I once envied communities that housed a string of top-quality eateries.
Take Banchory, for instance. I didn’t visit regularly as a youngster, but when I did it always impressed with the variety of food and drink venues.
There was – and still is – everything from fine dining establishments to humble cafes, to independent delis and shops.
A trip to the picturesque shire town was a rare treat for a girl used to nothing but a Somerfield, Costcutter, and a few below-par takeaways here and there.
However, there was one stand-out restaurant in my hometown that foodies visited from all over. And I believe many still do.
The Fife Arms Hotel and Bistro, in Turriff, is one of many businesses that has left me in awe over the years.
While I admire those that have sprouted onto the local food and drink scene, surviving the pandemic must have been a challenge that I can’t even begin to imagine.
Having not visited in some time, I was keen to see how business was faring for the team.
It was a Saturday night when I stopped by with my boyfriend. And whenever I enter, I feel transported.
It was bustling, which is exactly what we had hoped for.
The interior, in both the snug area and restaurant, isn’t lacking on the tartan front and has a homely feel to it. Yet, there are some modern touches here and there, too.
Wall-to-wall windows that lead to a charming patio area at one side of the restaurant bring in plenty of light, while countless pieces of artwork are on show to admire during your stay.
What is there to do while admiring them, you may be asking yourself? My top recommendation is to make use of the bar.
Stocked with more whisky, gin, wine and beer than one would know what to do with, the team certainly knows how to satisfy tipple fans.
If there’s one thing that makes my boyfriend smile from ear to ear, it’s bread and oil.
Easily pleased, I know.
Invernesians, you are all living his dream – many restaurants in the city serve bread and oil on arrival, as far as I’m aware anyway.
The pair of us took our seats in the crowded restaurant and were instantly asked what we fancied to drink. Then, a wooden board was sandwiched between us.
It displayed a minute butter bowl along with the main attraction – thick, brown seeded bread that was releasing a fragrant flow of steam.
One slice each, we simultaneously applied a thin layer of butter and dunked our lightly toasted, slightly sweet sourdough into a splash of olive oil.
The combination of peppery, salty and sweet flavours was bliss.
The drinks order was a breeze. A classic pornstar martini and an ice-cold beer had been on our minds all day.
My cocktail was sharp at first. However, the vanilla vodka quickly outshone the tartness and I was left with a fruity, sweet flavour.
The beer was evidently going down well, too.
The food order proved more of a challenge, especially after tucking into our appetizer that already set the bar high – despite not being anything overly complicated.
The salt and pepper fried calamari is usually a staple for me at The Fife Arms. If you’re yet to try it, I’d urge you to at the nearest given opportunity.
But I was more than adamant about trying something different, which turned out to be the crispy langoustines.
Encased in kataifi, the three delicate langoustines melted in the mouth. Almost buttery to taste, it was in fact their coating that provided a much-needed salty kick.
The chilli and lime mayonnaise, zesty and creamy, was a great accompaniment. I even kept its remains on the table to enjoy alongside my main course.
My boyfriend’s dish was calling my name more so than my own.
His two Asian beef short rib tacos (a blackened cauliflower version was available for veggies) served with Asian slaw and salsa were a great indication that the establishment is not afraid to experiment with different flavours and ingredients.
Served open, the beef was succulent and had been doused in a well-balanced soy sauce.
The Asian slaw, comprising shredded vegetables, was fresh and crunchy which contrasted nicely with the tender meat. The Thai flavours made the dish extra special.
Before we knew it, our starters had come and gone and it was time for the main event.
I glanced across the table at my boyfriend’s 7oz beef burger. It wasn’t your traditional-looking burger, which I loved. And it was a hefty size.
The two Aberdeen Angus patties were, of course, what I clocked first.
Both were coated in a gooey cheddar cheese that wasn’t overly sharp, so it didn’t overpower the other ingredients and allowed you to appreciate the juiciness of the patties.
Smoked streaky bacon, lettuce, house pickles, red onion marmalade and burger sauce were also inside.
It was everything a good burger should be with sweetness, saltiness and a bit of added crunch.
It was served with chips, which were fluffy with a tasty, crispy skin. This is when my starter’s chilli and lime mayonnaise came back into play…
My Gressingham duck breast with carrot and orange puree, crumbled feta, pomegranate and kale was a lot subtler than my boyfriend’s plate but no less delicious.
I did ask for my duck medium rare to rare and it came well done, proving a little tougher than I would have liked, but I wasn’t going to fuss. I adored the crispy skin.
I think the other elements would have stolen the show regardless.
The puree was silky smooth and sweeter than I originally anticipated, while the pomegranate was slightly tart and the crumbly feta added tanginess.
Each of the ingredients prevailed on the flavour front and had its own part to play in the dish. There was zero faff.
Dauphinoise potatoes were my chosen side. Creamy and buttery with a kick of garlic, they were a dream.
Our stomachs were telling us that we didn’t need desserts, and we listened.
There is a multitude of tasty desserts to opt for, though. So if you’re stopping by The Fife Arms, I’d highly recommend leaving room for some. I certainly will be during my next visit.
Turriff is incredibly lucky to have an establishment like The Fife Arms Hotel and Bistro – and the local community appreciates this. It’s a must-try for those after an enjoyable foodie experience.
If you’re yet to visit, it’s time to reassess.
The eatery is homely and welcoming, and a huge shoutout is in order for a member of The Fife Arms team, Ross, who is always a pleasure when stopping by.
Address: The Square, Turriff, AB53 4AE
T: 01888 563124
Price: £72.90 for two courses for two people, one cocktail and one beer.
- Food: 4/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 4/5