“ Main Street, Crossmichael, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, DG7 3AU, SCOTLAND. Tel: +44 (0)1556 670 333. Fax: +44 (0)1556 670 302. Mob: +44(0)7808 214812. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org „
Chez Nico gives you the highest standards and the greatest attention to detail. So does PLUMED HORSE in S W Scotland. No mediocrity here! Michelin 1 star. Plumed Horse offers lunch from £12.95. It's a bargain. We were given a warm welcome when we arrived at this small intimate restaurant in the tiny village of Crossmichael, near Castle Douglas, in Kirkcudbrightshire, Dumfries and Galloway. The restaurant looks ultra-posh: gold framed mirrors and pictures, cheerful golden-yellow-saffron walls, dark blue carpet, white linen tablecloths, gleaming silverware, fresh flowers, high backed chairs...The decor is the work of the two owners. The first course was thick slices of local smoked salmon served with sour cream and caviare. The main course was generous portions of extremely tender and tasty entrecote of scottish beef in a red wine sauce, accompanied by a small portion of winter vegetables. The delicious breads were still hot from the oven. We paid £2 extra for a dessert of bread and butter pudding topped with a little home-made ice cream. The smooth Chardonnay cost £10.99. Everything was first rate! (And I'm a very fussy critter). The staff are enthusiastic and ambitious and want to give you a meal to equal the best you might find in France. (When did you last come across real enthusiasm in a restaurant?) They were happy to discuss the technical details of their artistry. The chef once worked in a top london kitchen (the Savoy, I think). His business partner is a veteran of the Falklands War and Lebanon. The friendly staff are professional, not snooty, and make you feel relaxed and comfortable. In a world where mediocrity is often the norm, Plumed Horse stands out as a beacon of excellence. If you're tired of oven chips, dirty plates, soggy veg, and indifferent service, book your table now. Web site www.plumed-horse.co.uk tel 01556 6 70333
**UPDATE (23 February 2001)** Just last month the Plumed Horse was awarded their first Michelin star! Although the AA hasn't upgraded their two-rosette rating (yet), the nod from Michelin acknowledges the Plumed Horse not just as one of the top restaurants in Scotland, but also as one of best in Britain. ---------------------------------------- If I had to sum up the Plumed Horse with a single statement, it would be that my wife Abi and I are now becoming regulars at a restaurant 100 miles, and three hours' drive away. In America, these distances might not seem out of the ordinary. In Britain, however, people look at you strangely if you go across town for your Chinese take-away. We don't even have a car, so we have to hire one and stay overnight at the local B&B to enjoy a proper evening out--but it is worth every last drop of effort. We've eaten at a lot of excellent restaurants, but this is the place we keep coming back to. The Plumed Horse is located in the small village of Crossmichael, about 17 miles West of Dumfries. Despite the fact that you'll have to look it up on a map, and the chances of stumbling across it by accident are minimal, booking is essential--especially at weekends. The owners Charles Kirkpatrick (chef) and Tony Borthwick (manager) have worked hard to build up a reputation for the restaurant during its first two years. So far, this effort has paid off in the form of two AA rosettes (1999), but they are hoping for more when the new AA guide is published in August. They are also fiercely chasing a Michelin star--the Oscar of the restaurant industry. "So what about the food?" I hear you cry. Well, you can expect generous portions of modern Scottish cooking with plenty of local ingredients. A pavé of Scottish beef, with roasted onions and oyster mushrooms is always on the menu, but depending on the season you will also find interesting variations on traditional lamb, veal , game and fish dishes. Vegetarian tastes are also catered for, usually with two starters and two main courses to choose from. When we were there last weekend, I started with a ballotine of duck and goose foie gras in Muscat-spiked calves foot jelly. The jelly was about as far removed from the wobbly goop you find in cheap pork pies as apples are from antelope. It was solid in name only, and I'm sure that if I'd looked at it hard enough it would have just melted away on the plate. The strong flavour of Muscat together with the creamy richness of the foie gras made a single mouthful taste like an entire meal. Charles, the Front of House Manager, suggested a glass of sweet Sauternes dessert wine to counter-balance the strength of flavour, and he was right on the nose with this recommendation. Paté will just never be the same again! On all our visits so far, I've successfully resisted the lure of the beef. Abi had it the first time we were there, and I *know* that it is extraordinary. But that would be taking the easy way out of a difficult menu choice, and I can imagine the Tony, the Chef, tut-tutting me in the kitchen for not choosing something a little more out of the ordinary. Last time I had a stunning dish of roast monkfish and serrano ham, and this time I decided to go with the fish as well: two crisp fillets of sea bass on a bed of herb and black olive couscous, with a sauté of scallops in a red pepper and butter sauce. Now, I have to admit that the thought of couscous made me a bit wary. Too many times has it been served to me with the texture and taste of badly-mixed wallpaper paste. But I put my trust in Chef's skills, and I was not disappointed. Each forkful broke apart into distinct, perfect grains in my mouth, and the stock in which it was cooked had imbued it with a deep flavour that seemed to change with every other part of the dish. I'm not sure how the sea bass was cooked, but it was slightl y browned on the outside, and moist and rich on the inside. The scallops were large and tender, and had a somewhat smoky, barbecued flavour. The red pepper and butter sauce was perhaps the best part, though: perfectly smooth, it was the essence of red pepper. Sweet, but without the fruitiness that pepper sauces are sometimes inclined towards. And there was plenty of it, too! I could dip and swirl the scallops to my heart's content, and still have enough left to mash up with the couscous. Yum. For dessert, we knew one thing for certain: if they had some left, we would be having a bottle of Tokaji with whatever we ate. Anyone who has read Philip Pullman's book "Northern Lights" may remember the prominent place a bottle of "Tokay" wine plays in the first chapter. We hadn't realised that Tokay (or Tokaji, as it is more commonly spelled--it's Hungarian) really existed until we saw it on the wine list at the Plumed Horse on our last visit. We ordered a bottle and found it to be a truly magical experience. It's an extremely sweet, golden wine, but the sweetness is off-set by a slightly bitter aftertaste and a strong aroma of burnt citrus fruits. The Plumed Horse had some of the (now rare) 1988 vintage, but you can get hold of the 1993 and 1995 varieties in some larger Sainsbury's stores. It may be fairly expensive (£15-ish for a 500ml bottle on the 1995), but if you get a chance to try it, I guarantee that it will be an unforgettable experience. Last time we had it with chocolate desserts, but this time round I had a "banana brulée": banana créme brulée, topped with a circular slice of blow-torched caramel and coconut ice-cream, and drizzled with thick, butterscotch sauce. Amazingly enough, this managed to be deeply tasty without being sickly sweet--a trick I would love to learn. And would you believe that these three courses (without wine) came to less than £30? There are cer tainly advantages to visiting restaurants outside of a large towns, and off the main tourist trails. One is that you can splash out on some very nice wine, and then stay overnight at a nearby Bed & Breakfast (we recommend the Deeside B&B, just opposite the Plumed Horse), and still end up paying less than you would for an evening out at a top Edinburgh or Glasgow restaurant. And there is no doubt in my mind that the Plumed Horse ranks with the very best in Scotland. If you want further information, check them out at www.plumed-horse.co.uk.