Fairy Walk, Doon Hill, Aberfoyle

There is a mystical walk you can do if you ever find yourself in Aberfoyle on a clear day.IMAG8296 Doon Hill is on the outskirts of Aberfoyle and said to be home to the fairies. It’s a easy route (I know because I managed it and I hate going up hills) and has some stunning views from the top. It’s not for buggies or wheelchairs but I think most children aged 4 and over could manage it.

When we did the walk we parked in the Woollen Mill car park (at the opposite end from it). We then walked over the stone bridge and along past houses on our right and a couple of snorting pigs on our left. Next on the left is an auld kirk where there is a gravestone for IMAG8301Pastor Kirk who was fascinated by fairies and folklore. So much so he wrote a book giving away the fairies secrets, which annoyed the fairies so much they kidnapped him and imprisoned his soul in a pine tree on top of Doon Hill.

After the kirk we followed the road round and into the start of the woods. There is a sign that says there is a fairy trail but to be honest it isn’t that well sign posted although further up there are marker posts. We followed our noses and at the bottom of the hill went left and followed a path up. Thankfully I had on my wellies as it was pretty muddy. 20171111_135932-COLLAGEAlthough you have to watch where you put your feet you should also look out for signs of fairies – there is evidence everywhere.

The climb is steep in bits but nothing too demanding.

On top of the hill you will find the fairy treeIMAG8312.jpg covered in ribbons. In the past it was said if you wrote your ailment on to a cloutie (rag) and tied it to the tree as the words faded so did the ailment. Unfortunately, nowadays though it looks more like just ribbons without writing and plastic tat  on display, which will take forever to fade. IMAG8315

If you wander around the top of the hill you are rewarded with some amazing views.

Next to the path you came up, just to the left, there is alternative route down. This takes you down far quicker and past some more fairy houses. You will know you are on thIMAG8319e right path if you see this handsome Green Man smiling at you.

At the bottom of hill we retraced our steps back to the car park. However, there is another route you can you take if you turn left, which circles back in to Aberfoyle following the old railway line and which ends up behind the Woollen Mill. However, we didn’t do that and instead headed straight for a bar lunch in town.

 

 

 

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The Kingarroch Inn, Craigrothie, Fife

I’ve been on call this weekend so I’ve done nothing more than wait on my phone to ring. To make sure a whole weekend didn’t go past without doing something OH and I decided we would go out for Sunday lunch.

Years ago we used to visit The Kingarroch Inn in Craigrothie and loved it. However, it had a fire, which pretty much demolished the place and then, when it eventually re-opened, it was an Iberian Smokehouse. Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of pig and cow based menus so we steered clear. Hahaha – did you see what I did there?  Oh you did…

Today though, I thought I’d have a look at their website and I was delighted to see they were now a gastropub and there was no mention of Iberian Black Pig anywhere. As I was online anyway I booked a table through their page and it wasn’t long before we had received our confirmation and we were on our way to the little Fife village of Craigrothie.

Parking was tight when we arrived so I knew it was a good job we had booked. On entry we were shown to our table and although it was busy the tables are spaced in a way that it did not feel crowded at all. We got our menus and were told the roast of the day was stuffed chicken but they could also do venison. The menu was short (which is a good thing) and offered 4 choices for each course.

Obviously it was a lot more wordy but basically –

Starter – Pate, soup, mussels (supplement) or an antipasti platter

Main  – Roast, fish, steak (supplement) or chickpea fritters

Dessert – Brownie, cheeseboard, Ginger pudding or lemon meringue.

IMAG8196After ordering a pint of Crail Ale and a soda water and lime (I’ve already told you I was on call!) we made our food orders.

I went for the Freshly made Wild Mushroom, Crème Fraiche, Truffle oil Soup, which makes for a really boring photo but tasted lovely. However, it was heavy on the garlic so I apologise in advance to my work colleagues who will no doubt suffer for it tomorrow. I should have said, prior to the starters arriving we were given 2 types of bread and some smoked sea salt butter,  which was great but would have been better if the bread was warm.

