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Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Eating out

57646761 0 The food at T rmachan Cafe matches the glorious setting m 42 1652261348353

Tom gets a taste of the Highlands at a Scottish cafe with serious food credentials

Food at Tàrmachan Cafe

Food at Tàrmachan Cafe ‘matches the glorious setting’

It is just off the main Ballater road, a short walk from Crathie Church, barely larger than a crofter’s hut. OK, so Cafe Tàrmachan isn’t a crumbling hovel, but rather a sleek single-storey wooden building, blending elegantly into the Cairngorm hills, designed by architects who have the office next door.

There’s a clean, modern simplicity to the place, from the “CAFE” sign font outside, to the subtly blonde wooden tables, gleaming concrete floors, and pristine white walls. You can take away the excellent Williams & Johnson coffee, as well as some serious homemade cakes and a mighty venison, apple and fennel sausage roll. The pies come from nearby Wark Farm: small, portable and heavenly. They change with the seasons, but are constant in their brilliance. Today it’s lamb and apple, encased in this unparalleled pastry with a taste of rolling hills, heather-covered moorland and a life well lived.

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If you’re going to sit down – and I highly recommend it – there’s a daily stew and soup, chalked up on the blackboard. The ingredients are mostly local, but it’s never stuck in your face. Flavor always comes first. We eat a rich lentil tomato stew, lightly spiced with harissa and sprinkled with wild garlic pesto drops. Simple, yet deeply satisfying. A bright and vibrant ginger lime coleslaw gives a cheerful crunch.

The grilled cheese sandwiches, made with their own sourdough bread, are barely able to hold molten rivers of Connage Highland, oozing with thin, crispy, browned crusts. To make things even better, there’s a subtle layer of kimchi, adding a sweet, vinegary warmth that not only tempers, but pampers, soothes and flatters all that delicious dairy excess. Oh, Great Chief of the Sandwid race! It’s the kind of dish that could send an Englishman straddling the table, a fork held triumphantly aloft, roaring ‘they may take our lives… but they will NEVER take our freedom.’ This, however, is a kind of civilized place. And they’re all out of pastel.

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Cafe Tàrmachan is owned by Caitlin Donald, who lives just down the street in Kincardine O’Neil. And her husband, Tom Checkley, from England. But they make a powerful pair. Not so much the Auld Enemy as the Blessed Union, with food to match the glorious Highland setting. If only all coffees were this good.

Around £15 per person. Cafe Tàrmachan, Crathie, Aberdeenshire; tarmachancafe.com

DRINKS: Olly’s choice of vegetarian wines

Are all wines vegetarian? Not enough. Some winemakers use animal products to clarify their wine, and current laws do not require them to list their fining agents. These days, filtering wine using options such as bentonite (clay) allows producers to label their wine as suitable for vegetarians. You can also look for “unfiltered” or “no fine” on the label. Ahead of National Vegetarian Week starting tomorrow, Majestic, Co-Op, Waitrose and M&S all have decent selections, but try my Wine of the Week from Aldi for total stealing – it’s even vegan.

Loved and Found Castelão 2019 (13.5%), £6.99, Waitrose.  A Portuguese bargain for your first barbecue, spicy and deeply succulent.

Loved and Found Castelão 2019 (13.5%), £6.99, Waitrose. A Portuguese bargain for your first barbecue, spicy and deeply succulent.

Yalumba The Y Series Sangiovese Rosé 2021 (11.5%), £8.25, thewine society.com.  Superb firm and fresh rosé.  Serve with a tuna steak for maximum impact!

Yalumba The Y Series Sangiovese Rosé 2021 (11.5%), £8.25, thewine society.com. Superb firm and fresh rosé. Serve with a tuna steak for maximum impact!

Star of Timberlay Crémant de Bordeaux (12%), £9, M&S.  This bubbly bargain is a scoop of strawberry sprinkles filled with fruity finesse.

Star of Timberlay Crémant de Bordeaux (12%), £9, M&S. This bubbly bargain is a scoop of strawberry sprinkles filled with fruity finesse.

Domaine Lombard 'Azalée' 2020 (13%), £14.95, yapp.co.uk.  A flowery red with nimble cherry nuances, irresistible for its elegant voluptuousness.

Domaine Lombard ‘Azalée’ 2020 (13%), £14.95, yapp.co.uk. A flowery red with nimble cherry nuances, irresistible for its elegant voluptuousness.

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