Woodlands is a strange kind of establishment and the first of its kind I’ve come across, but no matter, it works!
The commercial part of the restaurant operates in exactly the same way that any other does, however, behind the scenes, Woodlands also operates as part of The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust’s training programme for hospitality and catering students.
The restaurant is located within the estate itself and operates on three evenings a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, along with a Sunday lunch service.
It’s signposted within the grounds, but with the rabbit warren of roads and paths, it’s not hard to get lost. There is plenty of parking right outside the building and it also affords level access to the building itself for wheelchair users.
From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s rather ‘shed-like’ in style, but that’s quite intentional in order that it blends in with other estate buildings.
Once your inside, it’s an open-plan dining experience. This could appear a wee bit soulless on quieter evenings, however, at the time of our visit, there were another 20 covers so it had some ambience. Decorated in rich reds and golds, a selection of prints and cast-iron chandeliers it was inoffensive. We had our jackets taken and offered to be shown straight to our table, or to a lounge area for a drink and to peruse the menu. We opted for the latter.
There was two waiting staff on duty, Liz, the restaurant manager and Megan. They were the epitome of quality front-of-house staff. Professional, polite and courteous, helpful and attentive. Not much more they could have done if I’m being honest.
After being shown to our table, the starters promptly arrived. We had both chosen the smoked haddock sitting on a bed of wilted spinach, topped with a poached egg and dressed with a cheese and leek sauce. It was a delight to the eye, and presentation was spot on. The fish was a nice piece of Aberdeen boneless, light, succulent and flaky with just a hint of that oak-smoking it’s famed for, it was cooked perfectly. The spinach was there I suspect for a colour change on the plate, as, in my opinion, there’s never any taste of it until you add something to it. The poached egg, when broken open, poured forth a gorgeous burst of sunshine-yellow yolk. Poached as all eggs should be! The sauce which coated the dish was a worry for me at first. You see it’s too easy to either drown the plate in the stuff or, the cheese and the leek is too strong for what is essentially a subtly flavoured dish. In this case, I needn’t have worried, the match was perfect and provided just another delicate flavour to the whole dish.
Next up was the mains, and it was at this point we had a minor problem with Mrs Mac’s dish. You see she had opted for the pan-fried venison and had requested it well-done. Unfortunately, on cutting into it, it was definitely a medium-rare and had to be returned to be cooked for a little longer. However credit to both the four-man kitchen brigade and the waiting team, there was no drama and it was all handled very professionally indeed. The dish was served with a venison terrine, braised red cabbage, Boulangere potatoes, and a red wine jus. It was well worth the £18.95 asking price.
My choice of the medley of fish with garlic potato dumplings and braised baby leeks with a langoustine bisque was an unusual one for me, particularly having had a fish starter. However, the trio being salmon, halibut and sea bass was too good to turn down. And, it’s a test of the kitchen team’s abilities to be able to cook three pieces of fish, all of which need different cooking times and to get them to the pass on time, without overcooking.
The fish was delicate, light, it flaked from the skin, however, I’d have liked that skin to have been crisped. The whole dish came together with that langoustine reduction and the baby leeks providing an extra flavour overall with a slight onion touch. The garlic potato dumplings were delightful, but for me there just wasn’t enough of them.
My dessert option of a custard tart served with fresh raspberries and a spiced cream, was a novel take on a Crème Brulee. The custard had been enclosed in a light shortcrust pastry, given the obligatory crisp sugared top, served with a quenelle of fresh whipped cream and dressed with rasps and a rasp sauce along with a tuille biscuit. Nothing more to be said than delicious.
My other half opted for the warm carrot sponge served with nutmeg ice cream pretending that this would count for one of her five-a-day! She oohed and ahhed her way through the whole thing and I worried as she neared the end that she might resort to licking the plate. Oh the indignity, however, it says a lot about the dish does it not?
OK, so it might not be the easiest place to find, but it’s well worth the effort, you won’t be disappointed.