For a starter OH decided he’d pay extra and have a IMAG8195Pot of Scottish Mussels, Spicy Chorizo, Garlic and Shallots. When they arrived in their little pot and the lid was lifted OH wondered if he had made the right choice as he got a blast of salty sea air in the face and he also remembered he isn’t a fan of chorizo (duh!) but then his face lit up as he started to make his way through them. The mussels were the largest I have seen and looked plump and juicy and I noticed he emptied the pot, even using his spoon to finish off the remaining broth too. They were definitely a hit but then he wondered if he would have room for his next course as it was such a big helping.

IMAG8197When it came to our mains something odd happened – we both decided on the fish.  Usually we have a rule that we aren’t allowed the same thing from the menu but today OH gave a good argument against it. 1. He wants to avoid too much red meat 2. He isn’t a vegetarian and 3. He could have roast chicken or pheasant anytime (he is a good shot but obviously a crap fisherman ;p)   plus 4. it wasn’t an extensive menu (again this isn’t a complaint as I would always rather choose from 4 fresh things than 30 frozen things) So anyway this is a long way of saying we both had Herb crusted Hake, New potatoes, Pancetta and Leeks.

To say the dish was rich is an understatement. The leek and pancetta sauce overtook the mild tasting hake. Even the herb crust struggled to stand out next to the oil surrounded creamy sauce. If the crust had been a bit more crunchy or the herbs a bit more perceptible it would have helped the dish balance more.  Saying that, I still cleared my plate, even though throughout I was wishing I had a cold crisp class of Pinot Grigio to cut through the creamy, decadence of the dish. When I looked over to OH he had left an oily yellow puddle of cream, leeks and watercress. He clearly has more ability to stop eating unlike me who has been known to try and lick a pattern off a plate.

Although the desserts sounded awesome, feeling more stuffed than the roast chicken, OH  decided to give them a miss.

As OH paid, I visited the bathroom, which gained bonus points for having a nice, clean baby changing area, hand cream, a posh sink and lovely smelling, reed diffusers.

A pint, soda water and lime, 2 starters, 2 mains came to £40.20

Norms La Cienega, California, USA

I’m currently over in the States visiting Lusa and having a fabulous time. As we were being arty today and going to the Museum of Modern Art to see Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., we were in West Hollywood at lunch time. Lusa pleaded with me to go to Le Pain Quotidien, a chic French restaurant that boasts a largely organic menu and dishes such as Roasted Pear and Spinach Salad and Quinoa Taboulé but I insisted she took me to a diner so I could eat like an American. So Norms it was – a diner that has been around since 1949 and was only a short walk away.

Opening the door we walked into the opening scenes of Pulp Fiction (not really as it was filmed in Panns but we’re going there for breakfast one morning soon). The diner was exactly as you would expect with people sitting at the counter and others in booths. The menu was large, laminated and had lots of photographs. There were also daily specials and Thursday’s was ‘Pick a Pair’, which I ended up going for. Soup, salad, potatoes (mash/fries/baked) and 2 items from the list – steak, fish, shrimps or chicken. The soup was Gumbo (okra, celery, peppers, onions, chicken, sausage and rice) and I had 6 fried shrimps and hand battered fried haddock strips along with it as well as the salad and fries. Yes I was eating like an American, an extremely overweight one with eyes bigger than their belly. IMAG7710Lusa decided on a Tuna melt sandwich with fries that looked tiny in comparison to my edible extravaganza.

My soup was nice and spicy and tasted like one I would make from Sunday leftovers (I mean that in a good way). IMAG7709The salad was just like you get at home (a bit boring) and the deep fried fishes were very tasty if a bit greasy. Try as I did, I couldn’t finish them all – even with Lusa helping me. Lusa left some of her sandwich too and told me later she had food regret as she threw back a Tumms. IMAG7713

Our (very beige) American dining experience came to $22.70 (£16.71) plus tip. The portion size also meant I did not need to eat for another 24 hours, which made it even more of a bargain.

 

Banner’s House, Markinch, Fife

Looking for a Sunday lunch OH and I decided to visit Banner’s House in Markinch, Fife today (just across from the train station).

