ST ANDREWS is, as any self-respecting person who has ever picked up a five iron will tell you, the home of golf.
Each year, tens of thousands travel to this quaint Fife town to pay homage to the Old Course and marvel at the thought of Old Tom Morris striding across the magnificent links in his plus-fours, mashie niblick in hand.
Off course, of course, these tourists and golfers have to be catered for.
Venues such as the famous Old Course Hotel and its newer five-star rival, the St Andrews Bay Hotel, have every need catered for down a tee. But if you don’t want modern, and understated elegance is more to your taste, a five-minute drive from the town on the quaintly titled Strathkinness Low Road brings you to Rufflets Country House Hotel.
The leafy grounds and the croquet lawn hark back to the days when golf was a game played by gentlemen and, once inside, the framed pictures of menus from bygone days and famous guests from the past set a scene which suggests that this place is a well kept secret by some of those who have plied their trade with nothing more than a few metal sticks and a bag as their tools.
Rufflets offers dining in style, even on a weekday at lunch time. Champagne can be ordered by the glass and the staff are fully conversant with the meaning of service. We arrived without a booking, but they politely assured us it wouldn’t be a problem, and in no time, we were settled with a view of the aforementioned croquet lawn.
We were casually dressed, but I suspect that if I had wandered in wearing a striped blazer, flannels and a boater no one would have batted an eyelid.
The set lunch menu offered a small, but perfectly formed, choice of starters, mains and desserts, and at £13.95 per head was well priced.
It never ceases to amaze me that restaurants of a certain standard, or those aspiring to be among the upper echelons of the dining world, fail to see the benefit in offering lunch at a rate which keeps the kitchen ticking over and may entice patrons back for dinner.
This is entirely dependent on the quality of food which, I’m pleased to say, was of a very high standard at Rufflets.
Three of the four decided that the “Full Monty” lunch was in order, while the youngest didn’t find anything to tickle his taste buds. Rather than meeting his indifference with a sigh or a shrug of the shoulders, the exceptionally helpful American lady running the restaurant asked if he would like them to make him a home-made pizza. Problem solved.
I opted for the honey-glazed pork belly with charred apple and cider jus to start, while my wife chose the smoked salmon salad and the elder of the boys the smoked chicken and ham hough terrine with Rufflets chutney and Melba toast.
The slow-roasted pork simply melted in the mouth and was the perfect standard-bearer for cheaper cuts of meat which, when cooked properly, can rival more expensive alternatives.
Little can go wrong with salmon, but it was well presented and an ideal light bite to get the meal under way, while the home-made terrine was beautifully seasoned and the chutney an absolute delight.
For mains, we had fish in tempura batter with chips and a homemade tartare sauce; chicken cordon bleu, and a Rufflets venison burger in a home-made bun with potato wedges and a sweet chilli and creme fraiche dip.
Nothing pretentious – good, honest food served up in an imaginative way. The fish and the venison burger were excellent, and the chicken, served with roast potatoes and buttered Savoy cabbage, was the only black mark on the day as it was slightly overdone.
The pizza, incidentally, was excellent.
Desserts were orange chocolate profiteroles, chocolate tart and a white chocolate bread-and-butter pudding. Each was a credit to the chef, but the bread-and-butter pudding was the standout. It was fabulous.
With a glass of unoaked Chardonnay and two soft drinks, the bill was £55.10. Now if that isn’t a bargain, even in these unprecedented credit-crunch times, then I don’t know what is.
If you want to throttle back, two courses can be had for £10.95 per person. The only issue there is deciding which stage to miss out on.
Rufflets Country House Hotel is a gem. In the ownership of the same family since 1952, this former home of a widow of a Dundee jute baron epitomises the quality which the chain hotels aspire to but, sadly, on far too many occasions, fail to reach.
Understated elegance sums it up perfectly.
Rufflets Country House Hotel, Strathkinness Low Road, St Andrews. Phone 01334 472594. www.rufflets.co.uk