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Restaurant review: A heavenly meal lacks a little spirit at Little’s in Blairgowrie

The turbot mousse.
The turbot mousse.

This was my second lunch at Little’s, an experience which proved less onerous than the first business-related outing with Graham Huband, the managing editor of this newspaper.

Back then in 2020 our task was to decide the winner of the Menu Restaurant of the Year Award and it’s fair to say there was heated debate among the judging panel about who should triumph.

A local chef (and fellow judge) was very vocal that Little’s should win, while I was equally committed that the winner should be Kinneuchar Inn, which had recently opened to great acclaim (not least from myself).

When it became obvious no consensus could be reached within the panel, it was decided a team would visit/revisit both contenders and I remember Graham and I had a perfectly nice lunch at Little’s, which struck me then as an excellent asset to Blairgowrie and the surrounding area.

Nevertheless, I stuck to my guns that Kinneuchar should be the winner and it came to pass that the East Neuk arriviste won both best restaurant and best new restaurant awards, even if the awards show itself was postponed until this year due to Covid.

Inside Little’s.

I was reminded of the whole judging experience during a recent visit to Little’s where I left feeling we’d had a delicious meal, just as I’d had with Graham. In fact, the food was probably better this time, with some of the dishes we sampled being absolute classics of their type.

My Dover sole with almonds and nut-brown butter was perfection, although you might well expect it to be so for £32.50.

However, much as I think the food at Little’s is wonderful, for me there was something strangely lacking about the whole dining experience here, and I think a lot of it is down to the surroundings.


Little’s opened in Blairgowrie in 2011 but moved to its new home in a renovated Methodist church in February 2018.

First impressions are of complete awe because I’ve seen churches repurposed as many things – office spaces, homes, gig venues, nightclubs, art galleries and cafes being some of them – but I can’t recall ever eating in a church prior to eating here.

Walking into any place of worship is rather humbling, of course, and it’s the same here.

The soaring space topped by the vaulted wooden ceiling and the beautiful stained glass can’t fail to inspire wonder and yet it’s a very different wonder than you get when you enter, say, the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh, housed in a beautiful Glasite church.

Happy Saturday 🌞What a glorious day it is. Make the most of it and join us for lunch and we still have some tables available for dinner this evening

Posted by Little's Restaurant on Saturday, 5 March 2022

There the space seems to envelop you in warmth; here in Blairgowrie it feels to me to be oddly alienating and out of kilter to be eating here.

The pink walls don’t help, and nor does the two-seater leather sofa at the entrance, with a huge teddy bear plonked on top. I assume this is meant to humanise the place but instead it just makes it feel a bit parochial, which is completely at odds with the cooking here.

But those pink walls play a major part in making this space feel incongruous and slightly challenging, bearing in mind the incongruity you already feel because you’re about to drop a tonne of cash on some fish, bread and wine in a church. Freud look away!

I hate to labour the point about the walls but a space like this needs to feel humanised and here I’m reminded of Oscar Wilde’s last words as he lay dying in L’Hotel in Paris: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” Sadly, the wallpaper won in Paris, just as pink has done here in Blairgowrie.

After those reservations, I have to say that the food here is quite wonderful and four of us ate so well that David’s father, here on a break from Northumberland, said it was the best meal he’d eaten in a restaurant in many years. David’s stepmother Ruth was almost as effusive.

The food

That this is primarily a fish restaurant is no surprise when you know that chef/owner Willie Little owns a fish shop in Crieff. And, although the menu does feature a few meat dishes and regrettably fewer vegetarian options, there are four pizzas on offer which might appeal should you want a more casual or less piscine supper.

A list of specials is chalked on a blackboard, all of which sounded mightily appealing the day we visited. With main courses ranging in price from £18.95 to an assertive £32.50 for my Dover sole, the prices on the board, and here in general, were enough to raise an 86-year-old eyebrow from canny Northumbrian Bob.

Perhaps I’ve become a soft southerner after my 40 years in London but I didn’t think the prices at Little’s were that unreasonable for fish of this quality, especially when you compare them to my favourite London fish restaurant J Sheekey, where grilled Dover sole ranges from £46 to £56 against Little’s £32.50.

Then again Sheekey’s is a London classic, bang in the middle of Theatreland, so it’s probably unfair to compare them.

Turbot mousse.

