John Junor, the self-appointed sage of Auchtermuchty, died in 1997 after a long journalistic career which saw him become perhaps the best-known Scottish journalist in England.
Who was he? Well, among many other things, he was quite ahead of his time – a thundering bigot with an abusive personality who claimed these negative traits as his way of telling it like it is.
Bullies often do this, of course, but his modus operandi delighted certain parts of a country eager to bow down at the feet of right-wing politicians like Margaret Thatcher and her fellow Tories.
Today’s world is full of people like John Junor, eager to point out wokeness as a weakness, while stepping on those less fortunate or less “normal” than themselves.
When John Junor wanted to point the finger at what he saw as a society on the brink of decadent collapse it was towards the idealised golden streets of Auchtermuchty that he often looked for his promised land, a place where men were men and women were thankful.
As his obituary in the Independent stated: “The Auchtermuchty of Junor’s sabbath imagination warmed the heart of every Sunday Express reader. It was a place where the lassies were pretty, the lads were lusty, and there was short shrift for ‘w******* and p*******’. No man in Auchtermuchty ate quiche”.
No doubt Junor would have been delighted and relieved that quiche isn’t on the menu at the Boar’s Head, a recently-renovated pub serving very good food in his absolute favourite town to speed through as he headed out of it to golf in St Andrews.
The Boar’s Head is actually a real discovery and I was led there by a random internet search for gastropubs in North East Fife. This is a regular bugbear of mine because there are so few pubs serving good food in Dundee and North Fife.
Let’s face it, there’s something lovely about just dropping into a pub and having something to eat that’s presented without fuss or faff – the kind of thing you want on a day when you’ve got nothing in the fridge but don’t want to go to the bother of booking a restaurant.
I’ve been to Auchtermuchty many times (I used to be a fairly regular visitor to the deer farm there, and there’s an interesting auction house nearby) although I had never been to the High Street, which is where the Boar’s Head is situated.
This former coach house is a delight, not least because the ongoing transformation of this 300-year-old building has saved it for new generations to enjoy.
The story of how new owners Justina and David have transformed this building into such a lovely, unpretentious space is a very heartening one but, since our main purpose here is to talk about food, it thrills me primarily to say that eating here is a delight.
Chef Andrew Spence is originally from the Shetlands and has worked in Gleneagles and various five-star European resorts, as well as in private catering.
He is definitely one to watch because the food he’s producing here is way beyond what you’d expect in a local pub, and it makes the Boar’s Head something of a destination.
This is pub food ramped up to near restaurant quality and I feel that it will only get better as this place attracts a wider clientele.
My first visit here was on a Sunday and I went with my friend, journalist-musician-photographer Graeme Ogston, who happens to be coeliac.
When I’d booked, the effusive person on the end of the ‘phone (who turned out to be co-owner Justine) effortlessly brushed away any concerns that there might not be enough dishes on the menu to ensure Graeme had enough choice.
She was right and Graeme later commented how clued-up Justine was in the way she explained the menu to him and how her knowledge had reassured him.
Greeted by this wonderwoman, who quickly seemed to be in five places at once here, we chose to sit in the bar-snug area and how I wish Graeme had brought his dog Meghan Barkle because this space is dog friendly and relaxed.
A more formal dining room is also available but I’d say the relaxed space of the bar is where to come for that real Sunday lunch vibe.
The menu is concise and all the better for it – five starters, three roasts, four main courses and four puddings.
Graeme was delighted with his pine-smoked Scottish salmon, pickled gooseberries, nori seaweed crisp and mustard emulsion (£7.50) which was attractively presented and tasted great.
My Perthshire wood pigeon breast, dressed hispi cabbage and peppered raspberries (£8.50) was wonderful, the tartness of the berries enhancing the gamey flavour of the pigeon beautifully. Presented simply on a plain white plate, this is my kind of food – honest, earthy, harmonious and tasting great.
My main course was even better and I’m happy to report that the happenstance of me having a hangover wasn’t just an invitation to alliteration here – it also led me to the classic shepherd’s pie, served with lamb cutlet and buttery mash, which was a thing of absolute salve, soothe and delight (£16).
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of mash unless it’s done absolutely properly (I use a potato ricer and pounds of butter so it becomes more an ointment than a gloopy paste) and this mash was ambrosial. The meat within was unctuous, well-seasoned and so deeply resonant of goodness that I risked burning my mouth in my haste to devour it.
