the food isn’t just a grudging, over-priced afterthought for residents and expense account holders is extremely difficult locally.
Memories of terrible meals in celebrated hotels in Dundee and St Andrews predate Covid although I’m now convinced recurring nightmares about being trapped in both establishments made solo lockdown seem like a walk in the park – or, even better, a night in the Ritz.
The Ritz in London is one of the most beautiful dining rooms you can imagine, and the Ritz in Paris was one of the most wonderful hotels in the world – so much so it was even possible to ignore the fact that the spectral presence of then owner Mohamed Al Fayed might be looming round a corner when you checked in.
I stayed in the Ritz in Paris quite a few times when visiting the City of Lights with a wealthy artist friend of mine (the hotel would be beyond my budget if I was paying) and, for me, it was the best hotel experience ever – the perfect fusion of beauty, function, glamour and just the right amount of snootiness to make even an oik from Lochee feel cossetted but not an imposter.
Even when I unwittingly attempted to lower the tone by swimming in the beautiful Ritz swimming pool whilst covered in undiagnosed Elephant Man shingles sores, the Ritz just brought fresh towels and chilled water and I’m sure would have discretely left calamine lotion in my room, had I not already checked out. That’s style!
Whilst Edinburgh has examples of hotel experiences which are transformative and memorable, Tayside has less.
Of the three main hotels in Dundee (I’ve never been inside the Hampton by Hilton as I can’t really imagine a location less redolent of Hamptons style than an urban roundabout opposite a Lidl, across from where someone put a brick through my car window), my favourite hotel for food was the slightly out of the way Hotel Indigo.
However, a cursory look at their general hotel website showed that food isn’t prominently mentioned, although when I called them to check this I was told that their bistro Daisy Tasker IS open and serves “modern Scottish food with a twist”.
Of course! I’d recommend calling them to check opening hours before planning a trip, and also persevering with the website to find the link to the restaurant.
St Andrews is a far better bet for those seeking a bit more bang for their buck, an apt allusion as today’s visit was to Rusacks St Andrews, now under American ownership and proudly sporting the new rooftop restaurant 18.
What a gem this hotel is! Even if, like me, you have no interest in golf, this place – situated so close to the Old Course you can almost smell the grass and the glory – hums with such quiet, tasteful efficiency that it almost purrs. Why is it that Americans get service so right?
Apart from any cultural differences about the service industries – I have never witnessed actors, models and glowing beauties behave more like their happiness depended entirely on your enjoyment of a waffle than in the USA.
I guess some of it must be the tipping culture, the ultimate reminder of a fundamental principle of hospitality; you give the customer something great and they will pay and leave happy and return. They might even post a review on TripAdvisor.
An American friend of mine, a former waiter, summed it up well: “Good service is expected of you when you work in a US restaurant.
“We Americans see waiting tables as more rewarding work than maybe people do elsewhere; ultimately if you get a job in a posh or trendy restaurant you’re likely to make as much money as a lot of people who work in very good office jobs – and that’s attractive to people who aren’t necessarily looking for a 9 to 5 job.
“Here in the UK the tipping culture is different, and that’s a whole other debate – but the bottom line is that people in the service industry should be getting a higher wage.”
Rusacks St Andrews is a hotel getting things just right and 18 St Andrews is just what I’ve been looking for.
We went at the end of their first week of opening and expected there to be some glitches – but there were none. We had the most delicious Sunday lunch in a room overlooking the world-famous golf course and the West Sands, and it was a glorious experience.
The room itself is lovely, albeit in a Franglais style that’s permanently in danger of becoming extremely fatigué.
It’s that old Parisian brasserie feel that is so welcoming and so conducive to relaxation – but everyone does it now and the look probably gained peak exposure years ago through Café Rouge, the chain of ersatz “French” restaurants that even featured in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Here the look is fairly standard quasi-French and thus can’t really fail to up the ante on the glamour front. Most tables have a view and, as the second party to arrive that day, we were lucky to bag a table right by the terrace.
With the doors open, the sun out and THAT view it was hard not to feel happy.