I phoned to book just in case it was full as we intended to walk there and back but they were happy to accommodate us and just wanted a rough time for us to appear by. When we arrived we were given a lovely little booth within the dinning room and handed a Sunday special menu, the general menu, which had all the menus and the drinks one. I have to say the breakfast menu looked good as did the Afternoon Tea one. However, we were there for lunch so I had to focus.

First off the drinks menu. I ordered a bottle of house white – having noticed the house wine was £17.50 and OH ordered a bottle of German beer because I had just made him walk for 45 minutes for his lunch. However, when I said house wine the waitress thought for a bit and asked if I liked Sauvignon Blanc. I did. She said she could recommend it. I nodded happily. Later when the wine arrived I checked the wine list and it was on there but the price was £22.50. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the wine and it was probably loads better than the house but I did ask for the house. Anyway. We then ordered.

None of the starters really jumped out – although I did fancy the fish broth but the price made me think it would be too filling as a starter. Their soup of the day was red pepper and carrot and the rest of the starters weren’t really my thing or the kind of dish you could share so I went straight to the mains.

I said, before OH got the chance, that I was having the Seared Sea Bass, orange braised IMAG7550fennel – mussel, coconut, tomato and new potato chowder. He was immediately annoyed because he said that was what he was going to have it. (We’re not allowed to order the same thing in case one of us hate’s our choice and wants to swap). I prompted him to go for the brisket as it sounded so good with it’s rich gravy, onion mash and buttered kale. However, he surprised me and went for the Indian inspired Lamb red pepper curry with coconut rice and flatbread (I hope I’ve got that right because I didn’t pay too much attention to the specials menu after deciding on the fish).

Our dishes arrived and both looked fantastic so 10/10 for display.  My fish dish tasted lovely. The coconut wasn’t overpowering and neither was the orange in the braised fennel but they still  complimented each other perfectly. The mussels were large and plump and all of them passed muster (how many times do you get a disappointing mussel in a dish??) The sea bass skin wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked but overall the dish hit the spot. I cleared the plate and even tried to wipe the salt from the sides of the cast iron pan (1. It wasn’t salt it was a pattern and 2. The pan wasn’t cast iron.) IMAG7549One thing I also noticed was that when I dropped my knife into the dish it didn’t go under the chowder so the cutlery to dish ratio was perfect!!!! Extra points.

OH’s lamb curry was spicy and creamy, just as suggested on the menu but what wasn’t mentioned was the heat that it would induce. I tried the sauce and had to take a couple of minutes before I could speak. However, the taste made me want more so I tried it again and loved it. Thick, creamy and with a punch that takes your breath away, the curry was a meal not for the faint-hearted. OH dabbed his forehead with his napkin as he devoured it.

As per my usual, I decided against a dessert and finished the wine whilst OH chose Marmalade Caramel Crepes with Chocolate Ice Cream. Again the dish looked good when IMAG7554it arrived. I hate orange and chocolate so didn’t give it a go (I must have had a bad experience with a Chocolate Orange one Christmas) but OH assures me it was “a good balance between sweet and tang” and polished it off.

There was lots of lovely decor bits in and around the room. Lots of doors, bare lamp bulbs and odd chairs. There may have been a small amount of confusion around the (clean and tidy) toilets as a bloke walked in when I was washing my hands. The doors had old fashioned adverts on them instead of the norm wording for ladies and gents on them but then I managed to find the right one! Some people shouldn’t be allowed out alone ;p

However, the bit of décor that did make me smile was this sign I was totally unaware of until we left . And there was me thinking he had just been being nice…IMAG7555

I have  to admit I did feel the bill was a bit steep compared  to other meals we have had recently at £58 for 2 mains, a dessert, a bottle of wine and a pint of lager but it was a great atmosphere, the service was impeccable (the Hungarian waitress was lovely)  and the food was good so I am not complaining. 

 

 

Balgove Larder – Steak Barn, St Andrews

Today OH and I paid a visit to Balgove Larder, just outside St Andrews, to have a meal in their Steak Barn.

We have seen the blackboard signs advertising the farm shop along with steak and chips on numerous occasions but had never ventured in so finding ourselves hungry outwith normal bar lunch times we decided today was the day.

