Our Trip to the Cairngorms - Auld Alliance Hotel Restaurant BlogWritten by Lori McFarlane
As it turns out, Kingussie is full of culinary surprises. In a little village boasting a green grocer, a couple of chippies and a Cantonese takeaway, we certainly did not expect to find the amazing restaurants that are tucked neatly along the side streets off the main road. The Auld Alliance, a French ‘restaurant and rooms’ establishment which incorporates Scottish ingredients and influence into its French cuisine, is - dare I say it – one of the best places I have ever eaten. There. I’ve said it, and I don’t take it back.
Before I begin lauding the fantastic food, two things ought to be kept in mind. First, it is not a restaurant (or rooms) for young families with children under the age of twelve. Second, it is rather dear, so expect to pay higher prices than you would in an ordinary restaurant. However this is no ordinary restaurant which I explain in further detail below, and it is well worth the money.
When we arrived, we were taken to a dimly lit sitting room with a warm, blazing wood fire and large cosy armchairs and sofas. The building was a youth hostel for fifty years, but you’d never know it by how expertly it’s been renovated. Lydie, a charming, affable French woman, and the owner and imagination behind the Auld Alliance, has exquisitely decorated every room of the house, with each piece, right down to the candlesticks on the piano, chosen carefully and tastefully. As a bit of an aside, Lydie was a food stylist on the Monarch of the Glen TV series for 7 years, which meant that she did all the food for the screen and advised with setting up all of the Kitchen scenes.
We started out with drinks in the sitting room and a little plate of chorizo and olives to nibble. The waitress, Sandra, who has been there for fourteen years, was a delight to converse with, very friendly and fun, as she showed me around the sitting room – and later the bedrooms too, each decorated uniquely and marvellously – and chatted to us and the other patrons about gins and whiskys, and families and children.
Following our drinks, we were seated in the lovely dining room, where we were served a basket of fresh breads while we awaited our first of four courses on the set menu. Lydie offers bread making classes in the Auld Alliance, and these freshly made multi-grain, sundried tomato and rustic white breads were delicious. S. had to stop me from filling up on the breads before the food even came out!
Our first course, the Amuse Bouche, like all of the subsequent courses, was light, unusual, tasty and beautifully presented. For the uninitiated, an Amuse Bouche is something like tiny appetiser or an hors d’œuvre which is offered at the beginning of the meal to acquaint one’s palette with what is to come and to showcase the chef’s artistry and style. Literally it means ‘mouth amuser’, and the ‘Butternut squash veloute with a hint of garlicky Tapenade’ was definitely that. It was a perfect starter and indeed piqued our interest regarding what was next.
The Appetiser followed, which was a ‘Hot and cold locally smoked salmon rillettes on wilted spinach tossed in a lime vinaigrette’. (I’m not going to lie here: I had no idea what a ‘rillette’ was.) I couldn’t call myself much of a seafood lover, but these rillettes were excellent, not too fishy and nicely set off by the lime vinaigrette; it was so different from anything I’d ever had, seafood-wise, before. I’m afraid I finished them off before remembering to take a photo, and so did S.
The Main Course was ‘Duck breast served in a Highland honey & Rosemary jus accompanied by a sweet potato galette & shredded cabbage’. (I had no idea what a ‘galette’ was either.) The first two courses were very light, so I wasn’t feeling full yet, but when the main came out, I worried that I’d not be able to finish it, as there was a lot of duck, or so it seemed. But like everything else, it was delectably light and tender, and the sweet potato and cabbage complimented the duck perfectly. Whatever a galette is, it was delicious, and I cleared my plate, satisfied yet not too full to look forward to the final course – the sweet course, my favourite.
There was an option of a cheese platter to finish or a ‘Pudding duo: Dark and white chocolate cheesecake served alongside an iced citrus curd and raspberry coulis’. No question there, I was going for the cheesecake! Sandra explained that it wasn’t exactly a cheesecake, but there was no other way to describe it. Intrigued, I was determined to describe it for her when I tasted it, but she was right. It wasn’t exactly a cheesecake, but it wasn’t a torte or a tart either. However, it was certainly very tasty, rich and sweet. The accompanying citrus curd was a surprising contrast to the cheesecake, cutting the sweetness yet delicious on its own too. By the time we’d completed all four courses, we were most pleasantly satisfied yet not over-full. It was – dare I say it – just right.
Our evening at the Auld Alliance was truly what one would call a dining ‘experience’. We did not merely eat – we experienced our food. Unique flavours blending, complimenting and contrasting with one another, perfectly selected wine, each item light and delicate yet filling, paired with the elegant yet welcoming atmosphere, and the pleasant, amiable staff all make this special experience one we will not soon forget – and one well worth the money and the visit to Kingussie.
(They do weddings and cater for actors birthdays, leaving party dinners etc too)
For more information on the Auld Alliance, please click HERE!
For more pictures, please see our Tumblr Page!
Lori is an American living in Scotland with her husband, three children and pet rabbit. She enjoys crafting, reading and of course, travelling. She blogs at Lunch Is Boring, among other places, and has written a book of poetry about life in both America and Scotland.Website: www.lunchisboring.blogspot.com