Twenty years ago, AA Gill and I were bumping along a Sussex farm track in the back of a Land Rover, en route to a pheasant shoot. Adrian, ever the dandy, was dressed immaculately, in checked shirt and tie, tweed jacket and breeks.
I asked him whether he ever turned his hand to that other great outdoor pursuit: golf. “No!” he answered, decisively. Why not? “Because the clothes are so dreadful.” He was never a man for a Pringle sweater or a natty pair of slacks.
Should gentlemen of either sporting persuasion wish to hone their skills, they might head to the grand old Gleneagles Hotel, an hour’s drive from Edinburgh: world famous for its three 18-hole golf courses, it is also home to a shooting school, established by motor-racing legend (and crack shot) Jackie Stewart in the 1980s.
Gratifyingly, for the gourmet who finds clay pigeons rather meagre on the sustenance front, it also boasts Scotland’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant, with chef Andrew Fairlie at the helm. Fairlie has what a wine merchant might describe as impeccable provenance: in 1984, he was the first winner of the prestigious Roux Scholarship, earning him a stage at Michel Guérard’s legendary Les Prés d’Eugénie in southwest France. Various high-profile appointments followed before Fairlie opened his Gleneagles restaurant in 2001, turning it into Scotland’s premier bastion of haute cuisine and winning a toque-ful of awards in the process.
Scotland’s larder of shellfish and game is the finest in the world, and Fairlie’s consummate skill at coaxing both into superb dishes is worth the trip alone. Poached lobster in the lightest of jellies, for instance, topped with caviar and smoothed with silky cauliflower cream; a single plump langoustine, roasted scarlet with coral powder; a similarly buxom scallop, served in its shell and dressed with a foamy, lemongrass-spiked velouté; and roast loin of Highland roe deer with smoky little game croquettes. The key to Fairlie’s cooking is restraint allowing his supreme ingredients to taste simply of themselves. As an epicurean tour of ocean, loch and glen, it could hardly have been bettered.
In contrast to the plush, dramatically lit dining room at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, the bistro chairs, burgundy bar stools and light-drenched terrace at the hotel’s newly opened Birnam Brasserie would bring a tear to a nostalgic Frenchman’s eye. The menu is similarly Francophile: I chose snails, happily bathing in garlic butter and parsley, and scattered with tiny croûtons, and bouillabaisse, featuring fish fillets, prawns, mussels, grilled fennel and saffron potatoes, all in an impeccable fish broth.
Then, to the shooting range or the golf course? Gleneagles had made up my mind for me: it was snowing, and the greens had turned white. I pulled wellies over my tweeds, tugged on my cap, and headed out. I was conspicuously unsuccessful – it is a good thing Fairlie does not rely on my marksmanship for his menu – but I think Adrian would have approved.