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UK Politics

A feast of Scottish delicacies awaits Chirac

The French President ignited a simmering row after being overheard lambasting British food and pouring scorn on Scotland's "unappetising" national dish, but M. Chirac will be reassured to learn that Andrew Fairlie, head chef of the Michelin-starred restaurant at Gleneagles, learnt his trade in south-west France with Michel Guerard.

One foodie guide to Scotland describes Mr Fairlie's cooking as "unashamedly French but with a Scottish twist". Scotland's chef of the year is to prepare a showcase of Scottish produce during the summit, with seafood and venison likely to feature on the menu.

M. Chirac may have had reason to complain when the hotel was owned by British Railways, but Mr Fairlie has made his restaurant almost as famous as the golf course at Gleneagles. He uses local produce, including Skye scallops, and his signature dish is lobster smoked over Auchentoshan whisky barrels for 12 hours. The lobsters are then filled with sliced lobster meat and roasted in an oven for about five minutes with butter and lime juice. The result is said to be a "sensational melt-in-the-mouth, delicate creation".

Lobster is expected to be on the menu tonight, along with lamb reared locally by Mr Fairlie's brother, and the Queen's favourite chocolate pudding to finish. Buckingham Palace has approved the menu for the dinner attended by M. Chirac, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair, George Bush, Gerhard Schröder and other heads of the world's leading industrialised countries.

M. Chirac said the only thing the British had given Europe was "mad-cow disease". If beef is on the menu this week, M. Chirac need have no fear. Mr Fairlie said: "We get our beef from Ardintinny Farm, which is certainly local - the farm is visible from the hotel."

At a meeting with the leaders of Germany and Russia, M. Chirac described how he was forced to sample "unappetising" haggis by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen when he was secretary general of Nato. He quipped: "From there sprang all our difficulties with Nato." President Chirac, apparently thinking he was out of earshot of journalists, said: "One cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine." He said that British food was second-worst "after Finland".

M. Chirac may have to brave the haggis on the menu later in the week. However, the Drambuie chef of the year is on record as sharing some of M. Chirac's misgivings. "I don't think we have a cuisine to speak of," he said. "Deep-fried Mars bars are better known than cullen skink [a traditional Scottish soup]."

One thing will be off the menu, however. It was planned to serve caviar from Iran, but it was thought that could lead to a diplomatic incident with Mr Bush. Instead, more expensive caviar is being flown in from Belarus.

The hotel is surrounded by guards to keep out protesters who are determined to remind the summiteers that children are dying while they are picking over their food. The leaders will spend the remainder of the week inside the security cordon. A huge marquee capable of housing 3,000 journalists from around the world has been set up in the grounds, but it is well away from the leaders.

'The best meal I've ever eaten in Scotland'

* Recent reviews for the Scottish chef of the year, Andrew Fairlie


While he believes Scotland offers some of the best produce in the world, Fairlie has no hesitation about shopping abroad for the best poultry. He serves Poulet de Bresse, pure-bred chickens raised according to strict government controls in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, said by some to be the 4th gastronomic wonder of the world.


"The best meal I've ever eaten in Scotland" was the initiate's conclusion. I had to agree. Fairlie's medals shine undimmed.


The restaurant is small, the black walls compounding the sense of enclosure. It is just you, the night and the food, the latter being the finest I have sampled in Scotland.