My starter of turbot mousse with salmon bonbon and spicy mayonnaise (£8.95) was delicious enough to make me forget that I normally run for the hills whenever I see the word bonbon on a menu. Here the fish mousse was subtle and complemented beautifully by the kick of the mayo and the leaves and micro herbs surrounding it. An excellent starter.

David’s starter of frittata (£4) came from a short tapas menu which featured classics like patatas bravas (£3.25) and cod belly fritters with garlic mayonnaise (£4.75).

Once again I have to concur with the feeling that vegetarians aren’t really catered for so well here, with a mere one starter (two if the soup happens to be vegetarian) and a grand total of no main courses, unless you count two of the pizzas.

The frittata – sliced and served in a bowl – was crunchy and flavoursome but felt like something of a B-list guest compared to the fish-based starters on offer elsewhere.

Similarly, David’s pizza main course (ordered because it was literally the only vegetarian option) was attractively presented but not special enough to feel like it could really stand its ground with the inspired cooking of the fish dishes.

Some might say it’s good that Little’s offers pizza dishes at all but I disagree because, to me, that’s like going to a Bordeaux wine tasting and ordering a Coke, or going to a great Chinese and ordering chips. I mean, what’s the point?

Our main courses were much, much better, with all three fish dishes looking and eating brilliantly.

Fish was the star of the menu at Little’s.

My Dover sole was just ace and merited the price tag, I felt. This fish, which was the most prized of all sea fish throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, is best served as simply as possible and so the nut-brown butter and almond adornments presented here proved to be ideal.

Incredibly, the River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the aptly named Nick Fisher, reminds us of a bygone age when “the size of the sole you served reflected your level of success on the social ladder”. The upper echelons, and those aspiring to buy their way into them, ate the bigger soles, while the next social tier had to make do with smaller soles called “slips” or “tongues”.

At least now slip soles themselves are a dish worth celebrating thanks to talented chefs like Stephen Harris at The Sportsman in Whitstable and Noble Rot in London.

My classic Dover sole at Little’s was the best fish dish I’ve eaten in a good while, the sweet flesh falling off the bones so cleanly there was little left on the bones to suck. Just wonderful.

Monkfish with curry-seasoned rice.

Sticking with aquatic royalty, Bob’s turbot with cabbage and bacon, cream sauce and rosti potato was a wonderful tranche of fish, the flesh of the king of the sea both firm and succulent. Like Dover sole, turbot needs minimal accompaniments although its texture means it can also stand up to robust saucing.

Bob pronounced it excellent and it was at this point he declared this was proving to be the best meal he and Ruth had enjoyed in ages.

Ruth’s monkfish seasoned with curry, tossed with spicy rice and served with a chive omelette wasn’t something I would have thought to order, because I’m not always sold on curry flavours with fish – and also I still remember endless dinner parties of the 1980s when monkfish was the star of the show.

Sticky toffee.

I should know because I cooked enough of it, most especially the River Cafe’s baked monkfish with creme fraiche in foil – my results dish of a decade which rewarded artifice as much as effort. Here the meaty fish, almost impossible to overcook, was a good receptor for the assertive spice of the flavourings.

Desserts were a joy. Ruth’s sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ice cream (£7.25) was great, as was Bob’s new season rhubarb, orange curd and vanilla yoghurt (also £7.25).

Rhubarb with orange curd.

In his soft Northumbrian burr Bob pronounced his pudding “very unusual” but for once “unusual” wasn’t a euphemism for horrible.

My trio of iced parfait (chocolate, raspberry and mango) was served with blueberry compote, honeycomb, strawberries and raspberries, and was utterly delightful. The service was charming and efficient. Our total bill was £142.95.

The verdict

Given the food was so good, I wish I could explain exactly why I don’t feel that Little’s ticked all the boxes for me.

I guess some places feel right and some don’t, and often the reason can be intangible. Here’s a very good chef serving food of great quality in an interesting environment. What’s not to like?

Trio of iced parfait.

It’s simply that, for me, the ambiance of the place was lacking and it all felt a bit safe, a bit lacking in spirit or in buzz.

I like places that leave you feeling both happy and energised, with a bit of a spring in your step, like you and the staff and the space have been on a bit of an adventure together. I just didn’t get that here, lovely as it was. Maybe it’s me, not them… Damn good food, though.


Address: Little’s Restaurant, Riverside Road, Blairgowrie, PH10 7GA

T: 01250 875358


Price: Starters from £3.25, mains from £9.50, dessert from £7.25


  • Food: 5/5
  • Service: 5/5
  • Surroundings: 4/5

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