I can't tell you the number of times I've strolled through Scotland’s many gorgeous holiday towns and felt disappointed by the dining options. There’s pretty much always a chippy, several cafés and tea shops of varying quality, and, if you’re lucky, a Chinese or an Indian serving dishes that people from those countries might struggle to recognise. North Berwick, though, is increasingly catering to visitors and residents who want to have a bit more fun and variety; there’s the fantastic Lobster Shack that’s open on the harbour during the warmer months, a couple of reliable Italians, several well-stocked delis and now Herringbone.
The space has clearly been designed by somebody with great taste. The décor has a distinct New England aesthetic – pale, almost sun-bleached wood, muted tones, a bare brick wall and whitewashed chairs. Like something George Clooney might wear to brunch, it’s smart but casual, relaxed but well organised. The space is split into two sections and the front area has a mix of seating options, so you can opt for big or small tables, medium-sized booths or stools at the bar. The back area is probably better suited for larger parties. Although Herringbone is a restaurant, it’s also a good spot for breakfast, coffee and freshly baked cake, or a drink, and there’s an enticing range of craft beers.
The menu isn't huge but there’s something fresh and appealing for everyone: seven starters, seven mains, three sharing boards, three gourmet burgers and six side dishes. There’s a refreshingly democratic ratio of meat, fish and veggie options.
I started with wild sautéed mushrooms with shallot and spinach, which was nutty, rich and could have made a satisfying lunch for a less greedy soul. My friend Sally had trio of fish, which was a prettily presented treat of prawn cocktail, remoulade of celeriac with salmon on top, and pickled herring with olives and capers. Each one would have been a delight on its own, she said. My sweetheart, Paul, wolfed down the very generous East Lothian seafood chowder, a dish rich with chunks of salmon and haddock.
For our main courses, Tim, a lapsed vegetarian who is making up for lost time, went straight for the shin of beef with sautéed kale and parsnip purée. The meat was lean and juicy and the purée, he said, “smooth as Beyoncé’s knickers”. For a side, we shared broccoli, red onion and chilli oil – which could have been a tad more al dente but got full marks for flavour – and a colourful, peppery salad of rocket, sunblush tomatoes and Parmesan.
Harriet, ten, and Paul, age undisclosed out of respect, both picked pan-fried cod with mussels, potatoes, herbs and cream, which were giant plates of rich, fishy loveliness, the chef having got the cod’s crispy, salty skin just right. It was a perfect looking seaside dish.
For our mains, William, who is eight and requires a great deal of sustenance to fuel his activities, and I were both drawn to the gourmet burgers. He went for the enormous steak burger, which came in a thick, fresh bun with lettuce and tomato, and skinny fries delivered in a cute copper pot. I had a spiced chickpea and squash burger with aubergine bhaji, coriander yoghurt and skinny fries. I’m not entirely sure the mildly spicy flavours did the business in a burger, and it could have done with a bit more crunch. Having already scoffed all the wild mushrooms and my fries, I wasn't in a position to do the buns justice.
Having said that, what kind of a professional could I call myself if I didn't at least have a sniff of the puddings? I managed to find space for (read: devour like I hadn't eaten for days) the lemon posset, which was a zingy blend of creamy, sweet and tart naughtiness. I’d have licked the bowl if nobody had been looking. My dining companions, who were as heroic as I was, were impressed by the light and tangy pear sorbet and fresh-tasting strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. Sally’s chocolate orange mousse was of the darker, more bitter variety – a good option for those oddbods who don’t have a sweet tooth.
While the grown-ups enjoyed a reasonably priced bottle of house white – Monticello Trebbiano – our friendly and attentive waiter made the occasion extra special for our junior companions with a couple of sophisticated looking mocktails. Starters, main courses and puddings for two, plus a bottle of house wine, came to a very reasonable £68.
I'm certain that before long people who live in, or regularly visit, North Berwick will be wondering how they ever managed without Herringbone.
Main courses £9.95-£20.95
Puddings £3.50-£5.50 (cheeseboard £3.95)