In the valley of the eagles

As the sun sets over the rolling Perthshire countryside, I settle in to explore the menus at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at the Gleneagles hotel in Perthshire, Scotland. The menus – there are three – perfectly reflect that view outside, possibly more so than most other restaurants in the entire British Isles. You see, Andrew’s restaurant echoes of Scotland. The great and the glorious, from game to shellfish, fresh herbs to wild strawberries – this is as good as it gets for any chef. “We’re very lucky in that we’re an hour from the coast, we’re surrounded by farms and my brother is a shepherd, so he supplies all of our lamb on the menu. I have a very good network of small farmers and suppliers and I know all of them personally,” says Andrew, Scotland’s only two-Michelin-starred chef.

Few chefs can boast the relationship that Andrew enjoys with his suppliers. His scallops, for example, arguably the best in the world, are provided by Guy Grieve from the Isle of Ulva, near Mull. The scallops regularly feature on the menu, served with slow-cooked pork and creamed parsnips or roasted, served with a pickled beetroot, the latter adding a modern twist to a classic dish.

The smoked-lobster dish is another highlight. Sourced from Scrabster, on the very northern tip of Scotland, the shell is smoked over oak shavings from Islay whisky casks for five hours at the restaurant. The lobster meat is then returned to the shell before lightly roasting. To finish, the dish is topped with a lime butter sauce, adding a zesty flavour to the smokiness of the lobster.

There’s real substance and elegance to Andrew’s cooking. The rich quality of the home-smoked lobster blends seamlessly among other dishes, such as the light and fresh crab and salmon mi-cuit dish. This dish in particular relies upon sustainably sourced seafood and shellfish. And while Scotland’s produce is among the best in the world, one area Andrew is concerned about is the country’s wild salmon population. “Farmed salmon are escaping and breeding with wild salmon and diluting the quality,” Andrew explains.

From Australia to the Middle East, the world’s insatiable appetite for Scottish salmon means a growing number of salmon farms in Scotland, with damaging affects on the wild salmon population. It also puts wild salmon (and sea trout) more at risk of sea lice, which are rife among farmed salmon.

When you’ve held two Michelin stars for eight years and regularly welcome guests who have travelled far and wide to experience your cuisine, every last detail, from the source and quality of the produce to the presentation of the dish is equally important. Andrew, who has operated his restaurant at Gleneagles hotel for 12 years now, far from getting complacent, is working harder than ever.

Spurred by the 2013 arrival of a Victorian walled garden, just two miles from the restaurant, things are hotting up and the kitchen is going in a new direction – bridging its classical French roots with a more contemporary culinary output.

It took Andrew many years to find the perfect growing ground, but his patience is now paying off, with the 2.3-acre garden bringing about a turning point in his career. Andrew says: “The dishes I was producing 10 years ago from the ones we’re producing now are very different. This is how my own cooking has evolved. It was much more French classical [back then], whereas now I’m not afraid to use more vegetables.”

Thanks to the garden, fresh vegetables are flowing through the door and the quantity will only increase as the garden grows. The garden is currently responsible for growing many varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and edible flowers. In the space of 18 months, Andrew and the garden team – headed up by Jo Campbell – have transformed what was formally an overgrown and underused space, and it is now full of life.

“I look at my menu in a completely different light now,” Andrew says, as he reflects on the difference the garden has made. “I’m so much more aware of what we can grow and you really appreciate the labour of what goes into preparing an ingredient before it even reaches the kitchen.”

Restaurant Andrew Fairlie’s three menus; an a la carte, degustation and the du Marché, provide Andrew and his team the opportunity to showcase many of Scotland’s finest ingredients and produce – not to mention the chefs’ culinary skills, which feature prominently in many of the dishes.

The du Marché menu in particular allows Andrew the freedom to change according to what is available ‘at market’. “For example, we have asparagus available to us for five or six weeks of the year, then that’s it. When the season is over, it’s over and we move on.”

That’s not to say Andrew isn’t keen to focus his attention on just one menu. “I’d love to focus on just a tasting [menu]. That’s a big luxury, but we have to give guests what they want and that means the option to go a la carte or for the full tasting.”

Guests visit Gleneagles from all over the world for golf (Gleneagles hosted this year’s Ryder Cup) and gourmet food. On one particular Thursday evening during the summer, I dined alongside parties of American, Russian and Chinese groups. One luxury Andrew can be sure to benefit from is being attached to the prestigious Gleneagles hotel. With 236 bedrooms and 26 suites, many of Andrew’s guests also stay at the hotel, with loyal locals making up the rest of the trade. “Business is generally good,” Andrew says. “Things would be different if we were based somewhere else, without the comfort of such a five star hotel, that has an amazing spa, world-class golf course, boutiques and in such a beautiful part of the world – of course, this helps with business at the restaurant.”

The restaurant is closed at lunchtime, opening from 6.30pm Monday to Saturdays, allowing staff a well-earned day of rest and the luxury of taking their time to perfect and prepare dishes ready for evening service during the day.

Thoughtfully selected artwork hangs from the deep hued, windowless walls of the restaurant, with large cream pillars and deeply intricate cornicing adding grandeur to the space. And (thankfully) there’s not a smidgen of tartan in sight. The approach Andrew has taken to the décor mirrors that of the cuisine and his own character. “The restaurant was designed to reflect my own personality – relaxed, not intimidating. But at the same time, the restaurant had to be stylish. It’s a place where we really wanted to take my cooking as far as I could – with total control over service and the food, and I feel that we’ve done and [continue to] do that.”

While many chefs release their first cookbook before they even reach their peak as a chef, Andrew hit 50 last year, but hasn’t yet felt the need to do a book. Although it could soon be on the cards, Andrew is not interested in doing a book for the sake of doing a book. It will be done in his time, on his terms, with quality – not quantity – the focus.

“My brother is a shepherd, so he supplies all of our lamb on the menu.”