EATING FOR BRITAIN: BURNS AND THE DOGS
Just by the Brig O’ Doon, where across did Tam O’Shanter ride, in the small town of Alloway, home of Robert Burns, there is an imprint in the soil. It is rounded, deep and shows signs of sticky out ears.
It is, in fact, me shaped. A sort of mud angel created when yours truly went arse over tit into the muddy earth on my way back to my charming B&B after a liquid heavy evening to launch the year of Scottish Homecoming. I arrived, well past midnight, with the slurry of the rain sodden earth dripping from me like chocolate oozing from a well made fondant.
Up to that point, however, it had all been rather fun. The disappointment of finding there was no haggis on the menu for the event (not to worry, plenty of haggis yet to come) was soon forgotten as I sipped on a Whisky based cocktail and then found myself entering the stunning dining room of the Brig o’ Doon, house hotel alongside assorted dignitaries and even the Scottish First Minister himself, gathered to celebrate Burns birth with a blow out meal.
In between each course, of a supper based on excellent Scottish ingredients, we were serenaded by well known artists, including the sublime Sandi Thom, giving us their renditions of Burn’s songs. And, while the meal suffered the usual banquet problems of over saucing, the quality of the scallops and langoustines in one dish alone made the journey from London worthwhile.
Here is a quick competition, the evening ended with a toast to Burns made with one of 250 bottles of 37 year old Famous Grouse. Why are the numbers significant?
Waking up groggy headed and still finding mud in improbable places the next morning, I made my way the short hope to Edinburgh, where, after depositing my car at the next B&B, I headed out to find something to eat. A hugely depressing experience as the best Edinburgh had to offer, outside of its Michelin starred elite seemed to be grubby shops selling, pizzas, kebabs and, for some bizarre reason baguettes. I bought a bottle of wine and some fruit and retired to my room to catch up on my writing.
A solid rib sticker of a breakfast made me feel more sanguine about the whole thing and I decided to make an assault up Arthur’s seat, to make room for lunch. It had been nearly 25 years since I set foot in the city as a fresh faced, idealistic student appearing in a play on The Edinburgh Fringe. It and I were appalling, but my concerns that someone might recognise me and ride me out of town on a rail for crimes against theatre were unfounded and I soon found it time to meet my new chum, Martha Bryce, at her choice of lunch venue, The Dogs.
In a city seemingly filled with poor budget eating options, The Dogs stands out. In fact, The Dogs would stand out in any city and every city, no every neighbourhood, should have a place like it. It is a dining room in the true sense. Well made food in small, sharing portions made from good ingredients with no dish over £5.25. If HP had been with me, I suspect we would have ordered the lot.
As it was, both Martha and I began with soup. My disappointment that the Cullen Skink had run out moments before was short lived when we were both presented with bowls of steaming Scotch Broth. This is the sort of soup my granny used to make with a deep stock offering up a few scraps of meat and lots of swollen pearl barley and a few carrots. Nutritious and nourishing, the sort of dish I was hoping to find on my journey. Like wise a special of Ox Liver with onions, which, gave up pink chunks of offal and slivers of sweet red onion in a sharp sauce. It was spot on, as was Martha’s own choice of haddock coated in crunchy pinhead oatmeal, with only the silly fat, unpeeled chips adding a duff note.
I have a feeling that my experiences in Scotland so far will prove to be common as I travel around the whole of the UK. Incredible ingredients balanced by lots of crappy places selling crappy food and some real gems to be unearthed by happenstance or local guideance.
I wonder if I should change to book title to EATING FOR BRITAIN:THERE’S SOME GREAT FOOD OUT THERE IF YOU TRY HARD ENOUGH