Our restaurant reviewer discovers there’s a whole lot more to dining out at this Beauly establishment.
The first time I came across the term “Downright Gabbler” was in Mairi Kidd’s excellent book, Warriors and Witches and Damn Rebel Bitches.
She wrote about Frances “Fanny” Wright who fell into the latter category – a free-thinking woman who spoke out on many topics including the right to a free education and abolishment of slavery.
In the 1820s that made her stand out and resulted in the creation of a rather cruel caricature portraying her as a goose in a dress – a “down (w)right gabbler –
a goose that deserves to be hissed”.
Fast forward two centuries and her courage is recalled in Beauly, via a restaurant called the Downright Gabbler.
Once a coaching inn built around the same time as Fanny was flexing her rebellious muscles, it’s now owned by the Coutts family.
Daughter Kirsty is the chef, while dad Garry, former chairman of NHS Highland, has a new role as storytelling host/waiter.
Their choice of name for the family-run establishment, he explained, came as a result of having “three feisty daughters and a feisty wife”, who wanted to pay homage to the Scotswoman we should all know more about.
What they offer here is a unique, adults-only dining experience that’s part theatre and part history lesson in a delightful setting.
Themed dinners include Living the Dram, a whisky-themed four-course meal with welcome drink, three whisky samples, tea and coffee; Ale & Hearty, a similar event which celebrates the role of beer in Scotland’s history; Tipsy Afternoon Tea – a four-course afternoon tea with samplings of gin; or Souper Scots, a light lunch served alongside stories of some famous Scots.
The restaurant is small and intimate, decorated in muted colours which give it a modern yet traditional feel, and features beautifully set tables with gorgeous vintage cutlery, crockery and glassware, all polished to perfection.
We opted for the whisky evening and our group of four joined four others for the event which sees everyone eat at the same time. After introductions were made we were offered a choice of drink from a splendid selection of whiskies, gin, rum, vodka, beers and soft drinks – all Scottish and many made locally.
My Red Door G&T hit the spot nicely and went rather well with the thick-sliced Cromarty Bakery bread we nibbled on as Garry began telling the story of whisky.
Between courses he revealed how a drink once regarded as being only fit for peasants became a world-class product generating billions, a talk which was highly entertaining.
In between telling tales, Garry served up a first-class dinner, prepared by Kirsty.
We were immediately impressed by the starters – a trio of delicacies including carrot and orange soup served in delicate, beautifully coloured teacups; a smoked haddock kedgeree bonbon and two pieces of beetroot crostini.
The vegetarian in our party had the same, but a fish-free version of the bonbon. The soup, topped with teeny croutons, was warming, packed with flavour and surprisingly filling, while the apple-sized bonbon was superb – a crispy coating and wonderful, smoked fish and rice inside.
Meanwhile, the vibrant coloured, quenelle-shaped beetroot crostini was leading my tastebuds a merry dance.
The main course was traditional lamb stovies, topped with slices of roast lamb loin, served with pickled beetroot and tender stem broccoli.
My partner had veggie stovies, topped with roast cauliflower.
My pal and I were served first, and perhaps because they’d been plated up first, our stovies were a tad cool compared to our partners’, which were piping hot. We flagged it up to Garry who then delivered a masterclass in good service.
Apologising profusely, our meat versions were swapped for veggie stovies, but topped with lamb, and by way of recompense, we were given a complimentary bottle of red wine. No complaints from us!
After another chapter in the whisky story we tucked into dessert, a rich, creamy panna cotta laced with Drambuie, served with a sweet crumb and raspberry coulis.
Then it was on to a blind whisky tasting, each trying three small drams served in crystal glasses, which we discussed and tried to guess where they’d come from.
After this we enjoyed a trio of Highland cheeses: Connage Dairy Smoked Dunlop; Blue Murder and a fantastic Brie from Highland Fine Cheeses in Tain, served with fresh figs, thick oatcakes and tangy chutney. And still the treats kept coming…
A large cafetière of coffee and big rounds of buttery shortbread ensured no one went to bed hungry.
It’s a brave move to open a restaurant offering a unique dining experience, but it’s one our party of four really enjoyed.
It was fun being entertained between courses and we all came away realising there’s a lot more to whisky than we thought.
The food was excellent, beautifully presented and delicious, while the service, especially when dealing with a complaint, could not be faulted.
Beauly IV4 7BT
T: 01463 782800
Price: Living the Dram dining experience – £49 per person
Food = 4/5
Service = 5/5
Surroundings = 4/5