Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Best of Buchan at Saplinbrae Hotel and Rora Dairy

Dinner, Bed and Breakfast at Saplinbrae Hotel and Lodges, Mintlaw. A country house hotel located in Aberdeenshire's Buchan heartland. Relaxed all day everyday dining with contemporary takes on traditional foods and a passion for provenance and local sourcing.





My husband aka Foodie Loon is from Buchan. St Fergus to be precise. So when we recently paid a visit for Fraserburgh Super Saturdays, Kinnaird Head Lighthouse and Glamping in a High Seas Hobbit he was very much back on his home turf. Whilst his farming and family roots are in Buchan, mine are in The Black Isle. As such I was delighted that on the same trip we were also invited for Dinner, Bed and Breakfast at Saplinbrae Hotel, near Mintlaw which for the last 18 months has been owned by a fellow Black Isler, Joanna Gall and her husband Noel. We'd been told that we were staying in one of their wooden self catering lodges but upon arrival we'd been upgraded to The Old Shooting Lodge, a fantastic historic property with three double and one twin en-suite bedrooms plus a gorgeous well equipped kitchen and three public rooms. For a full tour take a look at my Facebook Live video. Lots of lovely touches throughout with my own particular favourites being the Tunnock's Teacakes and the upcycled Rock Rose Gin bottles. 




After exploring the shooting lodge and arguing over bedrooms - the kids not me - I opted for the master bedroom with the awesome rolltop bath. We headed back to the hotel and into the cosy snug bar for a pre-dinner drink with Joanna and her sister Ailsa where a great choice of Scottish beers and spirits were on offer. I went for a Harris Gin and of course it just had to be matched with the local Walter Gregor's Tonic Water for a perfect serve. Saplinbrae is rightly proud of their relationship with and use of local suppliers and highlights them on their menu which includes Netherton Farm Shop, Farmlay Ythan Bakery, Ugie Salmon, The Store at Foveran, Ewan Morrice Butcher, Buchan Fish, Prime Seafoods, Methlick Salad Leaves, Rora Dairy, Springwood Wagyu, Mitchells (Inverurie) and Grahams Dairy. Joanna explained the ethos behind their offering - good food, drink, provenance, comfort, charm and service with a smile. We experienced all of this and more during our stay. Jo has definitely brought some highland hospitality with her to Buchan. 


We headed through to the busy dining room for dinner and perused the menu. I could quite happily have gone for pretty much anything on it. The boys went for a starter of poached Strichen egg, black pudding, rosti potatoes (£6), girl opted for lentil soup (£4) (almost as good as Grannys - high praise indeed) and I went for Seared seabass and langoustine, cucumber lime gel, burnt orange syrup (£8). The poached egg looked amazing and I hoped that it may also feature on the breakfast menu. My seabass was delicious and perfectly cooked with crispy skin although the cheffy touches of  gel and syrup had melted into a multicoloured puddle on the warm plate. 



When it came to the main event I had to stay local to my own roots and went for Belmaduthy lamb loin, minted herb crumb crushed potatoes, spring greens (£19). (Belmaduthy is Joanna's family farm in The Black Isle) Boy joined me with lamb, Girl went for the Chicken breast, cajan spiced crumb, pan fried vegetables and sweet potato mash. Suffice to say none of her vegetables actually got eaten... Our lamb was beautifully pink, tender and flavoursome however when Foodie Loon's dish arrived I was instantly jealous. He'd gone for the 10oz dry aged Aberdeenshire ribeye ( my favourite cut!) onion rings, wild mushrooms handcut chips, cherry vine tomatoes, peppercorn sauce (£25). It looked absolutely amazing! The pièce de résistance which hadn't even been mentioned on the menu was a deep fried soft boiled egg. To give him his due he did let me have a quarter of the egg, a couple of the chips (amazing dunked in the sauce!) and a mouthful of steak. To accompany we enjoyed a bottle of the house red which was a cheeky little number from a carefully compiled and reasonably priced wine list.



Somehow there is always room for dessert. The kids had chosen theirs almost as soon as we sat down. Warm chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce salted caramel ice cream (£6). The brownie was huge and perfectly squishy in the middle yet crunchy on top. I would usually go for the cheese but was swayed by Rhubarb and custard cheesecake, poached rhubarb (£6). I am rather partial to a dessert wine so went for the Pedro Ximénez, San Emilio, Solera Familiar, Andalucia as the menu said it's 'characteristic date and fig notes marry well with the cheesecake'. Perfect contrasts of sharp and sweet to round off a wonderful meal. It was up to Foodie Loon to take on for the team and order the Scottish cheeseboard. House chutney, oatcakes Smoked Applewood cheddar, Clava brie, Blue Murder (£8). Of course this required the classic pairing of a Ruby Port to wash it down. 


Top tip for all restaurants out there, if you offer a desert wine pairing 99 times out of 100 I can have my arm twisted to partake (the other 1% I'll be driving!). After fantastic food and friendly, knowledgeable service we returned to the snug for a nightcap (more Harris Gin and Walter Gregor Tonic) before heading back to The Old Shooting Lodge where a bubble bath had to be taken before retiring for the night (gorgeous complimentary Ness toiletries). Comfy beds and peaceful surroundings made for a good nights sleep, if a rather warm one as the thermostats must have been set a wee bit too high. 


