Most people have a good, local restaurant that they frequent. It's not necessarily your first port of call to celebrate special events, but it's great for a last-minute get-together. The food is always dependable and it's never so busy that you can't get a table.
We have one such near us. Over the past 30 years or so, it has variously been an Indian restaurant, a tapas bar and a rustic French brasserie. They were all well patronised by the local populace, but they were never going to set the heather alight with their food. So when the latest incarnation opened up, we were anxious to try it out.
An almost overnight handover between the previous and current owners meant that, initially, little seemed to change. But when the restaurant was closed for refurbishment and there were mutterings in local pubs about fancy new decoration and even fancier menu changes, I confess, my interest was piqued.
The room itself has been reconfigured, with the bar now in the middle of the space and extra seating downstairs changed to a private dining room. The shabby chic look has been ditched in favour of an upmarket vintage feel and the lighting has been reworked to make it a more intimate space.
The menu has been reworked even more dramatically. As we tried to make our selection from too many appealing choices, a tasty selection of freshly made breads and one of the most amazing salsa verdes I've ever had were popped in front of us. Alongside the usual oil and parsley, there was a definite taste of chervil. And we weren't alone in our appreciation. There were murmurings all through the room about the sauce – and more than one request for additional supplies.
We both wanted to eat everything that was on offer and only managed to make our final selection using that time honoured fallback of “eeny meeny miny mo”. Mr Turner went for the smoked salmon and haddock scotch egg with marinated cucumber (£5.95). In place of sausage meat, there was light and fluffy smoked haddock encircling a still soft quail’s egg on a bed of smoked salmon (which looked and tasted more like gravlax to me – but I'm just being pernickety). Mr Turner claimed that it was one of the best starters he'd eaten for ages.
My chicken liver parfait served with two thick slices of toasted brioche and tomato and onion chutney (£4.95) was more than a match though. The parfait was rich and perfectly balanced and the chutney had enough of a sour note to get the juices flowing.
For his main course, Mr Turner had the roasted pheasant with Morteau sausage served with stuffed cabbage, ceps and a celeriac and beetroot gratin (£14.95). It was another beautifully cooked dish.
The pheasant had a delicate gaminess and the smokiness of the sausage complemented it well without overwhelming the flavours or making the dish too rich. The cabbage was an excellent bridge between the two with the gratin providing a well-seasoned creaminess.
My Loch Etive sea trout with parsley mash, smoked mussels and shellfish velouté (£15.50) was glorious. The fish was placed on top of buttery, smooth parsley mash and samphire – all surrounded by the velouté – and had crisp, puffed rice sprinkled over the top.
You would think that after eating all that we'd be stuffed, but who can't find room for salted caramel cheesecake with popcorn ice-cream (£4.95)? It was sweet while remaining properly salted and had a beautifully baked base. The accompanying ice-cream was a rich vanilla with the real nuttiness of the popcorn coming through.
Mr Turner opted for the cheese board, which included Strathdon Blue, Isle of Mull cheddar and Brie de Meaux – all of which were sizeable portions served at room temperature along with quince and plenty of oatcakes (£7.95).
So now our lovely local restaurant has left us with a couple of dilemmas. Firstly, we want to go back as soon as we can to sample the rest of that amazing menu. But, secondly, once word starts to spread about how good it is, will we still be able to get a table?
Main courses £11.50-£18.50
Puddings £4.95-£5.50 Cheeseboard £7.95
The lunch menu (at £9.50 for two courses) is enticing. The dishes – such as venison and sauerkraut pithivier, slow cooked beef cheek with Bordelaise sauce, and dark chocolate pave with griottine cherries – are mainly what is available on the à la carte menu.
The portions are slightly smaller but the price is dramatically different. I’m a fan of the long lunch and this would let you eat exceptional food at a more than reasonable price.