Reason number 481 that I love jotting down my experiences of eating out is that I have developed a restaurant radar.
Not content with just hearing about different places, I am always on the lookout, scanning the countryside for new eateries to visit. This is exactly how I happened upon East Haugh House as I was driving down the A9 on the way home from a fabulous weekend in Aviemore. There it was, a lovely stone inn just off the main road, enticing me to Google it.
The building is modest but beautiful with classic stone and turrets. It seems homely with stone walls and cute outbuildings surrounding the main entrance and car park. The theme running throughout the building is fishing. Fishing vistas on the traditional wallpaper, fishing trophies, stuffed fish mounted on the walls, fishing books… you get the idea. The inn is situated close to the Tummel, surrounded by the sport which makes the miscellany highly appropriate and intriguing to an angling lay person like myself.
From the moment we arrived at East Haugh House we were treated as though we were regular customers who had been visiting for years. The service was certainly efficient but much more than that, it was warm and jolly and kind. We were seated in the bar area from where we could watch the comings and goings of a wedding party merrily celebrating in the other dining room.
The a la carte menu is extensive with casual yet elegant dishes created with local produce but the selection of daily specials really added some pizzazz. The mountain hare and black pudding croquettes, for example, that Mr Kerry chose for his starter were firstly enormous but also rich, earthy and soft with a deeply golden crunchy crumb coating. It was a combination neither of us had seen before yet with the mango and chilli salsa, it really worked.
I chose the chicken liver parfait which was smooth and cool and had a hit of white pepper that kept the dish pleasingly savoury despite the sticky red onion chilli jam that accompanied it. Paté is not something I choose very often but I was so glad I had as this expertly made starter was an elegant classic that showed off the talents of the chef.
My main course was also selected from the bill of daily specials in the form of the pan fried black bream. The fillet was very modest but with the crispiest of skin, the juiciest of texture and the creamiest flavour. I’m glad that the fish itself had not been messed with as the quality and whiteness of the flesh were evidence enough of quality and freshness.
The bream was served with wild garlic and samphire both of which carried the most beautifully vibrant green colour. The vegetables had retained their pleasingly salty flavour and crunchy texture and were balanced perfectly by the rich and creamy fennel and mussel sauce clinging to the plate. Although no mussel meat stood out from the sauce, the flavour was definite. The dish was finished with roasted new potatoes which were lovely but very much played fourth fiddle to the remainder of the ingredients. I absolutely loved this dish and would certainly order it again.
Mr Kerry indulged in liver for his main course. The advertised venison variety was off but the chef was to be serving veal liver in its place. I was informed that it was perfectly cooked, soft and moist in all the right places. Traditional bubble and squeak sat beneath the offal with onion gravy pooling around it. No bubble and squeak will ever beat my Grandma’s the day after a big roast with crispy edges but this version was packed with greens and delightfully buttery.
The list of side orders was pretty impressive and I just couldn’t resist ordering the tempura broccoli. What arrived were three super-sized florets which had been submerged in a batter which was far from bland and deep fried until crisp. This was an example of turning an incredibly healthy ingredient into something so, so naughty but oh so nice.
Our toddler had joined us for lunch on this occasion and it is certainly worth mentioning that her chicken goujons had without doubt been made in house and cooked with as much care as any other dish. The accompanying vegetable stir fry was crunchy and made a really welcomed alternative to commonly served baked beans or overcooked peas.
Mr Kerry and I shared the chocolate and salted caramel tart as our dessert which was gloriously smooth, rich and sticky but tipped us over the edge from being mildly full into waddling out the door feeling mighty gluttonous.
Going for lunch at East Haugh House was a happy stumble after driving past but I was so taken with the variety of offerings it has up its sleeve. Fish and chip nights, gin tastings, a self catering cottage and a friendly and welcoming identity have all been created by the owner and chef Neil McGown. They just seem to have got the balance right. The atmosphere is cosy and informal which makes the standard of the food an even lovelier surprise. My family and I had a fabulously relaxed lunch at the inn and I have a feeling it was the first of many.
Price: Starters: £5.50 – £12.95; main courses: £12.95 – £26.95; desserts: £6.95
Info: East Haugh House
Address: By Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5TE
Tel: 01796 473121