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Restaurant review: Haar in St Andrews serves up flavour of gastronomic delight

Yukhoe grass fed beef at Haar.
Yukhoe grass fed beef at Haar.

Just before Christmas last year chef Dean Banks returned to St Andrews to open the doors of this second incarnation of Haar, now beautifully berthed in its brand-new location at 1 Golf Place.

That’s quite an illustrious address, even for those of us who don’t know our birdie from our bogey.

Located moments from the harbour that supplies the superlative lobster offered here, 1 Golf Place is a location that requires serious cooking, a drive that could effortlessly reach the Old Course and a stellar, ambitious vision.

After just a few months here, Dean Banks has succeeded in offering all three of these attributes in spades, and if I were to continue with my rather forced golfing terminology, I’d try to show off by saying he’s already hit the fairway and is consistently bringing his “A” game to this wonderful place.

Haar in St Andrews.

(That’s enough about golf, I think – mainly because I’m embarrassed to say the only time I’ve played the game of Kings was with Kylie Minogue and she even had to show me how to hold the club. I think that was the day she doubted I was truly Scottish, sweetly ignoring my ineptitude as she bestrode the course like a colossus).

Back in St Andrews, this return journey must have felt somewhat Sisyphean for Banks, so marked has it been by the twists and turns of fate, fortune and a global pandemic – all while preparing to return to the town he so adores.


Haar St Andrews

I was a big fan of the original Haar and was also impressed by the Haarbour chip shop (now closed) and various Haar at Home ventures launched by Banks in response to lockdown. I liked his passion, his drive and his determination – and of course I loved his food, which is both assertive and subtle, sensual and sensory.

Eating Dean Banks’ food is an experience often rich in theatricality, which can be transformative – and I’m all for more of that in life, especially right now as we try to remember how to feel good.

When the original Haar was forced to close due to an unresolved lease issue, many might have thought that Banks’ move to Edinburgh to head-up the hugely prestigious Pompadour restaurant within the five-star Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian hotel might have meant his disappearance from Tayside.

Certainly, his success in the capital could have led anyone less committed to Tayside to remain within the confines of a grand hotel on Princes Street. Aside from rave reviews, Dean Banks at The Pompadour won a coveted three AA Rosettes at this year’s AA Hospitality Awards, the only restaurant in the capital to achieve this recognition in the 22-23 Awards.

Dean Banks preparing dishes.

This success in Edinburgh makes it all the more thrilling that Dean Banks has returned to his roots (or at least close to them – he was born in Arbroath) and is now again offering his wonderful food to us in Courier Country.

Apart from being a great chef, Dean Banks is resourceful, approachable and savvy. He knows how to tell a story, both in his food and the way he presents it. This has been apparent in all his businesses from the original Haar onwards – even the interior of Haarbour, his redefined fish and chip shop, was described online as “highly Instagrammable”.

A smart business brain is at work here, one which understands the concept that restaurant food often needs to be contextualised and have some sense of narrative.

Inside Haar.

Thus, the wait for this new version of Haar to reopen was enlivened with a brilliant social media campaign that both encouraged participation via an inspired crowd-funding initiative, and also heightened anticipation of Banks’ return.

After all, this was the stuff of dreams – the chef returning home to continue his story as part of a career that took him from his first job at The Old Brewhouse in Arbroath, to working with Rick Stein in Cornwall, the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh and then travelling the world as a private chef – all before opening Haar shortly after his success on Masterchef in 2018.

And while it must have felt pretty good for him to return to Edinburgh, especially in such a fêted location, I imagine that someone whose food is so rooted in produce from this area (you should hear him eulogise the Arbroath smokie, for instance) would relish the opportunity to place his stamp on a restaurant where he could design everything as part of his overall aesthetic.

Haar is back in St Andrews.

This is a showman, albeit a rather self-effacing one, who definitely knows how to make an experience work.

The original Haar gained a resolute following, not least because the quality of the food was excellent and the prices were very reasonable (I described the three- course lunch menu as “a steal” in 2019).

Our recent visit to the new Haar was on a sunny Friday lunchtime and I honestly didn’t expect to see Banks in the kitchen – simply because I assumed he would be cooking in Edinburgh.

But there he was – visible as soon as we entered, because the novel concept of this restaurant is that you’re eating at his place and, as such, the man himself is behind a chef’s table-counter and you sit down and he chats to you about what you’re going to eat. I have to say I loved it.

Dean Banks is passionate about showcasing the best of local.

I’m a person who is averse to anything that seems forced or mannered. I’d run for the hills rather than sit at a communal table with strangers, for instance. But this isn’t like that because it’s just you and Dean chatting while he prepares a selection of snacks for you to eat.

