Scotsman Review
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October 17, 2021

Dawyck Botanic Garden Cafe, Restaurant Review

Autumn days mean a spot of leaf peeping followed by lunch at Dawyck Botanic Garden Cafe for Catriona Thomson

There is an autumnal wind blowing through the Borders, as the nights fair draw in. So in an attempt to boost our vitamin D levels I’m dragging my elder daughter for some fresh air and exercise to Dawyck Botanic Garden near Stobo.

We plan to do nothing more strenuous than a spot of light leaf peeping, and before you summon the constabulary this is an entirely harmless activity, where you go looking at majestic trees in their flame-coloured glory.

Dawyck Gardens,
Autumn in Dawyck Gardens.

As our taste buds are now thankfully working properly again following our family's recent brush with a certain virus, I decided we should fuel ourselves for our gentle perambulations with a spot of lunch in the cafe.

Green fingered

At Dawyck you need to pay for the pleasure of taking a turn around the garden, but trust me it's worth the entrance fee, Adult £7.50, Student £6.75.

I know, having spent my childhood being dragged around various different horticultural wonders. Now it is my turn to inflict the same on my offspring.

Another valid reason is to look at a delightful exhibition called, Lost Worlds which is being exhibited here until the end of November.

As luck would have it, the artist Sarah Knox was holding a ‘meet the artist’ afternoon when we pitched up.

In my experience of exhibition openings you never know when the booze might run out; so once an art student, always an art student, I quickly decided to neck a small glass of fizz whilst looking at the paintings.

Dawyck Gardens,
Dawyck Gardens

Most were completed during lockdown, when the artist decided to take her easel and sketchbook outside, borrowing her neighbour’s garden and being declared its official artist in residence during the pandemic.

She also visited both Malleny in Balerno and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to paint when travel restrictions were eased. The result is a series of expressive works that convey something of that unsettling time.

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Artistry admired, we headed to the cafe before tackling our constitutional walk.

Cafe Culture

The cafeteria space is flooded with natural light and you can choose to sit inside or at tables outside on the terrace.

I confess, it's been a while since I worked in catering but I was sorely tempted to don my pinny and get in the kitchen.

Dawyck Gardens,
Vegan and gluten free falafel salad bowl

There was a job advertisement for a part time weekend assistant pinned up on the counter, which I had plenty of time to read as we waited for our order to be taken.

Ladies who lunch

We opted for; spicy parsnip soup, £5, followed by a vegan and gluten free falafel salad bowl, £8.50, a croissant filled with brie ham and cranberry, £7.50, plus a slice of coconut cake, smothered in sugar pink butter icing, £2.75, and a portion of sticky toffee pudding, £5.

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We took our seats and enjoyed the mayhem of watching an ever lengthening lunch queue.

My soup although tasty, seemed more lentil-based rather than the promised root vegetable option. Overall it was wholesome, warming and a deliciously cumin infused October warmer.

Dawyck Gardens,
Croissant filled with brie ham and cranberry

Bowl scraped clean I moved onto the next course which was a bountiful harvest display of salad. It included baby leaves, celery and apple coleslaw, with crunchy walnut to finish.

There was also a spoonful of rustic hummus and a scattering of pine nuts. The trio of falafels I confess, had the texture of dust but once you scooped them up in the salad and sharp vinegary dressing they were actually quite palatable.

My dining companion was massively chuffed with her selection of savoury pastry, which arrived stuffed with oozing cheese and sliced ham served with salad leaves on the side.

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After we had demolished the grub, our classic molten sticky toffee pudding arrived. It nearly scorched the poor unsuspecting diner’s roof of her mouth, but fortunately the vanilla ice cream saved the day.

Dawyck Gardens,
Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream

We rounded off the meal with cappuccino and pastel pink cake. With every morsel was scoffed, we were ready to don our jackets before braving the great outdoors with a Jane Austenesque turn around the garden.

Bricks and Mortar

The Veitch family initially planted the garden then the Naesmiths took over. Sir John Murray Naesmith backed many plant-hunting expeditions of David Douglas (he of Douglas fir fame) The subsequent owners the Balfours then gave the arboretum to the Royal Botanic Garden in 1978.

Dawyck Gardens,
Fly Agaric

One of our favourite areas is a garden terrace that overlooks the ‘big house’ where you instantly feel as if you should don your crinoline and take the arm of Mr Darcy.

Romancing the stone

We also enjoyed the wilder areas of the garden; the romantic burn and bridge but wherever you look there are stunning vistas and statement trees.

As we left we were treated to a spectacular watergaw or rainbow sunlight refracted in the prism of raindrops, which was worth the entrance fee alone.

Dawyck Gardens
A watergaw or rainbow at Dawyck Gardens

Dawyck Botanic Garden
EH45 9JU

Tel: 01721 760391

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Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
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