Restaurant review By Joanna Blythman – 5 Jun 2011
Setting up a good restaurant and winning plaudits is one thing, keeping up that standard is another entirely.
The more gongs you garner on your way to the top, the more people expect of you. Imagine how great it must feel initially to make it into the restaurant guides, or experience the subsequent thrill of being awarded a Michelin star. But in many ways, that’s when the real work starts. Diners’ expectations are sky high. There’s a whole squad of hanging judges out there on the internet poised to write toxic, ignoramus “reviews” – “this place is overpriced and overrated” and so on. And that’s just the genuine “reviewers”, not jealous competitors, pretending to be legit, who snipe at others instead of addressing their own lack of success. Meanwhile the guide inspectors are on the look-out for “dinosaur” establishments to drop from their listings to accommodate the rising stars.
External pressures apart, running a restaurant is relentless and it’s hard to get a break. The minute you turn your back, there are lots of things to go wrong, so constant vigilance and attention to detail is a must. Through all this, you have to make sure that your cooking doesn’t go stale. Put it this way, it takes a very special sort of person to rise to this challenge.
I reckon that Keith and Nicola Braidwood must fit into this category. As long ago as the early 1990s, their cooking was beginning to turn heads. By 2000, they had won a Michelin star for their eponymous Ayrshire restaurant and, over a decade later, absolutely no sign of tiredness or routine has crept into what they do. The food is fabulous at Braidwoods, and there must be some age-defying Factor X in the Ayrshire air or water, because the pair of them still look like fit, young things.
A critical word is not justified. Rerunning our meal in my head, it was faultless. OK, I would have preferred to have some other sort of ice cream other than cinnamon with the Valrhona chocolate tart – cinnamon is potentially overbearing, and really all you want with a tart of such textural and taste perfection is a mellow foil that puts up no opposition – but that’s a style preference.
The parmesan tart is a queen among quiches with its short, friable crust
The keenly priced lunch menu (£23/£26) is no cheapskate gesture. Many of the evening a la carte dishes feature, such as Braidwoods’ excellent parmesan tart. This is a queen among quiches with its short, friable crust, the featherlight custard lent extraordinary length of flavour by the parmesan, and enlivened by a sweet, intense red pepper purée.
You could tell that the dainty, deboned, succulent confit duck leg that came in a salad with roasted beetroot and good leaves had been preserved on the premises, not trucked from France.
Anyone who thinks they don’t like rabbit needs to visit Braidwoods. I have never eaten rabbit so juicy and tender. The “farce” or stuffing seemed to involve mushrooms and tarragon. A wrapping of cured ham added the necessary emollient fat. It came with Puy lentils that were bound in the most glorious, natural-tasting gravy, and a heavenly gratin Dauphinois.
Reducing cooking times to an absolute minimum seems to be a hallmark here, hence the luscious, roasted wild halibut, which fell away in pearly flakes. A generous portion of this pricey fish, it came with crisp-fried, waxy Jersey Royal potatoes, melt-in-the-mouth braised fennel, a full helping of shelled and peeled broad beans and asparagus. This ensemble was anointed by a gentle langoustine essence – all in all, a glorious celebration of the season.
A dessert of honeycomb parfait illustrates another skill: balance. Tayberries, bathed in an extraordinarily perfumed coulis, cut the rich, sweet, fragrant heather honey parfait, while the dark caramelised nuggets of honeycomb added an invigorating, almost bitter contrast.
The food at Braidwoods is served with civility and the table is nicely set, but there’s none of that “your lucky to be eating here” conceit that you’ll encounter in many top restaurants. A further civilised delight is Braidwoods’ interesting wine, which includes a decent selection of special half bottles. A further generous gesture: coffee and chocolates are thrown in.
Good Food Guide “Scottish Restaurant of the Year” 2002
In October 2001 we were absolutely delighted to be named Scottish Restaurant of the Year in the new 2002 edition of the Good Food Guide. Having retained our Michelin star for a second year, and acheived the honour of being the AA’s “Best Restaurant in Scotland”, it is the icing on the cake that the other major guide to fine dining in the UK has given us this vote of confidence.
Thanks to all of our staff, suppliers and of course, customers for your continued support. We look forward to welcoming you at the Scottish Restaurant of the Year!
Macallan Taste of Scotland Award
Braidwoods received a double whammy in the Macallan Taste of Scotland awards! First we were awarded “Best Fine Dining Restaurant in a Rural Setting”, then later the same evening, we received the top award of the night for “Overall Excellence”. The judges said: “Keith and Nicola continue to offer a stunning culinary experience, ensuring guests have a memorable occasion”.