Girl preferred a long lie to a hotel breakfast so only three of us headed to sample the full Buchan Breakfast. I was sorely tempted by Sandend smoked haddock, poached egg, black pudding but we all opted for the full Scottish. However I did also have to go for the Yoghurt, granola, summer berries with Rora Dairy Yoghurt as we'd organised to visit them later on during the weekend so I thought I'd better taste their offering in advance. I'd spotted Rora Dairy on Twitter only a couple of weeks previously and had got in touch with them to find out if they were really the Rora near Mintlaw - yes! And the same Middleton of Rora Dairy where Foodie Loon worked during the summer holidays as a teenager. Yes again! The yoghurt was deliciously smooth and creamy - more about the dairy to follow. Our hearty breakfast most definitely set us up for the day, in particular the awesome tattie scone. Time was ticking by so we returned to The Old Shooting Lodge and packed up or bags to head off for the rest of our adventures at Fraserburgh Super Saturdays, Glamping at High Seas Hobbit and visiting Kinnaird Head Lighthouse and Museum.


On our way home from Fraseburgh we dropped in to visit Middleton of Rora Dairy and find out a wee bit more about their 'Simple Pure Scottish' yoghurt. Whilst the dairy farm owned by Bruce and Jane Mackie has been in operation since 1966 it's only in the past few weeks that yoghurt has gone into production. The diversification came about in an attempt to minimise the effects of the closure of Muller's Aberdeen processing plant which has forced dairy farmers in the area to pay to have their milk taken to the central belt for processing. Currently yoghurt is made once a week with 500 litres of milk and a natural flavour. However there is scope for increased capacity and plans are afoot for fruit and honey flavours to launch soon. You can find a list of local stockists on their website.


We headed out to the dairy shed to meet the 240 Holstein Friesian cows who produce over 2 million litres of milk annually. The impressive set up contains four robotic milking machines where the cows patiently line up and wait their turn to be milked. It is a bright, calm and quiet environment with direct access to the fields outside. The robotics continue with a sweeper robot who pushes the silage towards the cows, lasers that scan the udder and a tag round each cows neck which reports everything about her and her milk to a computer in the office. Suffice to say the set up has changed drastically since Foodie Loon had a summer job there in the 1980's! As a farmer's daughter it was absolutely fascinating to see modern agriculture in practice.


It was great to go full circle and finish up or trip to Buchan by seeing where our breakfast yoghurt at Saplinbrae had come from. Literally just 3 miles down the road, farm to spoon. Unfortunately we didn't manage to squeeze in everything that we wanted to on our flying visit and must return to check out their Cafe at Aden Park, walk around Pitfour Lake and bag some tantalisingly close Geocaches. I was also delighted to discover that Saplinbrae serves a traditional High Tea (4.30-6pm, Monday-Friday). Not so delighted to discover that I'd missed out on their apparently famous cocktails. Why did no one mention Cammy's Cocktails whilst we were there?! Yup a return visit is definitely on the cards.

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www.foodiequine.co.uk Dinner, Bed and Breakfast at Saplinbrae Hotel and Lodges, Mintlaw. A Scottish country house hotel located in Aberdeenshire's Buchan heartland. Relaxed all day everyday dining  with contemporary takes on traditional foods and a passion for provenance and local sourcing.

Disclosure: We stayed, ate and drank as guests of Saplinbrae Hotel and Lodges. As always, all views expressed are my own.

11 comments :

  1. Those eggs look perfect with the runny yolk. I also want to get straight in tonthah bath tub.

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    1. I have no idea how they made them but they were absolutely amazing! My husband was lucky I didn't steal more.
      The bath was awesome.

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  2. It seems that a trip would be worth it just to try that yoghurt. That and the famous cocktails of course.

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    1. The yoghurt was so smooth and creamy and had such an amazing flavour for being 'natural yoghurt'. My kids loved it too.

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  3. This looks like a brilliant, kid-friendly holiday and the food is lush. If only it was a bit closer!

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  4. That Scottish tonic water looks interesting - it baffles me why some people buy cheap tonic for their gin - it makes such a difference and the cheap version can ruin a drink.

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  5. Oh my. I'm with you the rib eye would have been my choice. I love a soft-boiled egg, but I've never had one deep-fried before. Now, it's on my food bucket list. I might just have to Ryanair over to Scotland and do this exact trip. My mouth is a-watering.

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  6. That looks like a wonderful place to stay. The food looks fab too, I can't resist a smoked fish for breakfast. GG

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  7. That sounded like a real treat. A home from home in the lodge and great food that you didn't have to make! Oh and then there is the gin, which seemed to feature prominently! I love the yogurt story, how great that a local diary has taken over when the multi-national pulled out.

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  8. Gin and Tunnock's tea cakes? They must have known you were coming. Not good news about the milk, but I hope they make a success of their yoghurt.

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  9. This sounds like a heavenly stay (bar the kids arguing over rooms...)

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