I’ll always associate this place with birthdays.
As an Edinburgh native and child of the Eighties, parties would happen at either the Trampoline Centre, Little Marco’s, the Dominion (The Dark Crystal, yay) or, here, at the adventure playground on the Duke of Buccleuch’s 1,000 acre estate.
It was the days before parental supervision, so, while the grown-ups read in the picnic area, we would go feral and reenact the Lord of the Flies.
In my memories, this place had a slide like a rocket launcher, a flying fox that pinged children off the end, and Endor (the Ewok village) style wooden huts and walkways galore, all in the middle of the forest. We would be picking splinters out of our shins for days.
It’s recently re-launched with a load of new attractions. The 18th century stables, which flank a pristine courtyard with fountain (already full of coins and stones), have been converted into a “wellness centre”, plus there’s a great farm shop; and a gift, interiors and clothing shop, created by Amanda Pratt of Avoca, all full of gorgeous purse-clasp lubricating stuff.
As well as the more casual cafe, you’ll find a restaurant with floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the chaos of their Fort Douglas children’s play park (you can also do zorbing and archery here).
We took a pew. I was ravenous after spending an hour or so exploring the giant Escher-esque tree-house, which features four diminishing levels. I had also run screaming through the spooky tunnel, gone round the helter-skelter slide 56 times, and scrambled across suspended nets. Not sure what the kids were doing.
We shared a couple of starters. The grilled Edinburgh Gin prawns (£8.50) were pleasant, with fat prawns that didn’t taste particularly inebriated, avocado slivers, watercress and a lemony dressing. Another salad-y option (£7.50) was equally simple, except this one featured rocket, golden and magenta hunks of beetroot, baby chinchilla sized fluffs of Ailsa Craig goat’s cheese, pomegranate seeds, and a few gluey dollops of pale golden honeycomb.
Our mains were of varying success.
The smoked Dunlop cheese fondant (£11) was a bit of a fail, since this soufflé-esque puff, with an oozy centre, tasted of white sauce and nothing else. Promising cheese and not delivering is about the worst thing you can do to a person, but at least it came with a consoling, if underseasoned, mixture of soft chopped sweated leeks, wild rice, girolles and tomatoes.
I’d gone for a small portion of the venison ragu (£8, or £14.50 for large), which was pretty generous, with fat ribbons of pappardelle, and a decent dollop of what was more like a stew than a ragu, with chunks of meat, carrots and mushrooms, all topped with Parmesan and chopped parsley. Good.
The roast Bowhill lamb loin (£17.50) wasn’t bad – nicely seared on its outer, with a helping of slippery giant couscous mixed with ratatouille and decorated with pea shoots. Thank goodness for the accompanying tapenade, which really brought the flavour to this offering.
While mains are rather smart and restrained, puddings are debauched.
The salted caramel brownie (£5.50) was a tea-time traybake slice of biscuit topped with salted caramel, milk chocolate and sea salt crystals, with strawberries and a scoop of plain ice-cream on the side.
The same rule that applies to cheese works for custard, and there was none on the Pittormie Fruit Farm strawberry and custard tart (£5.50). Still, we appreciated the huge helping of fragrant strawberries heaped onto the cream plastered tart crust.
Not bad, and with a little bit more attention to detail, this place could be great, especially with their commitment to local sourcing and clever use of vegetables beyond mash and chips. It reminds me of The Paper Mill in Lasswade, or the now defunct Birdcage in Musselburgh, except it has an amazing shop, and a kids’ park, so it kind of wins.
Anyway, whatevs, it’s all fuel for play, I thought, as I shoved some small children out of the way and had my 57th shot on the slide. n
Dalkeith Country Park, Dalkeith, Edinburgh (0131-654 1666, www.restorationyard.com)