Escape to Scottish Highlands at Balmoral Restaurant
Whether you're blue about canceled travel to the continent or just missing immersive dining experiences, restaurateur Colin Smith weaves a gorgeous tartan of Scottish dining in delightful ways.
After a visit to Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, (the Queen's private retreat that was created by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), Smith vowed to create a restaurant that would awe patrons and allow them to "dine like the Queen." He had 11 restaurants, mostly in the English and Scottish countryside, before coming to the U.S., and Campton Hills was a perfect setting for Balmoral Restaurant.
"One-hundred percent of our new customers take a few steps into the restaurant, stop and say, 'This. Is. Beautiful,' " Smith explained. There are swords and shields, murals and military lore, and of course Scottish music (a bagpiper greets you at the door on weekends). Place settings are inspired by those at the Queen's Balmoral, including the exact china and crystal, and yes, your cutlery is gold plated.
Expect to dine upon "what your granny would make every Sunday," according to the Perthshire, Scotland, native. Autumn is a great time to say "aye" to Highlander's Cock-a-Leekie soup or a steamy bowl of Yer Granny's Green Pea & Ham soup. Take the opportunity to try The True Scotch egg, some of Scotland's finest smoked mackerel or haggis, the country's national dish that's simply a savory meat sausage (served with Balmoral's own whiskey sauce). Order game, like pheasant or rabbit, and you'll be transported to the Highlands after a hunt. "We have many dishes you rarely see on a standard menu," Smith noted in his delightful Scottish accent. His chefs were hired a full year before Balmoral's doors opened to learn and perfect genuine Scottish fare.
There are deeply comforting dishes like traditional shepherd's pie, fish 'n' chips, salmon or pan-fried Ruby Red trout, tender braised lamb shank or a righteous Ream's Best filet steak topped with a slice of melting Stilton blue cheese.
Treat yourself to dessert you'll not likely find anywhere in the Midwest, like the Scot's favorite sticky toffee pudding, buttery shortbread (that Smith calls "a Twix on steroids") or banoffee pie served in a martini glass, among others.
You can't miss the glass bar stocked with an impressive list of 150 Scotch whiskies. "When the sun comes through the windows and shines on the bar, it looks like liquid gold," Smith laughed. Balmoral's exceptional bar program collected the Daily Herald's Readers' Choice Best of the Best awards in Best Bartender, Best Bar/Lounge and Best Martini.
As a child, Sunday meant a trip to granny's when she would open the China cabinet, bring out the best plates, glasses and cutlery and make the most amazing homemade food. Colin Smith brings that traditional experience to Balmoral with Sunday Roasts (beef, lamb, chicken, salmon, baked ham or even vegetarian items) served until they run out. And you needn't trudge to a Chicago hotel for a wonderful Scottish afternoon tea that includes 14 items and a lovely pot of tea, served daily (but make a reservation).
Balmoral may be the closest you'll get to a trip overseas this year. The Campton Hills destination has captured the hearts and taste buds of Daily Herald readers winning Best Comfort Food; Best Themed Restaurant; Best Romantic Restaurant; Best Chef; Best Business Lunch; Best Caterer; Best Brunch; and Best Restaurant for a Business Meeting. That's more than a "wee" bit impressive, wouldn't you say?