Few Americans are fortunate enough to visit Scotland in person. Places elsewhere in Europe usually take precedence when tours are planned.
But restaurateur Colin Smith set out to bring a taste of Scotland to the Chicago suburbs when he opened his Balmoral Restaurant in Campton Hills in mid-2018 and he has been weaving a gorgeous tartan of Scottish dining ever since.
Smith had 11 restaurants, mostly in the English and Scottish countryside, before coming to the United States to woo and marry a St. Charles woman, he said. For the first decade in Illinois, Smith worked for a flavor company, but then he began looking for a local location for a Scottish restaurant.
He felt that he was better off finding a location that had never before housed a restaurant, so he chose a former liquor store and started creating an 80-seat restaurant from scratch in Campton Hills.
After a visit to Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland (the Queen’s private retreat created by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), Smith long vowed to create a restaurant that would awe patrons and allow them to “dine like the Queen” and that is what he spent more than two years creating.
“One-hundred percent of our new customers take a few steps into the restaurant, stop and say, ‘This. Is. Beautiful,’ ” Smith explained.
There are swords and shields, murals and military lore, and, of course, Scottish music. A bagpiper even greets you at the door on weekends. Place settings are inspired by those at the Queen’s Balmoral, including the exact china and crystal, and yes, your cutlery is gold-plated.
Expect to dine upon “what your granny would make every Sunday,” according to the Perthshire, Scotland, native. Autumn is a great time to say “aye” to Highlander’s Cock-a-Leekie soup or a steamy bowl of Yer Granny’s Green Pea & Ham soup. Order game, like pheasant or rabbit, and you’ll be transported to the Highlands after a hunt. And take the opportunity to try The True Scotch Egg, some of Scotland’s finest smoked mackerel or haggis, the country’s national dish that’s simply a savory meat sausage (served with Balmoral’s own whisky sauce).
“We have many customers who simply have to try haggis!” he chuckled.
“We have many dishes you rarely see on a standard menu,” Smith noted in his Scottish brogue. In fact, his chefs were hired a full year before Balmoral’s doors opened in order to learn and perfect genuine Scottish fare, the recipes for which were gleaned from Smith’s grandmother’s recipe books.
There are deeply comforting dishes like traditional shepherd’s pie, fish ‘n chips, salmon or pan-fried Red Ruby trout, tender braised lamb shank or a righteous Ream’s Best filet steak topped with a slice of melting Stilton blue cheese.
Treat yourself to dessert you’ll not likely find anywhere in the Midwest, such as the Scot favorite sticky toffee pudding, buttery shortbread (which Smith calls “a Twix on steroids”) or banoffee pie served in a martini glass, among others.
You also shouldn’t miss the glass bar stocked with an impressive list of 150 Scotch whiskies.
“When the sun comes through the windows and shines on the bar, it looks like liquid gold,” Smith laughed. Balmoral’s exceptional bar program collected the 2022 Daily Herald’s Readers’ Choice Best of the Best awards in Best Bar/Lounge and Best Martini.
As a child in Scotland, Smith said that Sunday meant a trip to Granny’s, and she would open the China cabinet, bring out the best plates, glasses and cutlery and make the most amazing homemade food. Smith brings that traditional experience to Balmoral with Sunday roasts (beef, lamb, chicken, salmon, baked ham or even vegetarian items) served until they run out. And you needn’t trudge to a Chicago hotel for a wonderful Scottish afternoon tea that includes 14 items and a lovely pot of tea, served daily (but make a reservation).
Balmoral has captured the hearts and taste buds of Daily Herald readers winning 13 Best of the Best awards in the 2022 Readers’ Choice contest, including the two above, plus Best Chef (Chef Joe); Best Comfort Food; Best Theme Restaurant; Best Romantic Restaurant; Best Seafood; Best Steakhouse; Best Business Lunch; Best Place for a Unique Salad; Best Caterer; Best Appetizers; and Best Carry-Out.
So, don your kilts and head out to Campton Hills!
• Balmoral is located at 40W099 Route 64, Campton Hills. Call them at (331) 901-5224 or visit online at https://balmoralrestaurant.com.