We are thrilled to announce that the Michelin Guide 2000 has awarded Braidwood’s its first “Michelin Star”. Awarded to a handful of British restaurants, this award represents a new pinnacle in our careers and we are absolutely delighted by it.
AA Restaurant of the Year 2000
Following on from Keith receiving the award as Chef of the Year from the Scottish Chefs Association we are thrilled to announce that the AA have just awarded Braidwoods their top Scottish honour:
Best Restaurant in Scotland Year 2000
The judges cited consistency as one of the main reasons for the honour, saying “Braidwoods uses fresh, well-sourced local produce with an eye to the season”.
We are extremely pleased that the AA has chosen us for the award and that our dedication to top seasonal ingredients and our concentration on quality has been recognised in this way.
Scottish Chef of the Year 1999
Members and guests of the Scottish Chefs Association gathered at the Marriot hotel Glasgow in May 1999 to hear the winners of the Scottish restaurant industry’s top awards announced.
The Scottish Chefs Association awards are decided by the 800 strong membership, as recognition of their peers. We were delighted when Keith was honoured with the top award, being voted Chef of the Year 1999 .
Amongst others, Keith follows Andrew Radford (the Atrium), Nick Nairn (Nairns) and David Wilson (the Peat Inn) as holder of the title. Reviews
The New York Times, June 2003
In a rural setting near Dalry, in a little-known corner of Scotland (at least to foreigners) wedged between Glasgow and the sea, Keith Braidwood has turned the heads of all who have eaten at Braidwoods, his simple, whitewashed restaurant, a converted “but and ben,” or two-roomed cottage. That includes the Michelin inspectors, who bestowed a star. And why not? His unctuous foie gras comes with a relish of gooseberries, made by “two little old ladies in that farmhouse over there,” as his wife, Nicola, said.
A chunk of firm, fresh local turbot was enhanced not by a butter or cream sauce but by a lobster reduction. Other dishes sang, too, notably a gamy loin of Ayrshire lamb with a filmy mushroom “essence” and a custardlike Parmesan tart. On the wine list I found a fabulous pinot noir from the minuscule Mount Edward estate in Central Otago in New Zealand. Great stuff in what The Scotsman newspaper once described as “the backyard of the back of beyond”.
The Scotsman, April 2002
I had been plucking plaudits about Braidwoods from my over-crammed lugholes for so long, I had begun to hallucinate that I had already eaten there. Braidwoods’ menu is quite short and offers three courses for £30, four for £34. “We’ll have all four,” announced my companion vehemently, as she ordered a warm mousseline of asparagus, followed by cream of red pepper soup. Of the two, it was the asparagus mousse in a delicate chervil butter sauce which unleashed her most extravagant superlatives. It tasted like the very essence of summer. She was still talking about it two days later, which allowed very little space for my own fulsome applause regarding a baked escalope of turbot on a warm potato, tomato and olive salad. Splendid timed-to-the-second fish; zesty, but gentler than nicoise salad. Seemed far too noble for a starter. But then, so was the warm tart of parmesan which followed. I had imagined this might bear the universal blight of flagging quiche: stodgy, bendy and best forgotten. But it was dazzling: a perfectly crunchy crust, sizzling hot with a rich custardy filling and a full whack of parmesan on the palate. I was in love. But fickle, because I cuddled up shamelessly to the deep pink breast of Gressingham duck with its melting confit and flattering cabbage and beetroot compote. The asparagus devotee proved similarly faithless. The roast loin of venison and its accompanying breast of squab was more tender than anything she had ever approached with a knife (though I may check with her husband), its flavour fulsome, but not too strong; the mushroom jus adding a hint of earthy darkness. She said she couldn’t eat another thing, so I ordered two puddings. A frozen prune and armagnac parfait: which was chunky, chewy and delivered an icy, booze-laced thrill to the tongue, and a hot chocolate souffle with a molten come-hither centre. I recommend that you go there, and that you go there soon.
