My mum has hit a big birthday. I’m not going to tell you which one, but let’s be vague and say she’s younger than Rupert Murdoch and older than Jerry Hall. Anyway, age is just a number and, like a well-tended bonsai, she only gets better with time.
Her request was to celebrate at the four-star Cringletie House for lunch, as she likes the snowdrops in the grounds, which are currently making the lawn look pretty and sugar dusted. I’ve reviewed its restaurant previously, and stayed over a couple of times, but it’s been a while. The last time, I think the head chef was Patrick Bardoulet, but he’s long gone and seems to have taken his pair of AA rosettes with him. (Maybe he’s using them as burlesque pasties).
On a Sunday lunchtime, their menu is a decent £22.50, and sounds imaginative, yet retro in parts (the online sample menu even has a melon starter).
From three choices of starter, I went for the smoked haddock and sole terrine with Ayrshire potato salad and pickled Asian vegetables.
Sounds quite hearty, doesn’t it? Nope. It was a comedically small portion that featured two teaspoons of a rather dry, sticky and unseasoned fishy glue, each fringed by nori and presented as if they were sushi made by a prize-winning itamae. The plate was dressed with three wet thimbles-full of mayo clad potato salad and shreds of zingy pickled carrot, daikon and radish. Disappointing.
Our other starter was better, with four molar-sized chunks of Stornoway black pudding (they must’ve made one slice feed around three people), a couple of postage stamps of bacon, daubs of a soupy tomato jus, loads of rocket and a breadcrumbed, deep-fried poached egg. It was pleasant enough, bar the measly-ness with the black pudding.
"Lemon baked Alaska was like a pimped-up Arctic Roll – not a bad thing"
My main course was an oddity. I hadn’t known what to expect when it came to the “puffed wheat” that was supposed to be served with my sea bass. Sugar Puffs perhaps (now known as Honey Monster Puffs, to avoid association with high sugar snacks, who knew)? This addition turned out to be wheat berries, I think, which were kind of clumped together, like spawn on a river bed, and had been doused in a vinegary “chilli infused sticky sauce”. That element reminded me of the sort of desperate lunch you’d grab in a garage halfway through a very long drive.
When it came to the fish, a speckly grey topping of what looked like something that might have been coughed out of a Hoover bag turned out to be a lemon and black pepper mixture, and there were a couple of pieces of undercooked pak choi to complete the cross cultural mash-up.
The less experimental pork main was probably a bit better than the fish course. However, though it had sounded a bit more exciting than a roast dinner, it wasn’t. There were a couple of rounds of meat, a billowing Yorkshire pud, a scoop of peppery mash, some assorted veg (pearl onions, carrot and green beans) and a splotch of not quite enough “cider cream sauce”. So-so. It was eaten up.
A pudding of warm chocolate fudge cake was pretty standard, but at least they’d been generous with the portion size and the brown sugary gloop. It came with a scoop of Bailey’s tinged ice-cream, which was adhered to the plate with some biscuit crumbs. My lemon baked Alaska, served on a glass plate, featured a coaster of sponge topped with a dollop of lemon curd, plain ice-cream, then a soft igloo of Italian meringue. It tasted like a pimped up Arctic Roll, not necessarily a bad thing.
Anyway, we had a great time, but mainly because we were together, there was booze and the staff are lovely. It’s just that the food here is a bit blah. In their efforts to make it look a bit fine-dining and fancy, it seems they’ve shrunk the portions and forgotten to actually taste anything.
Unlike my mumsie, who only gets better with age, the restaurant here is not what it once was.
Cringletie House Hotel
Edinburgh Road, Peebles
(01721 725 750, www.cringletie.com)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks - £45