Stepping out in style to Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where Catriona Thomson enjoys a Bib Gourmand meal at Provender.

I feel like a tortoise that has been hiding inside its shell; my movements have been limited by Covid-19 restrictions for so long I’m now terrified to venture outwith my local bubble.

However, with the cautious series of steps being announced by the Scottish government, I sense the time has come to put on a brave face and actually review a restaurant.

As a fan of horror movies, I am aware that this decision will be fraught with hidden dangers. The genre rule is simple, if you leave the safety of the house you don’t usually make it back in one piece.

For a first excursion I’ve plumped for the genteel town of Melrose. I’m giddy with excitement, like a debutante at Queen Charlotte’s Ball.

However, you’ll be relieved to learn that I decided a formal gown might be a bit much. Instead, I plan to curtsey to all I meet – I did mention that Melrose is a bit posh.

In order to mitigate any food disasters, I’ve booked a table at a Bib Gourmand awarded establishment, Provender. This place was one of only three Scottish restaurants to join the latest list.

Although not a star, nine Scottish businesses are deemed by the Michelin folks to make Bib grade, which delivers good quality and good value; three courses must be available for £30 or less.

Provender is also providing takeaway for those corona cautious types but luckily for us, they have recently reopened for booked reservations.

Marinated heritage tomato and compressed watermelon salad, feta cheese and sweet and sour candied jalapeño dressing

When we arrived, we spot the shiny red Bib sign proudly displayed outside, plus functional signage saying you are entering a 1 metre zone, so you do so at your own risk.

We were shown to our table, by a be-visored front of house member of staff. Our table was right in front of the kitchen, so I had a perfect vantage point to peer in. Reassuringly, I could see the chefs working away, keeping two metres apart.

The fella checks out the bathroom which he says is practically doused in sanitiser. “No virus will be able to stick to anything in here,” he said as he slid back into his seat.

I agree as the menu has also had a thoroughly good wipe, but we enjoy deciding what to order and dutifully fill in our contact details for tracing purposes.

A big plus for coming here is that Provender are big supporters of local businesses and Scottish produce.

I opt for a starter of marinated heritage tomato and compressed watermelon salad, feta cheese and sweet and sour candied jalapeño dressing. I shovel forkfuls of refreshing moist watermelon into my mouth, which are balanced perfectly by tangy sharp tomatoes and the killer sweet jalapeño jelly.

This flavour combination is a winner for me, especially when accompanied by miniature feta cubettes, a sprinkling of dill fronds and edible sweet pea blooms. I’ll be prematurely deadheading my sweet pea flowers directly into my salad from now on.

Ham hock and black pudding croquettes, with Berwickshire pea and mint velouté

 

The fella chooses the crispy ham hock and black pudding croquettes, which arrived paddling in a sea of Berwickshire pea and mint velouté, and was garnished to perfection with swirls, leaves and blooms. His nibs’ only complaint? There wasn’t a slice of bread to mop up the last drops. I only just managed to stop him before he licked the plate.

His main course arrived: a hearty plateful of Perthshire venison haunch, salt-baked baby beetroots and baby carrots, piled alongside parsnip mash.

The highlight and the taste sensation of the plate was the port and blackcurrant gravy which was declared a triumph.

I had opted for pan-fried herb gnocchi, which were as soft as the plumpest pillow. Their innards were squishy with the tiniest hint of Bowland estate baby leeks and Strathdon blue cheese.

Pan-fried herb gnocchi, sprouting broccoli and chard with seasonal broad beans and peas and a scattering of new season Scottish girolles

Wilted sprouting broccoli and chard joined the merry throng on the plate along with seasonal broad beans and peas and a scattering of new season Scottish girolles mixed alongside tiny button mushrooms.

The Border berries trifle arrived in a decadent martini glass, topped by an eiderdown layer of cream and a scoop of sorbet, with a soupçon of custard underneath.

Sadly, I couldn’t detect the delicate elderflower notes I was looking for. However plunging into the depths of the glass, the champagne jelly cubettes and cherry and berry double bill at the bottom, more than made up for it.

Whilst across the table the fella was delighted with his mysterious dark chocolate fondant pudding served with a quenelle of chocolate ice cream and crunchy hazelnut praline.

We got home safely, and I’m so glad we ventured out to support a local business. If you are still nervous, just be brave and book.

Provender

(West End House, High Street, Melrose, TD6 9RU)
Tel: 01896 820 3191, provendermelrose.com

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About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona picture edits The Scotsman magazine and Scotland On Sunday, aswell as reviewing restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writing for Scotsman Food and Drink.

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