Scotsman Review
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September 25, 2017

Horn Milk Bar, Perth, restaurant review

Home of the 'World's Best Bacon Roll', the Horn Milk Bar, is a great place for a hit of nostalgia, finds Catriona Thomson.

‘Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher” – even today it’s still a catchy chant.

The Iron Lady has passed on, but in 1971, as Edward Heath’s education secretary, she was responsible for ending free school milk for children over seven years old.

I fondly remember those break-time bottles which were served either frozen solid or tepid, warmed all day in front of the radiator.

As Wednesday marks World School Milk Day I’m revisiting my past, and the Horn Milk Bar just off the A90 near Errol in Perthshire. I’m taking the old yin out for lunch.

The Horn Milk Bar

Picture: TSPL

She has famously high standards and I’m keen to see if this place cuts the mustard, while the younger generation are being introduced to its charms for the first time.

I have a childhood memory of passing this way as we set off on a family holiday.

I can recall wistfully glancing out of the car’s rear window as the Horn’s glamorous facade faded from view.

Too soon to stop, and indeed why would we when we had a perfectly palatable picnic, largely consisting of soggy corned beef sandwiches which we planned to eat in a motorway lay-by?

So the Horn became a legendary place in my imagination, the sort of establishment that the Fonz from Happy Days would pitch up at.

The place where the best milkshake ever would be sold – or the world’s best bacon buttie, an accolade the establishment received in 2012 for its 1,500-calorie-busting breakfast roll.

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I have visited since, and adore its style.

I’m in good company as Vogue shot a fashion story here in 2016. There is now a million-pound makeover proposed with 24-hour opening and a move from the original site by about 100 yards, and I fear for the essence of this original gem, so it’s time to see it before it all goes.

We step inside and it’s like time travelling back to the 70s and 80s.

Let’s be clear, it’s not fine dining we’re here for: there are no menus, just signs dangling above the hot plate. These testify to former glories.

“Filled rolls and gateaux”, I’m guessing, would be a cabinet that is housing some mini apple pies slathered in sweet sugary ectoplasm.

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The next states, “Chilled wines and soft drinks”; sadly there is no sign of any Blue Nun or Mateus Rosé in there; remember this building predates modern drink-driving conventions, when one for the road meant just that. The next is “Cold buffet and sweets”, followed by “Chilled milk, ice cream and milk shakes”.

The original hut was opened in 1960 in an early attempt at dairy farm diversification, with the Milk Marketing Board encouraging farming entrepreneurial spirit to accompany the mass expansion of motor vehicle travel.

Today the food offerings are displayed with makeshift notes, and the hot options are fried breakfast and hot rolls, steak pie, lasagne and chicken curry, pretty much all served with chips; think cafeteria chic not Michelin-starred pomp.

That means traditional Blackpool Tower salt and pepper cellars, and interior décor which is a sea of brown, taupe, fawn and beige, with faux wood-effect panelling on the walls and wipeable chairs.

A ceiling fan whirs overhead as it gets a bit warm when packed out.

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There is a plastic horse head mounted on the wall, but the most famous design feature is the life-sized plastic cow illustrated with a map of the world on its side, perched on the rooftop acting as a beacon to hungry drivers.

Keen to get my calcium kick, I order macaroni cheese, chips and peas (£7.30) which arrives in its own dish, molten and moreish, if a little on the small side.

The old yin is braving a steak pie (£8.70) and asks to forgo the chips for health reasons, but they arrive anyway.

Horn Milk Bar

The steak pie is topped by a perfect oval pastry pillow covering steaming meat chunks underneath and deemed “very nice”.

The downside of both dishes are the peas.

I haven’t seen peas this colour since the 1970s.

I’m guessing they are from a tin, but despite their pallor they are tasty.

Our youngest is having a soup of the day, which is carrot and coriander, and a roll (£3.25).

The waitress who delivers it to the table apologises for its untidy appearance as there has been a slight spillage, but it vanishes quickly enough, along with a side order of chips (£3.20).

Back in my day the can of diet coke for the youngster (£1.70) would have been a classic glass bottle of Coca-Cola, complete with a paper straw that flattened the second you put it in your mouth.

I’m seeking my mythical milkshake moment, but the chocolate one I choose (£2.80) is disappointing as it seems to be just a glass of milk with a small scoop of ice cream in the bottom.

All meals arrive promptly, a surprise as the place is packed for a Sunday lunchtime, with a clientele of all ages.

The show-stopping bacon roll (£3.90) is clearly a winner, with acres of bacon stuffed into a floury bap, and by the audible murmurs of appreciation, it’s heaven on a plate.

I promised the fella back home that I’d bring him one and the despair etched on his face, when I forget, makes a return trip likely. However I’m glad I was here today before a part of my past vanishes forever. Sadly, like Marty McFly, it’s time to go back to the future.

‘Why would we when we had a perfectly palatable picnic largely consisting of
soggy corned beef sandwiches?’

Shameless nostalgia will soon be off the menu at the sign of the cow, alas

Horn Milk Bar

Errol, A90, Perth PH2 7SR
(Tel: 01821 670237,


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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