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Ron Mackenna: Boath House, Nairn

If you happen to be on the A96 near Nairn and Boath House flashes up at the roadside then take a turn in, if only to have a peek.

Considering the standard of cooking, the prices at Boath House are as well judged as the courses. Photograph: Steve Cox
Considering the standard of cooking, the prices at Boath House are as well judged as the courses. Photograph: Steve Cox

A perfect Georgian house set elegantly in sprawling gardens complete with a mini lake, it's stunning, though that's not why it's famous.

Crunch up that gravel drive and, yes, it is imposing, maybe even off-putting in its grandeur, but step into the hall at lunchtime and catch that log fire blazing, the relaxed way the furniture has been spread around, and it's not so frightening.

There's a whiff of baking from the Michelin-starred kitchen, a warmth in the homely layout that punctures its austerity. I ate here in that dead period just after New Year and turned out to be the only person in the elegant dining room, with its rather awkward-looking sculptures and lovely French windows overlooking the lawns.

Intimidating? Not really. I could hear gardeners working outside and occasional murmurs and whisking sounds from the kitchen through the wall but otherwise the peace was only broken by me crunching through still-warm onion and squid ink crackers. The waiter brought a bowl with scallop and caviar and crumbly white celeriac powder artfully stacked inside and poured a hot celeriac soup over it all. I took a spoonful and the caviar exploded like fishy popping candy in my mouth while the scallop was velvety and sweet against the mild celeriac backdrop.

Elegant? Yes, but not off-puttingly so. Much later, when I dropped in to see my Aunt Ishbell in Inverness and told her where I'd been for lunch she exclaimed: "Ronald, you didn't go dressed like that?"

In fact, I did. Jeans, trainers and an old jumper. Dress codes ain't what they used to be and while Boath House is silent on what to wear during the day it's "casual smart" for dinner.

Funnily enough, while I was eating a ginger cake that was fresh from the oven and oozed deliciously like a fondant as I spooned it up with freshly made (I think it was barley-flavoured) ice-cream, the owner walked into the dining room and asked if I was all right on my own.

I couldn't help notice he was wearing scruffy old jeans and carrying a bright yellow electric screwdriver which later, when I cocked my head, I was pretty sure I could hear whirring somewhere among the myriad tartan and plaid rooms of this place.

That story came in handy when I was explaining to Aunt Ish that the Michelin-starred restaurants with their fixed-price menus and constant drive to keep standards up are often the least pretentious of restaurants nowadays.

Anyway, my halibut main course arrived properly seared and with a heap of orange-coloured foam atop and sweetly succulent pork belly underneath. The orange foam was to go with a trio of carrot - pickled, poached in orange juice and dried - that was languidly placed around it and no doubt taken from Boath House's walled gardens. They all had distictinctive flavour.

Was it good? Of course. Even the plethora of mustard seeds between the fish and the pork - which looked like it might be a vinegary nightmare - turned out to be mild, gentle and quite comforting.

Of course, there's a familiarity about the food many Michelin-starred restaurants in Scotland are producing these days. I had a similar starter at The Peat Inn in Fife not so long ago. I think the envelope could be pushed much further, but when visitors are coming to try our famous produce, scallops and so on are what they expect.

As it turns out the house was so quiet and comfortable that far from being chased off when I finished I took the book I had brought and sat in the lounge in front of the fire reading and eating the chocolate macaroon they brought to finish the meal. It would have been £25 for two courses. I paid £30 for three. Bargain.

Menu

Simple Michelin-starred menu using food grown in the restaurant's walled gardens. Other ingredients are sourced locally. 5/5

Atmosphere

Log fires, fabulous country house setting without being overly stuffy. Smart but casual dress for evening; chilled for lunch. 5/5

Service

Friendly, confident and relaxed without being intrusive or stand-offish. 5/5

Price

Two-course lunch costs £24 and three courses £30. Three-course dinner costs £45; six courses for £70. Reasonable for this standard. 4/5

Food

The centre of a freshly baked ginger cake melted on to ice-cream like fondant. Celeriac soup poured on to scallops as caviar popped. 8/10

TOTAL 27/30

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