Portsoy’s Scottish Traditional Boat Festival returned for its 30th year last weekend. Unspurisingly, it drew in thousands of people of all ages.
While there were plenty of attractions to get stuck into, I, of course, made a beeline for the food and drink stalls and vendors.
They didn’t disappoint.
But in the back of my mind, I needed to leave plenty of room because I was finally making a long-awaited visit to Durn House later that day.
Located a 20-minute walk away from where my mum and I had parked to enjoy the festival’s day one (Saturday, July 1) celebrations, it couldn’t have worked out better. Well, that was until the rain came on.
Considering our booking was made just two days prior, the pair of us were delighted that a table was available in the evening.
Durn House: an 18th century wonder and an incredible setting for a restaurant
The restored 18th century mansion was even more impressive than expected as the pair of us approached the main entrance.
We may have been soaked to the brim due to the one of many rain showers that fell, but even then I had to pause to appreciate its grand exterior.
The interior was just as charming and traditional. The Great Hall was the first room we entered and I, for one, was quick to admire its original Georgian features – including a beautiful ceiling rose and brass door handles – from the house’s construction in 1770.
There are two dining areas at Durn House along with a bar. We were seated by a hospitable team member in the elegant Green Room, which boasted intricate portraits and paintings across its walls and comfortable button pressed dining chairs.
Only one other table was occupied, and I assumed this was due to the festival running nearby.
What was the food like?
Two glasses of pinot grigio (£8.33 each) arrived promptly ahead of us ordering our starters.
Matching the setting, my mum opted for the green pea soup (£8.50) with marinated feta, lemon rapeseed and oil pine nuts.
The soup’s sweet notes lingered on the tongue before the earthiness from the split peas and pine nuts took centre stage. They [the pine nuts] added a welcome bite to an otherwise silky dish.
The four chunks of feta, which softened as I watched my mum stir it into the warm concoction, were tangy, while the rapeseed was citrusy.
I believe the fresh ingredients that featured in this summery dish were grown on the grounds of the house. We were told that the Durn House ethos is ‘pot to plate’, after all, and that they have their very own kitchen garden. Very unique.
And chefs Craig Morris and Sarah Litster make everything on-site from scratch, including the bread, flavoured butters, jams, cakes, and so on.
My starter, scorched fillet of mackerel (£9.50), featured a kaleidoscopic of items that I couldn’t wait to get stuck into.
From a creamy gooseberry curd and flaky fish to crunchy Granny Smith apple slices and radish, there was an influx of textures that worked well together.
Since crispy sourdough croutons had been thrown into the mix too, I attempted to use the thin slices as spoons in order to enjoy as many different elements in one mouthful.
It’s safe to say that the starters exceeded our expectations. With our wines going down well, we requested a couple of waters to cleanse our palates.
The Green Room was still rather scarce, but this meant for a quicker turnaround time between courses. Result.
Up next was a sweet potato gnocchi (£22) and a fillet of Scottish beef (£33).
My mum’s gnocchi was served with rainbow chard, oyster mushroom, goat’s cheese, brown butter and sage.
This was another colourful plate. However, there was no doubt in either of our minds that the potato was the star of the show. While the pair of us were apprehensive about the texture proving mushy, it had been cooked to perfection.
Deciding to team the ingredient with pieces of tart and crumbly goat’s cheese was applaudable. Could there have been more oyster mushrooms in the mix? I believe so, but that’s maybe because I adore them so much.
My main course was equally as tasty. Neither of us could believe the sheer volume of the braised beef fillet, which was tender in texture and rich in flavour.
Aubergine caviar, sautéed spinach, turnip fondant and bordelaise sauce were the accompaniments. We adored the sauce as it wasn’t overpowering any of the other ingredients.
At this point, not only were the pair of us delighted with our food, but also our decision to not overindulge at the festival earlier that day.
It meant we had some space remaining, so opted to share one of the Durn House desserts.
While there was a Pimm’s summer trifle, Greek yoghurt panna cotta and Scottish cheeses on the cards, we simultaneously oohed after I read out the words ‘chilled chocolate fondant’ (£9). It was a no brainer.
The pudding comprised a gooey chocolate dome topped with salted peanut caramel and served with a banana tuile and vanilla bean ice cream.
There was nothing about this dish that we would have done differently. It was the best way to round off a superb meal before polishing off our drinks – which also included the loose leaf tea (£3) that my mum enjoyed with our pudding – and making way for the car.
Thankfully, the rain was nowhere to be seen for the walk this time around.
My mum and I left Durn House in agreement that the experience was nothing short of excellent.
Its evening menu may not be the lengthiest with four options up for grabs in each course. However, this is something I love at a restaurant.
The offering was vibrant and diverse and, in my opinion, this shows how talented the mansion’s kitchen team truly are – given that they have catered for a range of tastes in such few dishes.
The venue itself, albeit quiet during our stay, and the members of staff who assisted us were a delight. Thank you for making our visit so memorable.
Address: Durn House, Durn Road, Portsoy, Banff AB45 2XT
T: 01261 843424
Price: £101.66 for two glasses of wine, two starters, two mains, one dessert and one tea
- Food: 4.5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 4.5/5