On a chilly Winter evening, the bar at Malmaison Hotel is buzzing with couples, families and friends of all ages. With leather sofas and table service, this is the place to meet for a glass of bubbly or cocktails before crossing the hall to the dark wood panelled Brasserie. French posters, model yachts and magnum wine bottles decorate the L-shaped room. Tables are arranged in intimate corners and booths, where diners sit on banquettes and comfortable carver chairs. Candlelight creates a romantic mood.
A Parisian brasserie in style perhaps, but the cuisine is modern Scottish, highlighting fresh, seasonal produce with a proud list of local butchers, farmers, lobster fisherman and cheesemonger. Restaurant manager, Alan Sznajder ensures attentive service, while the impressive team of waiters are knowledgeable about each dish, explaining ingredients and preparation. The wide menu has sections on starters, steaks, speciality sausages, vegetarian and seafood. I start with a plate of tiny, juicy seared scallops sitting in a pool of cauliflower puree, while my companion samples an artistically-composed goat’s cheese and onion tart, with crisp pastry. With this, we sip the house red wine, an exceedingly smooth La Croix Carignan Merlot from the south of France.
I then select roast cod, creamy mash and puy lentils. The chunk of white fish flakes off the fork – so deliciously tender. The seared tuna, served rare and pink, with a spicy pineapple and chilli salsa is another winner. To finish, a platter of quality French and British cheese, and a rather luscious Black Isle ale cake with treacle ice cream.
From our aperitif of ice-cold Prosecco to the last spoonful of dessert, this has been a fine foodie experience, with good value prices and lively ambience.