For upmarket eats in the Scottish Borders, try the new Provender restaurant in Melrose, says Gaby Soutar

I own stacks of glossy recipe books, and most are yellowing on my kitchen shelves.

The most memorable foodie descriptions tend to be from a different sort of read. For instance, the sardines in the beard of Roald Dahl’s Mr Twit; all the simple meals (eaten the best way – solo) in Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea; Narnia’s hot chocolate, and The Hungry Caterpillar, who, wastefully, tunnels through everything, trundles off, and leaves the rest to rot, no doggy bag. Selfish insect.

I’m not sure there will be any appetite-stimulating descriptions in the books of the authors appearing at the Borders Book Festival, today and tomorrow, in Melrose. But, everyone’s gotta eat, so there’s always this new place, just five minutes’ walk away.

It’s owned by Justin Orde of The Orde Food Company and their head chef is Christian Edwardson, who has worked under Pierre Koffman at The Berkeley in London.There’s a casual bar area, with a “living wall” of plants. Or, at the low-lit rear of the space, you can commandeer one of their booths.

At this point, note to expenses department, I was expecting a set lunch menu (£17 for two courses, £20 for three), but, on a Sunday, they only seemed to be doing an à la carte. I tried to persuade one of our group to sit in the car, but they weren’t having it.

Brace yourself for a punch in the wallet, Scotsman accounts.

For starters, I went for the cuttlefish bolognese Pierre Koffman (£9), pale ribbons of cephalopod and a dollop of an intensely tomatoey and garlicky sauce with finely minced fishy bits in the mix.

Our spider crab (£10), covered in a haar of foam, was unusually fridge cold, which made for an odd contrast when the waiter poured a hot saffrony bisque over the top. Still, there were sweet and salty flavours of the deep, with sprigs of tender samphire poked into the crevices.

I wasn’t too sure about the set of three hand dived scallops (£12). They came with blobs of apple purée, but the perfumed sagey-ness of the accompanying black pudding was slightly domineering.

The star of the Borders rack of lamb (£17) option was the little patty of shredded meat, and the chops were pretty good, if slightly overdone. Greenery was provided by soft chopped courgette, broad beans and peas, and there was a fat clove of squishable roasted garlic.

Nice enough, though it was doused in a super reduced, salty and rich gravy, which messed with my lunchtime circadian rhythms, and I wasn’t quite sold on the bowl of tepid and rough “smoked mash”, with a handful of cinders, like scrapings from a barbecue tray, on top.

I wouldn’t say our bouillabaisse (£16), looked the most appealing, thanks to the three hunks of glistening and flobbery skinned white fish at the top of the bowl. Still, it went down well, with plenty of mussels and other bits in the piscine tombola, as well as two frizzy flat croutons and the prerequisite ramekin of emulsion-like rouille.

Our Border bavette steak (£17) was a bit fibrous, though it had a satisfying burly flavour. It came with a good chunk of bone marrow, cinder-y runner beans, a purée of carrot and more rich jus.

When it came to sweet stuff, we all loved the brick of slick chocolate delice (£7), especially as it came with a gluey clump of salted caramel and ice-cream that featured crumbled Speculoos (those crisp caramelised biscuits you get in the hairdresser).

However, the pear and frangipane tart (£6), with its almond chip armour, was a bit stodgy and thick, even if its sidekick of pear sorbet was a better palate cleanser than Brillo and bleach. Anyway, though there’s something of a retro luxury hotel vibe that feels slightly dated, there are also glimmers of loveliness at this place.

I’m sure, as in The Hungry Caterpillar, there’s a multicoloured and bug-eyed butterfly just waiting to bust out.

 

Provender

West End House, High Street, Melrose

(01896 820 319, www.provendermelrose.com)

 

Provender, Melrose, restaurant review
Food70%
Ambience80%
75%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
75%

About The Author

Gaby Soutar

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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