“Trigony itself, like the cooking, is the opposite of stuffy – dinner, bed and breakfast is a huge bargain”
By Joanna Blythman
I AM loath to review country house hotels unless someone whose judgement I very much trust recommends one. That’s a reaction to years of traipsing out to the back of beyond to sit in painfully empty, fuddy-duddy dining rooms with hideous chintzy decor, sampling isolated chefs’ renditions of show-offy dishes featured in the pages of Caterer and Hotelkeeper. I could write the menu in my sleep: beef fillet, salmon escalope, chicken breast followed by sticky toffee pudding and crème brûlée. Not only is the cooking almost invariably a sad imitation of that which it apes, it is as if these chefs are locked into some weird Groundhog Day time warp, and the whole “eat local, eat seasonal” zeitgeist has passed them by.
Down in the southwest to attend the stimulating Wigtown Book Festival, I sensed a refreshing wind blowing. Sara Guild and James Barton, who run the dynamic Ravenstone Deli (01988 500 329), in the remote location of Whithorn, had prepared a simple, but perfect, lunch. There was juicy lobster from the Cree Estuary, salad of twice-podded broad beans, home-baked breads, local cheese and a lemon tart to kill for. But scanning the menus for upscale establishments in the evening, I could not detect signs of the same food awareness. I mean, why serve up Gallia melon and orange sorbet as a starter, in Galloway, in October? Then I remembered that good reports had come my way from Trigony House Hotel, up in Dumfriesshire, just outside Thornhill. Now I realise I need to rethink my boycott because some enlightened people are moving on the whole country house concept most admirably.
The first thing that Trigony gets right is its cooking style, which is more in the mould of female cooks such as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson than a homage to male chefs such as Auguste Escoffier. The next thing that impresses is the rigour with which it pursues its sourcing policy – that the raw ingredients should be mainly local and, wherever possible, organic. All the milk at Trigony, for instance, comes from a local organic farm. This “local first” strategy makes total sense when you think that this area is awash with fine produce: shellfish from the Solway coast, bagloads of game from local shoots, flocks of salt marsh sheep and herds of the celebrated Belted Galloway cattle. Trigony fills in any horticultural gaps with its own walled garden, which largely keeps the kitchen in vegetables and greens for half the year. Last, but not least, its commitment to things home-made runs deep. Everything from bread through to ice cream is made from scratch.
After we gave our order, I spotted the chef picking something in the garden. I reckon this must have been the aniseedy tarragon that infused the crab tart. Its pastry was impeccable, and the filling had incorporated some dark crab meat, so the crustacean flavour was deliciously pronounced. The other starter was a triumph of simplicity – a faultless, puffy leek and Mull cheddar soufflé.
My only complaint about main courses is that they are voluminous. Ours featured fork-tender Galloway beef, marinated then braised in red wine and melting belly of pork with a nice natural apple and cider gravy. These come automatically with tarragon carrots, sweated leek, a creamy gratin Dauphinois and mash. We toiled to finish them, probably because we had binged on home-made bread, but also because the starters are light meals in themselves.
I was eyeing up the Italian rice pudding, only to learn that it was off, but could be substituted for by a lemon cheesecake, fresh from the oven. And my, what a delight! Still warm, curdy cheese stippled with real vanilla and cut with zingy citrus. Otherwise, a glorious, caramel-like chocolate ice which went brilliantly with an intensely chocolatey, but not at all sweet, bendy chocolate cookie, worked well with a vividly pink ice that exploded with the scent of ripe raspberries.
Trigony itself, like the cooking, is the opposite of stuffy. A shooting lodge built in the early 1800s and renovated in the 1930s, its low ceilings, and wood-burning stoves throughout lend it a cosy, slightly Arts and Crafts feel. Moreover, the food and wine are reasonably priced. Dinner, bed and breakfast is a huge bargain. A find.
Trigony House, Closeburn, Thornhill 01848 331 211 Lunch £12-25 Dinner £25-30 Food rating 9/10