The Fine Food and Dining Society has a reputation in St Andrews for hosting excellent classes and events, and I’m happy to say that the Fine Foraging event at Balgove Larder kept with that pattern. The evening consisted of a talk by local foraging expert Tony Wilson, and then a three-course meal filled to bursting with local ingredients that Mr. Wilson had gathered earlier in the day. The talk was engaging and informative, the meal was delightful, and the whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable.
Balgove Larder is a lesser-known venue among St Andreans because of its relatively remote location, and it’s a shame that it isn’t used more often. Despite grey and rainy weather, the restaurant felt warm and well lit, and because the whole venue was being used for the event, it was organized into long tables which brought the room together and encouraged conversation throughout the evening.
Tony Wilson is a former St Andrews botany student who worked as a ranger for several decades and kept up foraging as a hobby throughout those years. His passions for local food and foraging became more mainstream with the recent growth their popularity among celebrity chefs. With public interest in foraging growing steadily, Mr. Wilson used his knowledge to encourage those he met as a ranger to search for fungi and plants in natural settings. Now he works with ecology groups, restaurants and student organizations leading wild food walks, conservation efforts and foraging lectures. His knowledge and sense of humor made the talk he gave us both incredibly informative and genuinely funny.
The meal itself was the centerpiece of the evening, and it was excellent. As guests entered the event, we were handed menus, so the excitement had been building by the time the meal was served. The first course was a wild mushroom risotto with grey chanterelle mushrooms that had been gathered that day, and it was evident how fresh the ingredients were. The risotto was served in small portions, but that made sense when the entrée was served. Partridge pie with seabuckthorn and rowanberries served with beetroot and kale and topped with wood sorrel was a well balanced, perfectly portioned main dish. The hot, rich pie was a perfect meal for a rainy day, and pink beetroot with kale, grown at Balgove, were a fresh complement to the hearty pie. Finally, the course I had been anticipating most arrived: vanilla panna cotta with elderberry coulis. It was huge portion, but everyone at the table finished their panna cotta in record time. It was exceptional. The berry coulis provided a sourness that matched the indulgent panna cotta perfectly. It was a spectacular finish to the meal.
The event was relatively small, but it felt cozy rather than underdone, and although hosting the meal at Balgove may have been a bit of a trek for some guests, the venue was quiet, well organized, and charming.
The success of the Fine Food and Dining society’s premiere dining event for the year bodes extremely well for the rest of the year’s calendar of events. I know I’ll be lining up for their next offering.
For more about foraging and wild food, Mr. Wilson recommends the following books:
Food for Free by Richard Mabey
Easy Edible Mushroom Guide by David Pegler
Easy Wild Food Guide by David Pegler
Wild Food: A Complete Guide for Foragers by Roger Phillips
Photo Credit: Olivia Ives