Sometimes, you just know you’re in the right place. And while Scotland might not be the place that comes to mind when thinking of great food, that country’s often-maligned culinary tradition has been re-born and dressed in some sleek new clothes at Argyll, a new Scottish restaurant and pub in Cherry Creek. For me, I knew I was in a good place when Robyn the bartender, pulled from her apron a Celtic cookbook, a well-worn little booklet of very traditional Scottish and Irish dishes that she’s actually made. She may have picked it up on one of her many trips to Ireland and Scotland. When your bartender cares that much about the food and culture, you know you’re on to something good. And you’d be right at Argyll, tucked into the space at Third and Clayton formerly occupied by The Squealing Pig. Where the Pig was gritty, cozy, dark, and felt like a rustic Irish pub, Argyll is bright, chic, and open, more reminiscent of a cute French bistro. Bottles of wine jam the shelves along the dining room wall. Another shelf prominently displays a little library of cookbooks–everything from classic French cuisine to more modern Celtic dishes–cementing the growing feeling that you’re in a place that really cares about its food. In fact, Argyll is one of Denver’s first “gastropubs,” a concept brought over from Britain, and referring to a drinking establishment that also serves hearty, well-made dishes. Owner Robert Thompson, who opened the place three months ago, says that his Argyll lies “between fine dining and a pub.” While Argyll puts a firm emphasis on the “gastro” part of the term, it doesn’t neglect the “pub” aspect. “We’re a place where you can get an elegant meal,” says Thompson, “and also knock down fifteen pints and try not to pee in the corner.” Thompson has tapped Sergio Romero to fill the Executive Chef position. Romero, who hails from hot and dry New Mexico, admits that Scottish cuisine has been a bit of a challenge for him. “It’s more out-of-the-box thinking than I’m accustomed to,” he says. But tasting his superb, carefully prepared dishes, it’s obvious that he’s accepted the challenge of one of the more difficult cuisines. For starters, his anchovy appetizer ($5) is quite easy to devour: a tiny school of little fish, bursting with briny ocean flavor. These aren’t the anchovies you get from a tiny can in the supermarket. Romero’s are breaded, fried, white anchovies, each one a mouthful. They’re served with a tiny lemon wedge and his homemade aioli for dipping. Understandably, he sells a lot of these at the bar. Every table gets a basket of the homemade crisps. Romero thinly slices Yukon Gold potatoes, crisps them in hot oil, and then covers them with a sprinkling of chopped chives, rosemary and thyme. The whole basket is then lightly drizzled with a malt vinegar gastrique (a reduced sauce of malt vinegar and sugar), then dusted with Celtic sea salt. The “Gastropub Caesar” ($9) salad is an innovative take on the classic. It’s a light mix of Romaine lettuces with a homemade dressing, topped with tiny ribbons of parmesan cheese that are infused with the earthy scent of Scottish peat moss. Eggs are the centerpiece of two distinct dishes, both delicious. One is the deviled-egg appetizer ($4). Romero adds a bit of anchovy to the yolk mixture, and places the quartered egg pieces on a bed of lettuce chiffonade. The eggs are topped with a tomato jam. Another dish is a staple: Scotch Eggs ($6). Argyll’s version is a perfectly soft-boiled egg, coated with sausage and deep-fried, served over a puddle of homemade horseradish aioli. So far, they’re selling a lot of both these dishes. The fish and chips ($13) in Romero’s kitchen start with fresh haddock (from the Northern Sea, never frozen). The filets are dipped in beer batter and fried, served with his golden-brown wedges of deep-fried potatoes, a side of the gastrique and an aioli tartar sauce. One of the unexpected offerings (remember: this is “modern Scottish”) is the rabbit lasagne ($17). Inside the soft folds of lasagne noodles are chunks of sage-infused Parmesan in a fluffy bホchamel sauce. Take a moment to smell the sage, if you can keep the cheese away from your hungry lips long enough. The tender chunks of rabbit are slowly braised in Romero’s kitchen, and are a joy to bite into. On the side is a tiny heart of Bibb lettuce, quickly grilled for a bit of color and flavor, then paired with an anchovy aioli, and perhaps a hint of cayenne pepper. Celtic sea salt bathes the shores of Scotland, and it’s also the brine mixture used to prepare the chicken for Argyll’s Celtic fried chicken ($16). The one-day soak in salty water keeps the chicken moist during frying, after its coating of buttermilk and flour. The result: crisp, flaky crust, tender white meat. You also get a little cast-iron crock on your plate, containing collared greens in a silky bホchamel sauce. It’s a Southern American dish, but in a gastropub it’s the quality that matters. And this dish is all crispy and heart-warming goodness. It’s hard to think about writing a review of a Scottish place and ignoring the booze. They’ve got that, too, at Argyll, including Tennant’s Scottish Lager (try finding that anywhere else in Denver), as well as more familiar brews like Tetley’s, Carlsberg, Murphy’s, and even the local Great Divide Titan IPA, which is used to make the batter for the fish and chips. Scotches, whiskeys, ports, and even a thoughtful wine list pack the drink menu, which also boasts nine special house cocktails. The Argyll Smokey Martini ($9), features Grey Goose vodka with a touch of Talisker, shaken and served up in a cocktail glass. It’s the Argyll combination: French vodka, Scotch flavor. “We’re a lot of French technique, with UK cooking,” Romero explains. He hits the local farmer’s market in Cherry Creek every Saturday to pick up fresh produce for his kitchen, striving to be a farm-to-table restaurant that utilizes local, organic ingredients. He also plans to start a rooftop garden next summer. Working with such esteemed culinary giants as Joseph Reed and James Beard, Romero has learned how to cook mainly from his years of experience. But he’s also done a lot of research. “You pick up on the fundamentals,” he says, planning to do just that during an upcoming trip to Scotland this fall. “There are so many amazing ingredients in Scotland,” says Thompson. “but they haven’t always prepared them in the right way.” Argyll is treating those ingredients, and others, with a great amount of care and respect. It’s the kind of place where you don’t leave anything on the plate–you’re eating all of it. And that’s when you know for sure, when it comes to food, that you’re in the right place.

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