Deep, dark and mysterious, there’s something inherently fascinating about caves.
So to discover that there’s a culinary cave in the heart of rural Aberdeenshire, not filled with seawater but overflowing with whisky and a bountiful supply of hearty cuisine, was intriguing to say the least.
The enigmatic eatery in question: 1236 At The Cave Bar at the renowned Meldrum House Country Hotel and Golf Course.
Casually dropping my dining destination into conversation at work, the overly enthusiastic reaction from my colleagues told me that Meldrum House is a bit of an Aberdeenshire institution when it comes to haute hospitality.
So on a sunny Saturday night me and the other half donned our best dining attire – elasticated waistbands – and made the picturesque 45 minute drive from Aberdeen to Oldmeldrum to see what all the fuss was about.
1236 At The Cave Bar: The venue
Like something straight out of a Jane Austin novel, the resplendent rhododendron lined drive up to the mansion house, past the world class golf course, makes for quite the first impression.
But it’s the 13th century baronial mansion house complete with fairytale turrets, spires and a grand external staircase, that really sets an otherworldly tone.
Brimming with romance and charm, the stylish wedding guests mingling in the glorious grounds outside only added to the sense of occasion.
After drinking in the breathtaking scenery and the exterior beauty of the regal 800-year-old mansion house, we made our way inside the historic Cave Bar, the oldest part of the building.
Originally the estate’s larder and cold store with hooks for hanging meat still visible, stepping inside was like stepping back in time to 1236, the year Meldrum House was built.
From wall-to-wall exposed granite and gold gilt frames with ancient portraits to the hanging hunting gun, subtle splashes of tartan and over 120 whiskies on offer, everything about the Cave Bar evokes that lavish laird lifestyle.
Impeccably polite and friendly, our lovely server couldn’t have been more welcoming as he showed us to our table, an intimate low corner booth type affair.
The food at the 1236 At The Cave Bar
Drinks orders swiftly taken – a crisp South African Rhebokskloof Chenin Blanc for both me and the other half – we relaxed and soaked up our surroundings.
Despite the white glove service, the atmosphere was cosy and casual with gastro pub vibes.
Described as social informal plate dining, the menu features five wee plates, six big plates, steaks, sides and award-winning sweet treats.
After intense deliberation, we choose to share three wee plates to start.
First up was a nod to the Bard, effectively a mini yet mighty plate of haggis, neeps and tatties with whisky sauce.
Like a big warm Scottish hug on a plate, the warming peppery haggis worked beautifully with the buttery neeps and creamy tatties.
The only complaint was that the wee plate was a bit wee for us greedy foodies who demolished it in mere seconds.
Hardly coming up for air, we dived into our second starter, the Buckie smokie.
Delicate yet meaty, the blush pink salmon was cooked to perfection with the lemon and caper dressing bringing some zing to proceedings while the pancake like potato blinis were wonderfully light and fluffy.
Equally impressive was the succulent chicken satay sticks brimming with that trademark creamy peanut butter flavour balanced by the sharpness of the soused and tangy cucumber and sesame.
Hearty haunches of venison
Clean plates all round, we sat back and chewed the fat before our mains arrived.
Taking on the appearance of a round cottage pie, my velvety venison haunch, topped with piped mash and served with baby vegetables was an alluring prospect.
Juicy and tender, the chunks of venison were succulent and drenched in the tastiest meaty gravy.
Quickly devouring the hearty haunches of venison, I used the remaining gravy to soak up the silky smooth and creamy potato.
Across the table, short work was being made of the seatrout.
Flaking off the fork, the seatrout was fresh, tender and had a slight nut like taste with sweet and spices cutting through from the honey and chilli sesame and miso broth.
Complementing the dish was the beautifully cooked baby potatoes and wilted greens.
Between us we also shared some parmesan and truffle fries.
With that distinctive mushroom like truffle flavour, the sauce was simply devine but the fries were a tad overcooked for our liking.
The Queen of puddings
Thankful for my stretchy waist band, I found an extra room for dessert.
Dessert at the Cave Bar is a serious business as pastry chef Alanna McCarthy won a string of awards at the 2022 Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg.
Spoons soon clashed as we opted to share Alanna’s award-winning green apple bavarois.
With its intricate honeycomb shaped shortbread like topping sitting above a honey sponge alongside a blackberry glaze, apple mousse and pear sorbet, it’s easy to see why Alanna is referred to as the Queen of Puddings.
It was so good that we instantly regretted sharing as we fought over every last delicious morsel.
Posh pub grub with a healthy dollop of charm, character and superb staff, 1236 At The Cave Bar is a regal yet relaxed affair when it comes to dining.
Although on the pricier side, every penny is worth it as you’re not only forking out for excellent food and wonderful service it’s also an immersive historical experience that will leave you feeling rather nostalgic.
Address: Meldrum House Hotel, Oldmeldrum, Inverurie AB51 0AE
T: 01651 872294
Price: £121.50 for three glasses of wine, three small plates, two big plates, two sides and one dessert.