Review by Fiona Duncan, published 10th June 2007.
Back in the 1980s, the Peat Inn, an isolated former beer and darts pub, hit the headlines when it became the first restaurant in Scotland to win a Michelin star. A major destination for foodies, it was presided over by chef/patron David Wilson and his wife, Patricia, for three decades.
In the same year that Wilson bought the Peat Inn, Geoffrey Smeddle, now 35, was born.
Formerly head chef at Conran restaurant Etain in Glasgow, Geoff and his wife, Katherine, took a snap decision last year and bought the restaurant-with-rooms from the retiring Wilsons just days before it was due to go to auction, creating a fitting transition from one dedicated chef-patron to another.
"A very special and unique place…a food lovers' destination for many years with eight luxurious suites overlooking private gardens and farmland". So ran the blurb about the Peat Inn, but as we closed in on it, our enthusiasm began to wane, and pinpricks of doubt started to surface.
On the cover of the restaurant's menu there's a photograph of the inn (which gives its name to the entire hamlet) taken in 1904. It shows a plain stone building standing on a scrappy T-junction, just as it does today, except that now the building has a coat of cream paint.
Even a sepia photograph doesn't make the 1904 scene look especially picturesque, but the adjacent car park and the stark semi-circle of new houses that have grown up across the road do nothing whatsoever to improve the situation.
We were shown to our "luxurious suite" - one of those split-level affairs which must have been all the rage in the 1980s, when the Wilsons added the rooms so that contented diners could stay the night.
Each room has a staircase to the sitting area, with sloping, floor-length mansard windows. In the compact bedroom below, there were frilly purple curtains, draped bedside tables and a marble-clad bathroom, complete with must-have (in those days) film-star light bulbs round the mirror.
Twenty years ago, I would probably have swooned, but it was hard to muster enthusiasm today. "I know, I know," responded the likeable Geoff. "The bedrooms are out of date, and we are changing them: new carpets, new curtains, better showers, new bedside tables and lamps.
The beds have already been replaced; Egyptian cotton linen and duvets are on their way." They plainly want to get things right, this young couple, who have staked everything on their venture (Geoff's parents have even moved to Fife to lend a hand), and I feel sure they will.
By the time of our visit, the Smeddles had already redecorated the intimate three-room restaurant, now done out in (need I say) the usual contemporary livery of browns and creams, but effectively so.
As for the food, though it was very enjoyable and beautifully presented, I don't think the Peat Inn will be regaining its Michelin star just yet; one or two of the dishes lacked flavour, and the "crispy" cubes of belly pork, with the seared scallops, weren't.
What we enjoyed most about our stay, as so often in Scotland, was the ambience engendered by the staff: warm, chatty members of the community, many of whom had worked there for years. It's the great strength of Scottish country hotels.
Peat Inn, by Cupar, Fife (01134 840206; www.thepeatinn.co.uk).
Doubles £165 per night, including breakfast.