Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Taste Magazine takes a three day trip around the Kingdom of Fife.
Scottish adventurer John McDouall Stuart was a hugely successful and famous explorer who led the first expedition from the south to north Australia in the mid 19th century. Bear with me if you haven’t immediately worked out the connection with Fife! McDouall Stuart was born in Dysart, situated just east of Kirkcaldy in Fife, before emigrating Down Under.
Although my expedition was certainly not in the same magnitude or difficulty as his intrepid journey into the unexplored hinterland, this was my first expedition to Fife where I was going to spend three days sampling some of the best food, drink and hospitality that the Kingdom of Fife has to offer. And, where better to base myself on in my gourmet adventure than staying at the historic house in Dysart where McDouall Stuart was born.
Surrounded on three sides by a stunning coastline with an array of picturesque villages and beaches, the ancient Kingdom of Fife is an outstanding place to visit, enjoy and explore. Famous for being the home of golf, Fife’s varied landscape is the perfect home to an abundance of wildlife and a fabulous natural larder. There are also vivid reminders of the area’s historic importance in the wealth of castles, palaces, and abbeys.
Having lived in Edinburgh for the past two years, with travel restricted due to lockdowns, every opportunity that presents itself to head out of the city and explore Scotland, I embrace wholeheartedly. Just heading over the Queensferry Crossing that spans the Firth of Forth, my excitement is palpable.
Arriving in less than 45 minutes, my wife and I had time to stop off at The Harbourmaster’s Cafe in Dysart for tea and delicious peanut butter and choc chip cookies. Housed in a lovely stone building overlooking one of Fife’s oldest harbours, which stood in for the French port of Le Havre in the Outlander television series, we enjoyed wonderful views across the quaint harbour to the Firth of Forth. We instantly switched to holiday mode.
Booked through Fife Historic Buildings Trust, we checked into the John McDouall Stuart View, a sensitively restored white-washed apartment where the explorer was born in 1815. With plenty of period character, the light-filled spacious one-bedroom contemporary-styled apartment offers panoramic views across the Forth and was the perfect place to relax after a day’s eating!
Keen to start our exploration, we left our ‘base camp’ for The Buffalo Farm near Kirkcaldy that is home to Scotland’s largest herd of water buffalo that roam the surrounding hills. Today, alongside the farm, there is an excellent cafe and farm shop selling not only their own meat and mozzarella that is also sold at Blacketyside and Craigie’s farm shops but also a wide range of local produce. We purchased some East Neuk of Fife Smoked Oatcakes from G H Barnett & Son along with a tomato & ginger savoury jam from the mother and daughter duo at Kassells Kitchen. A fine start for our take-home taste test.
We then sat down for lunch at The Bothy, where we enjoyed warming homemade tomato and pepper soup, ideal on a dreich day. However, the smell and sizzle from the Buffalo burgers seemingly put us into a trance-like state and it wasn’t long before we were sitting in their open barn with a buffalo burger in one hand followed swiftly by a salted caramel ice cream made with buffalo milk in the other!
The benefits of water buffalo, we were reliably told, are countless. They produce a healthy meat that is lower in cholesterol and less than half the total fat content of conventional lean beef, and in the words of Chef Nick Nairn, it tastes, “pretty damn fantastic.” Our next stop was to see where they make their famous Buffalo mozzarella and have a chat with the owner Steve Mitchell.
The Buffalo Farm began with a small herd in 2005 with them selling their meat at local markets until a chance visit from Chef Gordon Ramsay who declared it was delicious. This spurred them on to expand the business. Their mozzarella contains only buffalo milk and has a mild saltiness on the outside. It passed our squeeze test having that perfect texture with a slight ooze of milk. We were given a tour around the production floor and saw some of the herd, complete with their custom-made mattresses and back scratchers!
After a brisk walk along a part of the famous Fife Coastal Path back in Dysart, it was time for our next foodie destination. And this wasn’t going to be any dinner but a seven-course gourmet extravaganza at The Orangery restaurant located at the magnificent Balbirnie House Hotel. For our in-depth restaurant review, check out our full hospitality review here.
