Reviewed by Rose Murray Brown MW 12 June 2019
A dynamic young chef, who travelled the world cooking for the rich and famous, has opened a ground-breaking new restaurant Haar in my home town of St Andrews.
Dean Banks (31) rose to fame as Masterchef Finalist last year. His first venture he calls “an expression of myself”; from the Nordic/Asian fusion cuisine to the funky pared-back fine dining experience. The name is inspired by coastal mists which roll in along Scotland’s east coast.
Haar’s entrance is confusing as it shares a reception with Kinnettles Hotel, but once inside it is modern, bright and very welcoming with an open kitchen. In fact, the first person we saw when we entered was Banks himself adding finishing touches to dishes in front of customers (you can actually book ‘the chef’s table’ in front of the pass).
Our first impression of Haar’s décor was distinctly Asian with metallic tiling, pale green walls, dark wooden floors and local artist Samantha Renson’s interesting modern seascapes. Modern canteen style tables and simple cutlery add to the pared-down feel – which contrasts with the elegant high ceilings and grand cornices of the St Andrews townhouse.
Haar’s menus are very brief and to the point. We tried the set six course Tasting Menu with individual portions and wine pairing, rather than his ‘All Day’ (old-style a la carte) menu which is offered as a range of ‘sharing platters’.
First on the list was the Haar oyster with a hit of heat from jalapeno and cucumber infused oil, resting on sea pebbles. It felt slightly like the king of shellfish playing second fiddle – and unfortunately the dry ice had not been delivered, so there were no special effects. The wine pairing, a very dry Italian Franciacorta fizz (Bellavista’s Alma Gran Cuvee Brut NV £12 glass/£34 hf bt/£68 bottle) was an odd choice.
The pea and asparagus veloute sprinkled with coriander powder, my shellfish alternative, was exceptionally good – creamy, light, delicate – offering a glimpse of Banks’ real skills. This delicious veloute is also available on the All Day menu, served with crab.
Our second course was fascinating. Fife rare breed pork belly topped with puffed pork crackling with a rainbow of pear, coriander and Korean Kimchi purees. Banks' brining, pressing and marinating skills gave this exquisite dish so many layers of flavour. Interestingly paired with an English wine, Stopham Estate Pinot Gris 2016 (£48 bottle), which was too simple for this dish, it would have been better to have had a slightly spicier Alsace version of the grape.
Seatrout on a bed of pea and asparagus fricassee followed (pictured below) – another work of art like many of his dishes. The skin on the fish was only just crispy, but the fish was beautifully succulent. The dish was let down by the vegetables – the locally grown peas (which when tasted raw were delicious) did not work – but the saucing was very good. The choice of a creamy, leesy, softly rounded Spanish Godello from Monterrei region (Mara Martin Godello 2017 £6.60 & £9.30 glass/£28 bottle) was good, but there are better examples of Godello.
The star of the night was the BBQ Duck. This was a dish Banks had originally presented on Masterchef and had been advised by one of the judges, chef Marcus Wareing, to simplify.
He had done just that. He had pared it down to the simple elements of sweet succulent duck breast (which had been cooked ‘sous vide’ and finished on a Japanese wooden charcoal barbeque, making it very tender) accompanied by Korean Gochujang sauce with fresh carrot and carrot puree to cool the spicing – and the result is now very good. The wine match of a very ripe red berried version of Mencia, a grape from north west Spain (Black Mencia Cuatro Pasos 2016 from Bierzo region: £9 & £12.60 glass/£38 bottle) was also the best of the night.
The choice of Banoffee for a deconstructed dessert rather limited the palate to just sweetness, although the tonka bean parfait was very good, we could have done without the fluffy cream. What the dessert really lacked was acidity. The honeyed citric notes of the Sauternes (Chateau Delmond) wine pairing helped a little, but there are better examples of this style.
Banks is clearly an exceptionally accomplished and experimental chef – his food is very good. He has made an effort to source local produce from line-caught seatrout to rare breed pork – down to the list of Scottish gins on the cocktail menu. He says that he works only with the fresh daily produce brought in by his many suppliers, which is very commendable provided he can sustain it.
Given the local produce, I was surprised at the lack of vegetables on the Tasting Menu (although you can order these separately on the All Day menu) – and locally sourced bananas must surely be hard to come by? A local fruit dessert would be preferred.
Haar’s wine list focuses on cool climate Old World examples, which work well matched with rich saucing with their naturally high acidity, but some examples are not the best of their style. I was delighted to see two sherries available by the glass: Valdespino’s Fino Inocente (£6.50 per glass) and PX El Candado (£7 per glass).
To be honest, we came away slightly confused with the overall message and concerned that he is already planning two more ventures in Dundee and Edinburgh so early into his first project. However – there is no doubt that Banks is a very talented chef and we would definitely return to see how his food develops.
6 Course Tasting Menu £65pp
Wine Pairing £45pp
Sunday Tasting £55.55pp
3 Course Lunch Menu £24pp
All Day Menu – starter platters £11-£14 and main platters £19-28
127 North Street