Perhaps it’s a response to the social isolation of the pandemic and the recent lessening of restrictions but I loved sitting there talking to this man who was going to prepare some of our lunch for us. It all felt rather emotional actually, in that it suddenly felt like we could embrace the sheer pleasure of communication again.


The food

While chatting Dean produced six snacks (three for me, and three vegetarian ones for David) of such subtle innovation that all we could do was marvel – and enjoy.

My first was an Arbroath smokie pancake tart which was inspired by Peggy, the original owner of the But ‘n’ Ben in Auchmithie, and inventor of their legendary smokie pancake.

I was curious to taste how Dean’s rarified version – a smokie tart with dulse seaweed and Cullen skink espuma – would reflect the essence of the double cream-filled original, still served in Auchmithie today.

That it did with a balanced precision that was almost forensic was something to behold – here was the taste of Arbroath in its most essential form. I just smiled as this ambrosial creation slipped down my throat, as if the smokie itself had been condensed into one intense mouthful. Wonderful!

My second starter was a plump Cumbrae oyster served with sea buckthorn and jalapeno dressing, topped with tiny morsels of raw rhubarb from Dean’s garden.

The oysters.

As someone who normally only eats oysters with a squeeze of lemon or mignonette sauce, this combination of flavours was a new experience for me – and one I loved. I remember Dean extolling the virtues of sea buckthorn as Scotland’s tropical fruit, and he’s right – here the tartness was like a hit of mango or pineapple, and just perfect with the sharp hit of the pepper. A joy, and one intensified by the dry ice rising from the oyster, suddenly visible, perched on some beautiful pebbles.

My final snack was trout belly, which Dean explained was a product of his desire for sustainability on his menus – the trout belly is a by-product of the trout served as one of the main courses. Cured in soy, the fish is served with a coconut and sorrel cream and some puffed potato with furikake, a Japanese seasoning made primarily from toasted sesame seeds, nori, salt and sugar.

Loch etive trout, brown crab and galangal curry,

All these snacks were intensely delightful flavour explosions. I could go into raptures about specific elements of these wonderful dishes – the puffed potato with furikake could be licensed as a pharmaceutical, such is the comfort it brings – but really you have to taste them to fully appreciate their purity and rigour.

After this lovely experience we were led to our table and the “proper” lunch began (it’s five courses for £69 and six courses for £84, with a supplementary lobster course available at market price, and Exmoor caviar for £10 per serving).

An excellent spring lunch menu is also available for £35 for four courses.

I can’t claim that these prices are cheap because obviously they’re not – although the special lunch menu is excellent value, and special deals are sometimes available. But this is food as a celebration of all that’s good from nature’s larder, created, cooked and served with exquisite attention to detail and skill. As such, if your budget can stretch to it, it’s really worth it.

Yukhoe grass fed beef.

This is everything I ate, all of it exemplary – yukhoe tartare, Thai basil and kimchi; hand-dived scallop, kosho (a condiment made from chilli, salt and yuzu), pumpkin and lemongrass; Loch Etive trout, brown crab, galangal curry; St Andrews Bay smoked lobster, mirin and dulse butter; Beech Ridge farm duck, miso king oyster, black garlic, and, finally, rhubarb and cardamom.

What was special? All of it. But if I had to take one “Desert Island” plate from here it would probably be that wonderful lobster with mirin and dulse butter, the richness of the dish sharpened by the mirin and intensified by the butter. Insanely good.

It’s worth pointing out that David’s vegetarian four-course lunch menu (£35) showed as much flair and sense of exploration as my regular menu, so vegetarians won’t feel shortchanged here at all. A superlative lunch ended with a selection of petit fours including the Haar classic riff, Nanna’s Banoffee.

Petite fours – Nanas banoffee chocolate, dulse Shortbread, yuzu chocolate and miso fudge.

The verdict

Service was charming, professional and perfectly judged. The interior is lovely – a relaxed seaside luxe dappled with elements of an Eastern aesthetic and personal artefacts from Dean’s own life. It feels relaxed and confident, as it should with food of this calibre. Serving dishes and plates are especially covetable.

It’s great to have Haar back in St Andrews and I loved the whole experience here. This is food as celebration, exploration, innovation and joy. It highlights where we live and how we live and the bounty of nature, and it brings it all together in an experience to treasure.

I can’t wait to go back.


Information

Address: Haar, 1 Golf Place, St Andrews, KY16 9JA

T: 01334 479281
W: www.haarrestaurant.com

Price: Spring lunch menu £35; 5-course tasting menu £69; 6-course tasting menu £84

Scores: 

  • Food: 5/5
  • Service: 5/5
  • Surroundings: 5/5

Let us know in the comments below if you have been to Haar in St Andrews and what you thought of your experience.


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