Day two started with a visit to the Bowhouse Food Weekend. Sitting on the road between Elie and St Monans, the monthly market weekends take place in a covered barn and showcases local produce, crafts and street food vendors. We met lots of growers, producers and makers under one roof and we added plenty of items to our take-home collection. These included some artisan bread and cheeses from St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese and Strathearn Cheese companies, Raspberry Cordial and Blackberry Jam from Alice’s Kitchen and some Pheasant and Ginger sausages from Woodmill Game. One of our favourite stalls was East Coast Cured, where we purchased some gourmet sausage rolls. There was so much else on offer from cheesecakes, craft beers, langoustine to a wide variety of vegetables.
As Ardross Farm Shop was just along the road we felt it was our duty to pop in. We were greeted with the most beautifully-laid out vegetable selection we’ve ever seen and the shop sets the bar high on stocking locally sourced products and supporting independent producers. It is like an Aladdin’s Cave stocked with some of the finest Scottish produce and lots of moreish treats. We picked up some local chestnuts and butter from Knockraich Farm.
Just a little further on from Ardross is the stunning seaside village of Elie. After a walk around the harbour, we stopped off for coffee at Nosebag@Elie, a harbourside cafe serving sandwiches, and homebaking, before taking a leisurely walk around the lighthouse and the ruins of Lady’s Tower. An Elie institution, our lunchtime destination was at The Ship Inn, famed not only for its food, al fresco terrace but also its beach cricket matches! My wife opted for the grilled lemon sole served with Shetland blue shell mussels, pommes purée, garlic butter, capers and samphire. For myself, I choose the Black Isle sirloin bourguignon with baby carrots, mushrooms and mashed potato. Both dishes certainly hit the spot and were cooked to perfection.
After lunch we explored the delightful East Neuk fishing villages of Crail, St Monans and Pittenweem, where we popped in to The Cocoa Tree to try two of their signature hot chocolates - Pink Salt & Caramel and Hazelnut Praline - and sample some of their amazing handmade chocolates. Dinner that evening was at The Balgove Steak Barn situated on the edge of St Andrews. See the full review here.
On the last day of our expedition, we headed to The Newport Bakery near the River Tay shoreline and is run by Jamie Scott who was the winner of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2014. Everywhere we looked there was sweet temptation in the form of cinnamon swirls, clementine white choc cruffins, puffnuts (a croissant puff pastry/doughnut creation) and apple choux pastries. We finally plumped for an almond croissant and a caramel apple crumble carré. The shop also stocks a wide variety of products from other Scottish producers including Trodden Black’s Dead Hot sauces and their Chilli Death Jam!
Our next stop was the Pillars of Hercules, where you’ll find a campsite, bothy, farm shop and cafe situated just outside the historic palace town of Falkland. After ticking off a few more acquisitions, bottles of apple juice and a gingerbread-infused honey from the Edinburgh Honey Company, we had a very relaxed snack of vegetarian pasties sitting around a fire pit in their outdoor dining area.
For whisky lovers a pilgrimage to Lindores Abbey Distillery is a must. Steeped in history, it is documented that the first official reference to whisky distilling was recorded there in 1494. Restarting their whisky production in 2017, Lindores Abbey Distillery now offers both a delicate Lindores Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky and their award-winning Aqua Vitae botanical spirit featuring spices, dried fruit, local Douglas fir and sweet cicely.
The owner Drew recounted the long fascinating history of the abbey as he showed us around the distillery, apothecary, the first-floor bar that benefits from some amazing views over the abbey grounds out towards the River Tay. The distillery offers an amazing array of experiences including cocktail-making classes, decadent afternoon teas, whisky and chocolate pairing and bespoke dinners.
At the end of our incredible foodie road trip to Fife, we felt we’d only just scraped the surface in discovering the most amazing local produce and ingredients whether it was in a farm shop, bakery or served up in a top-notch restaurant. We came swiftly to the conclusion that a return journey is needed as there is so much more to sample and consume. Furthermore there are so many more wonderful places to visit whether they are on the beautiful East Neuk coastline or in the heart of the fertile pastures of the Kingdom of Fife countryside.