Over a hundred years ago Bennetto Jannetta packed his bags and left the little village of Atina, south of Rome, for Scotland. In his pocket was an ice-cream recipe. In 1908 he opened a soda parlour and billiards room in St. Andrews. Four generations later, Jannettas pastel-painted ice-cream parlour is now run by his great granddaughter, Nicola, and her husband, Owen.
While vanilla remains their most popular flavour, the family makes 54 different varieties in small batches from ingredients sourced locally or from Italy. These range from cranachan (based on the traditional dessert) to tablet (a kind of crumbly, Scottish, version of fudge) and even seaweed sorbet, first created for the Crail Food Festival along the coast.
Clutching my seaweed-tinged cone (it may sound odd but it works), I have a choice of beaches to comb in this cobbled coastal town in the Kingdom of Fife, a hop over the Forth Bridge from Edinburgh: East Sands down by the harbour or West Sands, the long stretch immortalised in that sprinting-through-spray scene in Chariots of Fire. Famous for Pringle-jumpered golfers and the red gowns and quadrangles of the oldest university in Scotland, St. Andrews has more recently become a foodie hub.
Take the Highland Chocolatier. At the other end of the town’s South Street, Iain Burnett’s cocoa-dark den and tasting room offers bespoke lessons in chocolate and gin pairing. Burnett made the chocolates for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations and his jewel-like truffles are made with a combination of intense single-origin cocoa from São Tomé and cream from a single herd of Scottish cows.
In his tasting room I sip a lime and vanilla-laced Eden Mill Original Gin while nibbling a chilli truffle. Eden Mill is Scotland’s only combined craft brewery and distillery. It opened three years ago in nearby Guardbridge and the young team behind it now produce five main gins: Original, Love, Oak, Hop and Golf (created for the Open Championship, it’s a peppery infusion of lemongrass and hickory wood, the latter a nod to golf clubs).
The Oak version, matured in barrels that give it a yellowy tinge and a hint of caramel, is the perfect pairing for a Nigerian ginger velvet truffle that tastes earthy rather than fiery. Love is a pink gin with floral, fruity notes and rose petal, hibiscus flower and gogi berries as botanicals. Paired with a Madagascan vanilla white truffle with crushed raspberries and heather honey, it’s like a rush of raspberry ripple ice cream, the chocolate bringing out the fruitiness of the gin.
A few doors down is the St. Andrews Brewing Company, all rough wood, hearty food and craft beer, while just along the coast is another smart new distillery, Kingsbarns (kingsbarnsdistillery.com). For almost 150 years Fife had no distillery, then two came along at once.
Wandering down Market Street, via Fisher & Donaldson for a box of its legendary fudge doughnuts, I make it to Scotland’s current fish and chip shop of the year just in time for lunch.
Cromars Fish and Chips is a cut above your average chippie. A contemporary space with an industrial vibe, it’s also MSC accredited. All the fish is landed in Scotland, some in St. Monans along the coast. The menu, too, is pretty enlightened: ‘fish and chips and prosecco’ is scrawled on the blackboard along with pints of Pittenweem langoustines. I try the special, crayfish curry and chips. Cooked Thai-style, it’s spicy and sweet and packed with plump shellfish.
No wonder Cromars is giving Fife’s famous chippie, the Anstruther Fish Bar, a run for its money. In fact, Fife packs in the seafood highlights as you curve round its coastline, strung with pretty fishing villages. Start in Crail and you can buy lobster from a shed on the harbour before heading southwest, through Anstruther and Pittenweem to St. Monans, where hot-smoked sea bass with apple, peppercorn and smoked apricot relish is on the menu at the rustic East Pier Smokehouse.
On Fife’s north coast, current MasterChef: The Professionals champion Jamie Scott has just launched his first restaurant, The Newport while Anstruther’s The Cellar bagged a Michelin-star this year. Young chef Billy Boyter took over here in 2014 and dishes include a delicate East Neuk crab and squid dish with juiced celeriac, pickled cucumber and sorrel, and melting, pink Balblair lamb with cockles, sea kale and sprouting broccoli, the pungent, dark green purée adding to the dish’s soft earthiness.
Fife is fertile inland. Fife Farmers’ Market is a regular Saturday fixture for local food-lovers, splitting its time between
St. Andrews, Kirkcaldy, Cupar and Dunfermline; look out for Puddledub pork and Seriously Good Venison.
There’s no shortage of farm shops, either, from hippy-chic organic Pillar of Hercules in Falkland, where you can also pitch a tent, to chic Balgove Larder outside St. Andrews, which stocks produce from the surrounding Strathtyrum Estate and, alongside a butchery and café, runs a rustic Steak Barn in the summer months; the no-bookings wood-fire BBQ restaurant has communal trestle tables laid out in an old sawmill.
For my first night, I bed down at Fife stalwart, The Peat Inn in the village of the same name (it took its name from the 18th-century coaching inn). Now a Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms, owner Geoffrey Smeddle conjures up intricate dishes such as smoked beef tartare, avocado and wasabi purée and coriander in a sleek, contemporary space. The bedrooms, however, are a bit tired and old-fashioned – unlike my second gourmet bolthole.
At The Ship Inn, on the beachfront in Elie, new owners have recently added an airy upstairs dining area and six seafaring-themed bedrooms. Beach cricket is played on the sand from May to September, with a cricket festival in mid-August. What could be better than watching a match from the beachfront beer garden, a bottle of chilled Crail Ale from the St. Andrews Brewing Co in your hand, and freshly-caught mackerel and langoustine sizzling on the pub’s pop-up BBQ?
Words: Lucy Gillmore. Photographs: Alamy, Getty
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