In prime position overlooking the 18th green of the Old Course and the iconic Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, Rocca diners are entitled to expect a privileged experience. However, with that comes the expectation of an equally impressive culinary experience, particularly given the restaurant’s three AA rosette status.
From the moment we set foot in the restaurant, entering through the traditional lobby of the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel, there was a creeping sense of frustration that the experience could have been so much more enjoyable than it was.
The restaurant reception, with its own bar and an opulent colour scheme of dark purples and black velvet, overhung by an imposing black chandelier, is enticing and atmospheric. We were greeted warmly but swiftly ushered through to the dining room, with not even a whisper of an aperitif at the bar. I was still attempting to take my coat off as the napkin was draped across my lap. Our coats, and those of our fellow diners, were left to hang on the backs of our chairs throughout the evening.
And then there was our table. With only a handful of other tables in the restaurant it was difficult to fathom why we were marooned in the middle of the room, with the waiters’ station and its collection of cleared crockery behind us. Perhaps seating us as close as possible to the other diners was an attempt to create atmosphere in the large 60-cover dining room, but we were left wishing we had asked to move. The combination of the large, high-ceilinged room and the sparse number of guests inevitably meant the atmosphere was lacking.
The menu is a la carte, with four options for each course, and a separate grill section. There was no tasting menu on offer. At £12.50 for a starter and £25-£35 for a main course the price point is set at the top of the scale, meaning the bar was set high.
When the canapés were brought to the table they were described so quickly and briefly by our waiter that I had had to ask again what they were. Parmesan truffles resting on dots of something yellow and unexplained were pleasant enough for Mr H but pretty unexciting. The cold canapé was a plain slice of cucumber topped with a rocher of salmon and dill mousse, offset by a thin slice of radish. Again, a classic flavour combination that was pleasant enough but, for me, lacked refinement. Everything was fine but nothing really whetted the appetite.
And what about the bread? The plain white and brown dinner rolls, served on crisp white linen, were warm and moreish (and necessary because the portions sizes were otherwise on the small side).
However, with fine dining it’s often the extras, like the bread and butter, that speak volumes about the level of care and attention that have gone into creating the whole dining experience. In many other fine dining establishments the pre-dinner snacks and bread are an integral part of the experience, a chance for the kitchen to set the tone for the whole meal, featuring artisan bread and hand cultured butter. Here the bread was nice enough, and gratefully received, but there was nothing special about it and I doubt the plain triangles of butter were handmade.
The Wild Mushroom Orzo with cep puree, parmesan and oyster mushroom for the starter should have been an opportunity to raise the stakes. This could have been a dish full of intense chestnutty mushroom flavor and rich parmesan luxuriance. Instead it was a pale concoction of over-cooked pasta bound together with a gloopy puree which I found unpleasant, finished with an unidentified foam which did nothing to improve the texture of the dish. The oyster mushrooms were underseasoned for my taste and the overpowering flavour was of the abundant chives.
I’m still not sure where the cep was. The best element by far was the parmesan tuile, which Mr H appropriated. Across the table his pan-seared scallops were the best dish of the evening, with a fresh lemon puree, a smattering of samphire, a squid ink mayonnaise and a very good squid ink tuile – but, as with my orzo, nothing tasted quite hot enough.
For the main course my Highland venison arrived on a black plate, three pieces of loin arranged on three sticks of salsify, a fondant potato, some dots of orange puree – I think carrot – and pomegranate seeds.
On the positive side, it looked elegant and the venison was nicely cooked with good colour on the outside and beautifully rare in the centre, but for me the dish just didn’t come together as a whole. The salsify (braised, according to the menu) was unexpectedly firm and lacked tenderness. I couldn’t taste the watercress puree, which was visually lost on the black plate, while the whole dish lacked sufficient sauce and I did not enjoy the seedy crunch of pomegranate. I was left wondering who decided it would be a good idea to include it, since the menu had led me to expect grapefruit.
Mr H’s monkfish, on a bed of haricot beans, pommes mousseline and lemon puree looked pretty but at £25 it was a small portion. The fish was possibly slightly over-cooked and the haricot beans were lukewarm. It was topped with a pale foam similar to the one which had topped the mushroom orzo, but neither of us could detect the flavour, rather the dish was overpowered by lemon and a strong taste of chives.
It’s not often that we consider skipping dessert but this was such an occasion. However we persevered, hoping that something sweet would save the day. I was left wishing we hadn’t. Ever the chocolate lover I opted for the indulgent-sounding chocolate mousse with chocolate soil, hazelnut tuille and white chocolate ice cream. And so the dessert saga began.
The first attempt arrived with raspberry ripple ice cream. On questioning this I was informed that the chocolate was indeed usually served with raspberry ripple. Since the menu had promised white chocolate ice cream I asked for this to be changed. It swiftly boomeranged back to me, the raspberry ripple having been scooped off the plate and replaced with vanilla, leaving raspberry and chocolate smears in its wake. I asked for a fresh plate. In fairness to the lovely Australian waitress, this was quickly arranged with ‘sincerest’ apologies from the chef and a deduction from our bill.
However, there was still no white chocolate ice cream to be had, since the kitchen had run out. It was also explained to me that we had been given an old menu which was yet to be updated (perhaps also explaining the pomegranate and venison?).
After all this kerfuffle, the chocolate was actually quite enjoyable although it wasn’t the mousse I had been expecting, more a rocher of smooth velvety cremeux, and the presentation lacked sophistication. The vanilla ice cream was fine, but it didn’t do much to complement the dessert and the two pieces of hazelnut tuille looked a bit bereft sticking in the top of the chocolate.
Mr H wasn’t wowed by the choice of desserts, the other options being bread and butter pudding or lemon curd with meringue, and so ordered the cheese larder. It arrived without ceremony, with the briefest of hurried descriptions from our server, meaning we had to ask her to repeat them.
The cheese selection itself was enjoyable but fairly safe: Clava brie, a Scottish blue (I didn’t catch what she said the second time and didn’t have the heart to ask a third, but it may have been Strathdon), Rebluchon and a Scottish cheddar.
The oatcakes were uninspiring, as were the admittedly generous portion of chutney and the chunky slices of apple. But worst of all was the fact that all of the cheeses were fridge cold, meaning that the flavour and texture were not as they should have been. We did order coffee but no petits fours were offered.
The service was efficient throughout, and it must be said that the new Australian waitress had a lovely warm manner and could not have been more helpful, but I have the feeling that the front of house staff had not been properly briefed on the dishes, which led to a lack of interaction about the food we were being served.
Overall what was missing in the whole experience was any sense of passion or flair, which is disappointing given the price-tag and the location.
Macdonalds Rusacks Hotel
St Andrews KY16 9JQ
t: 0344 879 9136