The lamb cutlet emerging from this dish was perfection within perfection. If this is on the menu when you go to the Boar’s Head I would highly recommend you order it.
By now my hangover was abating, vastly helped by a full fat Coke, which might not gain me any culinary credibility but it sure takes the edge off a post-Merlot comedown.
Graeme’s roast pork was perhaps the most attractive dish of the day, beautifully presented with a small jug of rich gravy, and tasting ace.
Sunday roasts come with all the appropriate trimmings, including excellent Yorkshire puddings, and what was great about this one was that everything wasn’t just bunged on the plate like some pile-up – it was presented with some style and respect for each component.
Desserts here aren’t an afterthought – in fact, they’re a highlight and it would be a joyless person who would skip them for calorific reasons.
My rhubarb creme brulee with honeycomb (£7) was a seasonal riff on a classic, the brittle shard of honeycomb a nice contrast to the wobbly delight of the rhubarb cream.
Graeme’s pink peppercorn panna cotta, passionfruit puree and white chocolate crumble (£7) was a thing of beauty, the texture of the panna cotta perfectly offset by the rubble of white chocolate surrounding it, the blobs of tart puree framing the dish perfectly. A delight, and one which visually made me feel like an astronaut venturing into space (maybe that hangover hadn’t actually gone as much as I’d thought).
I must admit it felt like quite a thrill to discover this place and we left very impressed by the whole experience.
A return visit a few days later only confirmed my belief that this is one of the more interesting places to open in Courier Country in the last year.
Here you have a couple who bought this run-down venue in December 2020 and refused to let the vast issues arising from the pandemic and lockdowns defeat them.
Inspired by TV shows like Escape To The Chateau, Justina and Paul (who has an ongoing 10-year history in construction management which I assume proved invaluable with this project) embarked on an eight-month renovation programme which saw them finally open the doors on August 4 2021.
This huge project entailed making the building watertight and a full renovation of the front of house and kitchen areas. Windows were replaced, walls were stripped back, the building was rewired, a new bar was built and a new kitchen installed. They did most of this work themselves, with help from family and friends.
Trying to keep the feel of a traditional village pub, the couple have transformed the interiors quietly yet assertively, with featured walls of bright wallpaper contrasting with more traditional pub furniture.
It’s a pleasing environment and an expression of their own taste and vision and I admire them for managing to combine tradition with contemporary touches. Having said that, I don’t much care for the lampshades but then I’m not planning to eat them anytime soon.
The jewel in this crown, though, remains the food and in chef Andrew Spence (actually the first chef to apply for the job here, which just proves the power of serendipity) the Boar’s Head have such a great asset.
If anything, my second visit confirmed that this is a chef to treasure because my calamari with wild garlic mayo, wild garlic flowers and lemon (£8) and David’s spiced red pepper hummus, black olive crumble, baby carrots, courgettes and corn on the cob (£7.50) were just as nice as the starters Graeme and I had enjoyed.
David’s truffle and pea risotto with parmesan crisp (£14) was spot-on in texture and flavour, the rice perfectly cooked and the flavours delightful.
My wild boar burger (£15) was served properly, with notably good onion relish, cheddar cheese, pickles and fries.
An excellent apple tart (£6.50) ended a second great meal at this great find.
The Boar’s Head is the kind of place we need more of in Courier Country, and it was truly exciting to find it – because eating out shouldn’t always be a huge palaver and, in saying that, I’m in no way denigrating what is provided here.
But what is really special about this place is that you can eat so well in a pleasingly unpretentious environment and you can either have a burger or a more rarified game dish for your supper. I really like that because every trip to eat out needn’t be for a full three-course meal, and everyone at the table mightn’t share the same culinary language.
This is a place for locals to enjoy but for those of us in a wider catchment area to treasure as well. As more people come here I feel that Andrew Spence will gain in confidence and the skill and assertiveness in his cooking will produce more and more food of real stature.
These people are trying to do something great here – and they’re already succeeding. I wish them all the very best and can’t wait to go back.
Address: The Boar’s Head, 23 High Street, Auchtermuchty, Fife KY14 7AP
Price: Starter from £6, main from £14 and dessert from £6
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