A la carte
Starters £6.50 - £11.50 | Mains £16.00 - £26.50
Cooking 7/10 | Service 5/5
Flavour 4/5 | Value 5/5
I really should get out further afield, people tell me. And I should stop mingling with all these old people.
I hear and obey, dear reader. 40 miles from the capital. Very nearly in English England. And in the company of a famous journalist. No, not one of these former ones, a real live working one. One who can write and who knows what she's writing about. In Scotland, present company excepted, there aren't many of them in the food sector. Welcome Ms T.
For the second time in a week I found myself enjoying a restaurant of which I had never heard, despite it being in existence for more than a decade. Two decades, in fact, in the case of The Caddy Mann. Chef and co-owner Ross Horrocks started here 22 years ago. He left and the place closed. He returned with wife Lynne. They leased it for a couple of years and have owned it for a long time now.
Head south down the A68 towards Jedburgh. Just before you get there, turn left towards Kelso. Half a mile on, and we're there. Not just us. By 1.15 on a Wednesday, the dining room was nearly full. With this food and these prices, I'm not surprised. Both Ross and his right hand man in the kitchen worked at Gleneagles. The finesse shines through, though the portions are enough to keep a Borders farmer or rugby player content.
And the prices! A certain Edinburgh starred chef charges a supplement of £40 on his set menu for grouse. Here, a whole bird will cost £11.50, served as a starter. An 8 ounce sirloin and all the trimmings is £26.50. Dishes come with sides at no extra charge.
Ms T who knows the area had suggested that if I Iiked game I would like this place. Very decent of her given that she herself is vegetarian. I was salivating over the list of 20 dishes, and would have scoffed them all apart from the liver. On the game front, as well as grouse, venison and snipe, you could have one main dish featuring a trio of woodcock, teal and mallard.
Ms T, however, was looking a little downcast as only 1 plate had a V next to it. Oh, said Lynne I'll bring you the vegetarian menu. Another 10 choices. Many of them could be served either as a starter or a main. Three vegan dishes and another two which could be adapted to be vegan friendly. How, in the name of the wee caddy mann, does a small kitchen do this? (As an aside, I now know why the place is so called. It wasn't Lynne or Ross's doing. It is excruciatingly naff.)
Still, most of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen NIghtmares came about because the owners attempted far too ambitious a menu. Let's get the proof: let's eat. A stuffed loin of rabbit was a thing of beauty, the neat squares zinging with the tang of an offal based stuffing. There was a beer braised onion and what was described as a Scotch broth barley pila. That's a lot of work for a tenner. A cheese soufflé is a fine thing if done well. This one was, served on a bed of sauté potatoes with a creamy onion soubise sauce.
I decided to have the braised lamb. I discover that this is a dish which the clientele won't let Ross take off the menu, even at Christmas. It's cooked for the best part of a day and shaped into giant cylinders. You get two of these, and a bed of mash and a Yorkshire pud and spiced carrots and broccoli and cabbage. Bloody hell! The veg may sound dull: they weren't. I was hungry, but I was defeated.
Ms T's gnocchi encapsulated the flavours of autumn, with pumpkin and sage and other good things. I should tell you about Ms T. She is tall and trim and willowy. How she managed to even consider ordering a pud is a mystery. And, with only a little help from me, she got about three quarters way through a litre bowl of crumble. Damson and other autumn fruits, with a grown up topping including toasted nuts, and a half litre jug of custard on the side. (A few lumps there, but who cares?)
The variety, the quality, the generosity and the charm. I'm sure I could think of plenty more reasons to tell you to visit, but perhaps that's enough to be going on with.
The indefatigable Paul Brennan and Stuart Muir of the Dine Group are at it again. Head up Colinton Road and just opposite Meggetland you will spy a sign, Dine Craiglockhart. This new 72 cover venue will be similar in style to Dine Murrayfield, open from breakfast time right through to dinner. I had a tour this week. Paul hopes to be open by the end of October. On Trip Advisor yesterday The Tollhouse, Dine Murrayfield and Dine Cambridge Street were at numbers 1, 3 and 4 in the rankings. Residents of Craiglockhart, you have a treat in store.
Tom Eats! will return in a fortnight