IN WITH THE INN CROWD
The Mystery Diner heads to The Drovers Inn, a stylish countryside inn and restaurant near Glamis Castle
The mystery diner finds the Drovers Inn is right up his street
I’ve been meaning to go to The Drovers Inn for so long that it has changed hands twice since I first stuck my head around the corner when passing eight years ago. Back then I was struck by its clean, crisp, contemporary design inside which contrasted nicely with the traditional, couthie exterior. When I started asking around and heard relentlessly excellent reports – the owner at the time was a fanatical foodie – I made a mental note to return to this sleepy corner of Angus as soon as possible. That it took so long has turned out to be something of a pity because The Drover’s Inn is, as I suspected, right up my street. This Michelin Guide inn, which changed hands again in April this year, has been added to the depressingly small (but thankfully fast expanding) list of relaxed country culinary destinations worth travelling to for a leisurely Sunday lunch or quiet midweek dinner. The first tick is the layout of the place. A lot of thought, money and effort has been spent on getting it just right: it is spacious but not cavernous; modern but not clinical; upscale but not daunting. Highland cow horns adorn the walls and huge picture windows give you a wonderful view out over the gardens. The whole thing just feels welljudged (except for the horrible painting of – we think – an eagle). But we were here for the food, and our first sight of the menu made us sit up and take notice. The first thing that struck me was that it was incredibly good value, with all of the starters coming in at £6.50, with several main courses – such as the curry, venison and stilton burger, or camembert, fig and chestnut strudel – costing less than a tenner. Indeed, with the exception of the steaks, all mains were under £20. To add even more cheer, a bottle of the (very quaffable) house wine was just £16. The second thing was the sheer size of the menu, which by the time we factored in the specials and light-bites contained ten starters and fifteen main courses. This is often a bad sign, but we were willing to be persuaded otherwise. On the plus side, there seemed to be something for every taste, even for the vegetarian student who had stowed away on the back seat of my car hoping for a free meal. I could have happily eaten virtually every one of the starters, but plumped for the pan-seared partridge breast with Stornoway black pudding, beetroot, tarragon crème fraîche, roasted hazelnuts and crispy pancetta, which combined
outstandingly. So, too, did the ingredients of an Arbroath smokie tartlet which contained crème fraîche and leek, and which was topped with a soft-poached hen’s egg and wholegrain mustard sauce. Even the veggie ligger announced herself more than satisfied with a gloriously gooey oven-baked camembert cooked with honey, walnuts and rosemary. So far so tasty, and our main courses were pretty damned good too. I chose the pan-roasted saddle of venison, which turned out to be four chunky disks of thick-cut meat that had spent longer in the pan than I’d normally like, but which were succulent enough. The truffled mash was a little overly smooth too, although like the venison that was a question of taste. One of my great bugbears, however, is when there is not enough sauce, and on this front the dish definitely fell well short. The other main course was liver, served with a beautifully thick onion gravy, mash and broccoli. Liver done badly is a horror show; this, on the other hand, was perfect and drew appreciative oohs and aahs from across the table. Student girl didn’t know quite what to make of her aubergine and courgette moussaka, which was advertised as coming with a quinoa and pomegranate salad, apple tzatziki and toasted pitta bread. The description of the accompaniments turned out to be spot-on, but the moussaka itself was essentially a thick layer of cheese (‘I love cheese so much,’ declared the veggie sage, ‘because it’s almost like the savoury world’s answer to chocolate’) with some courgette and tomato, all of which sat on a thick layer of quinoa. In other words, there was far too much quinoa. Following three faultless starters, then a main course scorecard that read ‘one fail, one good-but-could-do-better, one undoubted success’, this meal was turning out to be a qualified success. Pudding was a welcome return to form, with the biggest issue proving to be what to eat from a long list of puddings when I could happily have eaten them all. For the first time ever, I sidestepped my beloved clootie dumpling and instead plumped for the toffee pavlova with lightly poached slices of braeburn apple, all of which was lathered in toffee sauce. It was as sickly as it was good. Our other pudding was a rather swanky version of cranachan, which came in an outsized cocktail glass but which hit the spot beautifully. Despite a couple of minor grumbles over the mains, the cranachan was a fitting metaphor for our meal: it looked good, tasted wonderful, and had us wanting to come back for more. This was quality comfort food in a relaxed and sensibly priced environment – few things are assured, but one is that it won’t be another eight years before I’m back.