Business AM, November 2001
In this unassuming little white-washed cottage outside the Ayrshire village of Dalry, the food is what matters, not the personalities of those who cook and serve it. Lunch at Braidwoods is exceptional value at £15 for two courses and coffee, £18 for three. The perfectly balanced menu offers a choice of three or four dishes for each course, with vegetarian options on request. The food was faultless; every dish we ordered was so good that we even discussed eating with our eyes closed to shut out distractions and enjoy the flavours to the full. Resisting the urge, which would have deprived us of the sight of Keith Braidwood’s simple but beautiful presentation, we enjoyed a truly memorable meal. I began with a whole roast boneless quail stuffed with black pudding on a bed of braised puy lentils. It was so tender that I needed only a fork to scoop up every delicious morsel. My partner’s warm parmesan tart was souffle light, a roquette salad with dots of vivid roast red pepper dressing providing a perfectly judged foil. Grilled fillet of sea bass turned out to be two meltingly soft, crisp-skinned pieces. The accompanying leek, pea and smoked salmon risotto was creamy and delicious. The peas had never been inside a deep freeze, while the salmon turned out to be delicately flavoured cooked chunks rather than the sometimes over-powering raw variety. A deep pink roast breast of widgeon with a parsnip and sage puree and a wild mushroom essence proved a gloriously robust and filling combination. I finished with a warm dark chocolate and maple tart which was fabulously bitter and light; the cinnamon ice-cream a delight. My partner opted for a luscious traditional bread and butter pudding in a sweet pool of warm caramel sauce. He was in seventh heaven. Score: 24/25
The Sunday Times, June 2001
There is only one Scottish meal I have experienced in recent weeks that would elicit and almost unqualified “I loved it!” and that was at Braidwoods Restaurant near Dalry. Expectations were high; the next morning I was due to go into hospital for an operation and wanted my condemmed man’s meal to be an exceptionally good one. Happily, it put a broader smile on my face than even the anaesthetist’s pre-med.
Braidwoods has a relaxed, cosy feel and the congratulatory cards from family and friends for a recent award added a human dimension you don’t always get in 5 star restaurants. Top of the starters list was a risotto which folded fresh peas and little sprigs of mint into the rice along with tiny spires of new-season asparagus and shavings of cheese. If that seemed too healthy, there was also a full-fat confit of duck, crisply roasted to bring joy to the soul and terror to your arteries, perched on a little stir-fry of vegetables and an aromatic Chinese sauce. A more Scottish contribution appeared in the shape of a layered terrine of oak-smoked Marbury salmon from the Solway Firth.
Second course, if you went down that route, comprised a straight choice between a warm tart, more like a light wedge of cheese pudding, flavoured with parmesan and accompanied by a rocket salad, or a fish soup which contained more species in the broth than your average Seafish Authority wall chart.
The very tender loin of red deer was plated up with shredded root vegetables and a wild mushroom gravy. Desserts were near faultless. If you had a savoury tooth there were British cheeses from Iain Mellis, otherwise there was a crunchy iced parfait with caramelised pecans on a sharp raspberry coulis, a raspberry creme brûlée with homemade cinammon ice cream or, best of all, one of those light chocolate souffle sponges which haemorrhages hot gooey chocolate sauce when attacked. Fantastic. I loved it. And they can quote me on that if they ever take out an ad.
The Sunday Times
Lunch allows views across Ayrshire and is a bargain for 3 courses and coffee. Normally I’d be hard put to stifle a yawn at chicken liver paté, but this was different: light, not over-cooked, it had absorbed the smoky flavours of its bacon wrapping. It was served with tiny slices of toasted brioche and a properly dressed salad. Among the main courses, a tenderloin of pork was sautéed then topped with a mixture of apples and blue cheese and served with a rosemary-infused sauce. For those with a sweet tooth, try the three-tiered chocolate terrine on an Amaretto sauce. This meal was so good that I thought of printing the recipes too, but why not let the Braidwood’s do it for you instead? Consumate culinary skills.
The food at Braidwoods is modern Scottish and from the outset it is treated with care and attention. Flavours are intense, reductions potent and the varying textures and colours rendered with a flourish. Wonderful, feather light puffs ladled with bacon and mushrooms and piping hot were the perfect appetisers. The starters continued the pleasure. Roasted quail had been boned and served on a sauté of cabbage with pinenuts and pink peppercorns. That dish alone could have made a fine main course. There followed a creamed red pepper soup – a very serious and tasty liquidisation. The pan-fried loin of woodland roe-deer came with savoury lentils and was delicious with its thyme-enhanced sauce. The dinner menu at Braidwoods affords choice on all courses and the price includes coffee and home-made chocolates. The wine list is a keenly priced pleasure. Indeed, a restaurant worth travelling for; and I’ll travel again.