HAVING recently returned to Plumber Manor, near Sturminster Newton, which has been featured in the Good Food Guide since their first entry 43 years ago, and spending a few days on Orkney, I was keen to try and visit the only Guide entry on the Island, but a friend assured me that the best place to eat was not that entry, but The Foveran, a restaurant with rooms, run by island-born chef-patron Paul Doull, overlooking Scapa Flow and the lights of Kirkwall, and after a few magical hours within their walls I am indebted to my friend and would urge anyone to include it on their list of places to visit, along with the more obvious Neolithic sites, art and craft including a good collection of 20th century greats at the Pier in Stromness and beautiful home crafted jewellery and textiles, and the dramatic rugged coastline.
From my first contact with the restaurant, via a form on their modern and sleek website, I was impressed: they replied within a day, a speed of response that some of our biggest companies would find hard to beat, advising which days they were open and when might be best to visit, and taking my booking. On arrival guests are shown to a spacious lounge area with a real fire, comfortable seating, local art on display and an ingenious carpet design, all of which set a level of ambiance that serves to relax and welcome, heightening expectation of the delights to come. Paul’s wife Helen is responsible for the clean and stylish look of the place, there are rooms here too, and based on my evening I would recommend a night or two, as the breakfast overlooking the Flow must be quite an experience.
All of the food at The Foveran is sourced locally from family-run butchers, fishmongers, distilleries, breweries, mills and dairies, prepared daily, and cooked to order. This may seem obvious, and something that people would always expect, but it is something that is not as ubiquitous as thought. Paul and his fellow chef Roddy delight in taking wonderfully fresh ingredients, reared, grown or caught within a few miles, and enhancing them without masking their flavour.
And so to the meal: to start, scallops; three, plump, juicy, locally dived for, served whole, roe-on, with a bacon crumb and a quenelle of sweet potato, probably only in a hot pan for less than a minute, they were sealed and opaque on the outside, yet sweet and soft on the inside. The salty dark red bacon crumb and the soft, orange sweet potato puree added variety to palettes of taste and also colour on the large white plate. Other choices will vary depending on availability of ingredients, but included local seafood, carpaccio of beef and a tart made with the local Grimbister cheese, all accompanied with breads baked by the chefs, including the island’s own beremeal bannocks.
For main course, the signature dish is the Foveran Fillet, an 8oz local fillet steak with a layer of sweet caramelised onions, a slice of haggis from Donaldson’s butchers and topped with a puff pastry lattice, served with a Highland Park whisky cream sauce, seasonal vegetables and either hand-cut chips or potatoes, including some roasted in oatmeal. My steak was a dream, and although I was given a steak knife, it would have easily cut with a blunt knife, it was so soft and succulent. The onions and haggis combined to add differing texture and flavour, as did the light buttery pastry lattice, and the whisky sauce was exquisite, at once tangy and sweet. The chefs showed good flexibility, producing a sauce made without cream for another diner rather than just omitting it. Other items on the menu included slow roasted belly pork, and some pleasantly interesting vegetarian options, such as a butternut, sage and pearl barley risotto and a chickpea strudel.
After two substantial courses, I could probably have done without dessert, but wanting to try the local Orkney Ices during my stay, I chose those, and included a scoop of Dark Island ale ice cream, made by chef Roddy from a local beer, and I have to say that Roddy’s ice cream was the best of the three scoops, smoother and with tiny crunchy crystals formed by the dark ale. The Dark Island ice cream was designed to accompany a chocolate fondant, and I can imagine it would serve this purpose very well. Other choices include local cheeses and a raspberry cranachan Eton mess, cleverly combining the traditional Scottish and English dishes.
As it was an Autumn evening, the views across the flow to the South were mainly a twinkling of lights in the dark distance, with the glow of Kirkwall city to the North East, and the restaurant is light and modern, with clever use of upholstery; some chairs covered in a plain fabric and some in a subtle dark tartan, but never too much to ruin the atmosphere. It was great to hear local music playing gently in the background, including the traditional sounds of the Silver Darlings of Stronsay, and contemporary folk/country singer Jo Philby, who had recommended The Foveran, and whose parents live in Shaftesbury.
The whole experience of The Foveran is magical, from friendly and speedy web contact, through the welcoming lounge to the star items of local food prepared to perfection in delightful surroundings, and I for one will be very surprised if Paul and Helen’s wonderful restaurant with rooms does not appear in the Good Food Guide very soon; indeed if not, why not?