Just one niggling thing about the décor though – much as I understand the use of distressed glass for mirrors as a quick fix for the stained patina that only years of Gauloise, Gitanes and grit can really provide – here they are so distressed they should have a panic button next to them.
With that view outside I think it would be wonderful to use more conventional mirrors so that people looking inwards to the restaurant and the kitchen might have the reflected glory of such God given beauty.
The food was wonderful. Firstly I have to say that if you go online and look at the menu, you might not find that same extensive choice when you visit in these early days of the restaurant.
When we went it was an edited selection from what we’d seen online and the waitress explained that this was a temporary menu whilst the restaurant tweaked everything to get it just right.
At the time of writing this review it was unclear when the full menu would be offered but I’d defy any food lover to come here and feel short-changed – and anyway I admire the fact that this is a kitchen aiming for such perfection they’ve chosen to present some future greatest hits (more of that later) before they’ve even really tried to crack the charts.
Executive chef and previous winner of MasterChef: The Professionals Derek Johnstone produces the kind of food I love to eat.
Here we could have started with six Cumbrae oysters, either with dill, apple and fermented cucumber or presented more conventionally with shallot, tabasco and lemon (£19).
Wild Hearth sourdough with butter from the Edinburgh Butter Company (£5) was as good as ever, although I’m tiring a little of the ubiquity of this bread.
It would be nice to see homemade bread on a menu like this before too long.
My starter of pig head on toast (£9) came with nashi pear, bitter leaves and lightly toasted hazelnuts and was absolutely wonderful, a great juxtaposition of flavours and textures presented cleanly and simply. The pig head terrine was excellent.
David’s vegetarian starter of heritage tomatoes with white peach, aged balsamic vinegar and rocket (£8) actually came from the vegan menu from the less formal Bridge restaurant downstairs.
The waitress suggested this because there was only one vegetarian starter on the 18 menu and, delicious as wood fired leeks with Errington’s goats curd, ‘cackle beans’ and puffed grains (£10) would have been, we both felt it might bear too many similarities to the vegetarian main course.
Incidentally, I assume the cackle beans listed on the menu were actually the fantastic Arlington White Cacklebean eggs, with the most orange yolks imaginable.
All credit to the excellent waitress for suggesting alternative options for vegetarians.
My main course of halibut (£28) came with sea vegetables, charred grapes and roasted kelp oil and was ace.
The fish was perfectly cooked, timed with precision, moist and packed with flavour. Great stuff.
David’s vegetarian main course of celeriac, “Fat Cow” cheese and onion pie, served with roasted onion and garlic (£18) was very good, a creamy moist pie with a good depth of flavour.
We shared three sides, the best of which were the confit crispy potatoes with malt vinegar (£5) which were so meltingly, richly perfect I would say you have to order them whatever else you might choose to eat here.
The purple sprouting broccoli with anchovy crème fraiche (£5) would be a worthwhile addition to your main course.
I think the steaks would be wonderful here (meat hangs on display in a cabinet as you enter the restaurant) and also that the dry aged duck served with honey, lavender and tamarillo stovie (£26) would be worth ordering if only to find out what a tamarillo stovie actually is.
Dessert was amazing and I only hope it remains on the menu forever. The most intensely raspberry crammed souffle was described on the menu as raspberry cranachan souffle with raspberry and hibiscus sorbet (£10).
Words cannot do this creation justice and I have to say that sharing one is a bad idea because one of you will attempt to lick the perfect green of the empty ramekin just in case there’s a creamy morsel of this lightest, most fragrantly delicious creation left to discover on the sides. It’s that good.
This is a great hotel restaurant but, more to the point, it’s a great restaurant per se.
I can’t wait to return, especially when the full menu is available. A huge hit!
Address: 18 Restaurant, Rusacks St Andrews Hotel, Pilmour Links St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9JQ
T: 01865 256 604
Price: Starters from £9, Mains from £18, Desserts from £8
- Food = 5/5
- Service = 5/5
- Surroundings = 5/5