'Feel like royalty': Balmoral in Campton Hills makes Yelp's list of top 100 in the nation

Online reviewers can be brutal.

Balmoral Restaurant owner Colin Smith remembers the first one his Scottish restaurant in Campton Hills received.

"Two weeks before we opened, somebody gave us one star," he said. "Turns out it was a waiter at another restaurant knocking us off the five-star spot before we even got going."

Balmoral has received a whole lot of five-star reviews since opening the doors in July 2018, and last week it was named one of Yelp's top 100 restaurants in the United States.

Balmoral came in at No. 63, one of only two restaurants in Illinois placing on the 10th annual list. XOchimilco Mexican Restaurant in Chicago ranked 27th.

In fact, only six restaurants from the Chicago area have ever made the list.

"That's crazy," Smith said in his thick Scottish brogue. "When Joe (executive chef Joe Schroeder) told me we're in the top 100, I said, 'Joe, we're normally in the top 10 or five,' and then he said it's in the whole of America.

"That sounded much better."

California has more than 40 eateries on the list, including Broken Mouth, a Hawaiian spot in Los Angeles that came in at No. 1.

  Owner Colin Smith, center, opened his Balmoral Restaurant in Campton Hills in 2018. He's pictured with restaurant manager Sarah Kulevich and executive chef Joe Schroeder. The Scottish restaurant recently landed on Yelp's top 100 restaurants list. Rick West/

Smith had opened 11 restaurants in the United Kingdom before crossing the Atlantic. His inspiration for his first American restaurant was a trip in 2013 to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, a grand estate of Great Britain's royal family had built in 1856. In the dining hall he was taken with the tables laid out with rose-rimmed china, gold-plated cutlery and crystal glasses.

He said if he ever opened another restaurant, that's what he wanted it to look like.

"It's all here for you to feel like royalty," he said. "Everyone should have a chance to dine like this."

He said it took him over three years to collect enough plates and cutlery because the pattern he wanted hasn't been made since 1962.

Lauren Schultz of Hoffman Estates was making her third visit to the restaurant Monday, celebrating her friend Julie Rudd's 60th birthday with the eatery's elaborate afternoon tea service. It is that atmosphere and attention to detail that keep her coming back.

  Julie Rudd, left, of Des Plaines celebrates her 60th birthday with friend Lauren Schultz of Hoffman Estates by having an afternoon tea at Balmoral Restaurant in Campton Hills. Rick West/

"It's the ambience, the authenticity of it," she said. "My husband and I went to the UK a few years ago, and when we came here the first time it really felt like we were back there.

"Plus, we love the food."

Yelpers say much the same thing. The restaurant has 233 reviews, most of which are five stars.

The menu includes beef Wellington, fish and chips, pheasant, steamed salmon and braised rabbit.

Yelp says its list represents the most popular and highly rated restaurants according to their users. The final rankings are tabulated based on ratings, reviews, geographic representation and Yelp survey responses.

Smith said positive reviews and word-of-mouth drive his business. It has been averaging 80 to 100 new customers each week since the pandemic.

"Every single week, it's just people telling people," he said.

Lately, that word-of-mouth has stretched far beyond the suburbs.

He said he recently stopped at a table to talk to customers who had driven more than three hours from Springfield to come to dinner.

"I said, 'Are you crazy, you must have passed 100 restaurants.'"

They said they had, but they hadn't passed a single Scottish one.

  Balmoral Restaurant in Campton Hills uses the same china that's in Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Rick West/

"And that's the thing, people come in for the whole Scottish experience," Smith said. "It's not just coming in for the food; it's the decor, the atmosphere, the bagpipers, the serving staff, the beautiful china. It's the whole thing together.

"It's all there to make you feel like you're royalty."

Balmoral Restaurant is located at 40W099 IL-64 in the Campton Square retail center.

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