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The Watchman Hotel, Gullane, review

Is this the poshest lunch in East Lothian?

Published: February 12, 2022
Categories:
Food: 
8/10
Ambience: 
8/10


Basic etiquette rules.

Don’t chew with your mouth open, no looking at your phone, cutlery is used from the outside of the setting in, pass food to the right, all joints on the table will be carved.

Mind your Ps and Qs, as Gullane was recently named one of the UK’s poshest towns.

Is it though? There’s no Waitrose, which is usually the ultimate hoity toity qualifier.

Mind you, there are lots of fancy villas, probably with AGAs, and there’s Tom Kitchin’s restaurant, The Bonnie Badger, as well as Greywalls & Chez Roux, which is near-ish, and it has its own golf course.

I suppose I find it hard to recognise toffs these days, since they don’t wear top hats and monocles anymore. Only a handful of them have names like Quentin, Torquil and Tatty, which is even more confusing. They walk among us.

Along with Barbour jackets and pearl earrings, I suppose 4x4s are the only giveaway. Anyway, there weren’t many of them parked outside this place, formerly the Mallard Hotel. Just ordinary, bog standard bangers, like ours. Actually, most were a little nicer than decrepit Old Bluey, who looks like she’s been surfed on by cats.

After 50 or so years in the same family, this hotel was taken over by hospitality newbies in 2020, who spent nine months renovating it during lockdown.

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I know this, because one of the co-owners emailed me, which was rather nice. So, like a vampire, I had been invited in.

Obviously I refused and went in my own time, incognito, though it still counts. I didn’t turn to dust on arrival.

There’s a pleasant and uncontrived relaxed vibe in the dining room, with lots of prints and paintings, including one of an Eyemouth boat, and another of a Victorian lamp, which probably alludes to their name.

For most of our lunch visit, we were the only ones in this room, apart from a pair of pals on who were talking over each other in a manic caffeine high of domestic news bulletins.

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As far as food is concerned, they’ll make you fish and chips and burgers, but the menu also gets a bit more interesting than that.

Salmon

The Scottish salmon ceviche (£11) was a fresh assemblage, with nigiri-sized chunks of citrus infused fish, dots of a smoky burnt baba ganoush-y aubergine puree, pea shoots, and tiny cubes of apple. We also had the pressed chicken rillette and leek terrine (£10.50), with a pleasingly gelatinous texture and a central reservation of green along its middle. It was topped with toasted pine nuts, more pea shoots, and came with a sliced half plum and five lacy Melba toasts.

Pork

My main course was a hefty beast that straddled retro, US and brunch territory. There was a slab of fibrous BBQ pork belly (£18.50), which didn’t taste particularly charred, though the barbecue theme was provided by the sweet molasses-y sauce that was slathered over the top. There were also a lot of other things going on - a soft shallot, a fat stub of buttery potato fondant, a clod of wilted spinach, and a pineapple and chilli flecked salsa.

You may wonder what a poached egg was doing on top of that lot. I don’t know. Still, I accept the egg - gift horse, mouth, don’t look in it.

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We also enjoyed the pan-roasted cod (£18), even though there was no egg on it. Instead, there was a mellow and fragrant cafe de Paris butter, which was studded with pumpkin seeds, along with wedges of tender Jerusalem artichoke, and charred romaine. It was a classy pile up, what a generous bunch.

You know that there are posh people afoot when a menu features sticky toffee pudding (£7.50).

They go wild for it. Anyway, we didn’t have space for any of that, or the chocolate ganache and praline homemade doughnuts (£7.50). I was very happy to see a creme caramel (£8) on the dessert list. A rare thing, and it was gorgeous - slippery, vanilla-y and with an appealingly negroni-ish bitterness in the orange and vanilla sauce.

We paid up, put on our top hats and monocles and left, feeling like a pair of swells.

Metaphorically, but also literally. That was a top notch posh feast, what what old thing.

East Links Road

Gullane

01620 842 299, www.watchmanhotel.co.uk

Place to try Nearby

La Potiniere, Main Street, Gullane (01620 843 214, www.lapotiniere.co.uk)

We’re not sure how long this restaurant has been at this spot, but it feels like decades. Its current dinner menu includes the hearty sounding poached and seared roast fillet of beef, slow cooked shin, truffle mash, seasonal vegetables and beef sauce. We hear very good things about the cheeseboard too.

Goose on the Green, 1 Stanley Road, Gullane (01620 844755, www.gooseonthegreen.com)

We’re still sad that there’s no Falko Konditormeister bakery in this town any more. Still, they’ve been gone for a few years now, and this new cafe does a good cheese scone, as well as paninis, burgers, cakes, bagels and breakfasts. We’ll have the pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon.

Archerfield Walled Garden, Dirleton (01620 388588, www.archerfieldwalledgarden.com)

This venue’s cafe and shop had a makeover last year, and it’s still looking fresh. They’ve just started offering their full menu again, and it’s available seven days a week, with dishes including their Cooked Brunchfast, which features Carluke haggis, tattie scones and other brekkie treats.

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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