A la carte
Starters £5.00 - £13.50
Mains £12.00 - £42.50 | Desserts £7.00 - £8.50
Cooking 8.5/10 | Service 4/5
Flavour 4.5/5 | Value 4.5/5
Rabbit. Why rabbit? A chef's special of lapin à la moutarde, perchance? Or, with this being a golf hotel, a reflection on the author's prowess on the course? No, but you're getting close. The 17th hole on the world famous Royal Troon course which the restaurant overlooks is named The Rabbit. Only 211 yards in length, but fiendishly difficult apparently. Well that's that one solved.
Twenty years ago, there would have been another problem. Scottish seaside hotels, in the main, had had their day. Standards generally, and food in particular, in as good condition as stone work which had been ravaged by a century of salt air. L remembers this place from her underage drinking days - admittedly a little more than 20 years in the past. Enter A J Capital, a US company who have are developing a portfolio of high end golf hotels under the Marine & Lawn brand. They have completely transformed St Andrews tired Rusacks Hotel, done great things at The Marine, North Berwick, and have worked their magic here.
Having made the trip to Ayr to see the lovely Blackthorn Salt people (see this week's On The Side), we decided on a stop over with a bite of dinner, and were very pleased to have done so. If you had asked me in advance about the connection between Masterchef: The Professionals and the Marine in Troon, I'd have recalled an engaging quarter finalist (Sagar Massey) who is senior sous chef here. What I had forgotten is that his boss is Derek Johnstone, who won the inaugural competition in 2008. They had both worked together at Rusacks before Derek was commissioned to set up The Rabbit.
If you have aspirations to providing serious food, a golf hotel is a tricky challenge. You know that a lot of your diners will want burgers and steaks, and to force them to eat exclusively in the more informal The Seal restaurant (named for hole one) smacks of culinary apartheid. While The Old Course Hotel in St Andrews has tried and failed, at The Rabbit Derek and his team have got it spot on. I was going to say that they are way under par. (How bizarre that that sounds negative, whereas it's every golfer's dream.)
The first thing that strikes you is how incredibly young all the staff are. If you're in a good mood, you make a mental note to forgive in advance the crassness of the service which you are anticipating. But here's the funny thing - there was none. There were smiles and charm and a level of professionalism which belied their years. Millie, who looked after us, couldn't handle the wine order on her own as she was under age. She's nervously awaiting her exam results in August, needing 4 A passes to secure her university place. Worry not, dear girl, you'll smash it. So bringing the wine fell to Boyd, a veteran aged at least 19. He'd never heard of anyone else with the first name Boyd. We pointed him in the direction of the venerable owner of Tunnock's. By coincidence, Sir Boyd's company produced the complimentary biscuits supplied in our room. There are worse role models (the man, that is, not his unspeakable teacakes).
It's not the fault of the staff if they are as unfamiliar as we were with one or two of the ingredients on the menu. Chef should have told them in advance. Then Millie would have known that a poached cacklebean egg which featured in the lovely fresh green pea and watercress soup is simply an egg from Cackleberry Farm near Cheltenham, and that the kibbled onions which accompany the chicken breast and girolles have been dehydrated.
L had the soup. For me, another two grains of Blackthorn would have elevated it from very good to superb. I was happy with a fishcake of crab and Loch Etive trout with a little shot glass of bisque on the side. A solid start. But moving on to the next culinary hole the kitchen really started to burn up the course. Salmon with sorrel and a little foam was absolutely on point, and the heritage potatoes with smoked butter were the perfect accompaniment.
I should say at this stage that prices were generally competitive for an establishment of this quality, though a couple of sides will add a tenner to the headline price. But you don't need sides with a risotto. Seasonality on a plate: asparagus and edamame beans, garnished with mizuna (Japanese greens) and gran padano. And costing, wait for it, a mere twelve quid! I may have tasted a better risotto; I just can't remember where or when.
The puds menu listed familiar items all around the eight pound mark. Salted caramel tart, sticky toffee, cranachan, chocolate mousse. We passed, but if the pastry section of the kitchen maintains the standard of the other departments, I'm certain they will all be very fine examples. Cheese is normally a pound or two dearer. Having said that, I would have raised my eyebrows at the £14 price tag had we not seen a plate going by. Enormous doesn't cover it. Add a couple of chunks of bread, and four hungry ploughmen would have lunched like lords.
Do you leave this dining room feeling satisfied? No. You depart with a very warm glow and a broad smile on your face. Remind me to invite L on my fact finding trips more often.
Sad news from St Andrews. I read that The Räv in North Street is to close. They did incredibly well to survive The Great Plague. Don't know what's happened. They close on August 13, so there's still time to sample their delights. We reviewed them in 2020. Get along in the next couple of months and give them a good send off.