When you drive in you can see Balgove Larder in front of you and a large barn to the right. The barn is made from old potato crates and inside it is full of long, communal, hand made tables and benches.  At the back of the barn you can see the wood fired BBQ where the majority of the food is cooked on. No reservations are taken so when you turn up it’s where ever there is room. However, it was not that busy so we were seated at an empty table and given our menus. A list of specials, the regular menu and a drinks one. IMAG7352

Starters were approximately £9 each and looked like smaller portions of the mains although one that jumped out was pigeon kebab, strawberries and feta salad. The special mains were roughly £18 each and there were options such as sticky bbq pork ribs, mussels, chicken kebabs and  fish and chips(£15). The regular menu had burgers, sausages and steaks. The steaks, which were £19 (the fillet was £25) are all hung for 28 days and cooked to order on the BBQ.  There were only a couple of vegetarian options but then it is a Steak Barn and not a mushroom shed.

I noticed on the drinks menu they did a Bloody Mary, which usually means it will be a good one so that was an easy decision.  The waitress asked if I wanted it spicy. Of course I did. The barman delivered it personally. Spicy was an under statement  it was rocket fuel and lush. OH had a pint of Eden Mill 19th lager.

For food I decided on the Balgove Beef Burger – steak burger, lettuce, tomato, relish, twice fried chips and salad leaves £8.95. IMAG7356The burger was easily an inch thick and the tastiest burger I have ever had. You could have added cheese, bacon or jalapenos for an extra £1.25 but I had it plain.

I hate when you have to commit to a burger because you know if you put it down you won’t be able to pick it up again in one piece. However, this bun did not collapse or slide and I was able to pick it up and put it down at will and enjoy the chips whilst they were still hot, dipping them in the relish.

OH had an 8oz Rib Eye Steak, which also came with twice fried chips and leaves. As you can see it was served on a board so of course OH had to ask with a deep sigh, “Why do we never get plates any more?”

IMAG7355OH enjoyed his steak and said it was melt in the mouth. Later when I was asking him to rate it against other steaks he has had in the past he said it was within his top 6 but what let it down was a lack of tasty vegetables alongside it. His leaves obviously didn’t impress. Like mine, his chips looked like chip shop chips but some how actually managed to taste better.

For dessert OH went for Eton Mess, which arrived as a lovely, messy dollop on a slate. IMAG7358There was plenty of everything – the raspberries were fresh and tasted home grown, the meringue was crunchy and chewy and the mess did not last long at all.

As OH was having a dessert and an Americano, which arrived in a paper cup (obviously they use the tin mugs to keep the cutlery in)  I decided to have a pint of Cairn O Mhor Pictish Cider, which made my mouth look like a cat’s ass.

As you pay your bill at the bar on the way out I asked the barman about the Bloody Mary and he said that he used special tomato juice that you can buy in the Larder that has a hint of clam to it. I couldn’t quite make out the name he said but I knew it started with a C so OH and I went over to the Larder to buy some. We searched the whole of the shop but could only find Big Tom. We spotted there was a make of soft drink called Cawston Presse and a gap in the line so I wondered if perhaps the tomato juice had sold out. Just then an older member of staff appeared so I asked if there was a Cawston tomato juice that might have sold out. She looked at me and said “I don’t stock it” and walked off without another word. And on that note we left without buying anything. Fortunately/unfortunately she was the only thing that left a bad taste in my mouth during my visit to Balgove Larder and Steak Barn.

2 mains, a dessert, 2 pints, a Bloody Mary and a coffee = £46.65

 

By the way, when I got home I googled the tomato juice and it was Clamato.

The Jolly Botanist, Edinburgh

OH and I were heading to Edinburgh to see Trainspotting Live at the EICC. Due to this we alighted at Haymarket (btw how many people see the sign ‘alight here for…” on a platform and read it as ‘alright’ instead?)

As we left the station the heavens opened and that damn Scottish ninja rain appeared from nowhere and made us dash into the first decent looking pub on our route. This just happened to be The Jolly Botanist on Morrison Street. As you can probably guess from it’s name it’s a gin palace so along with our menus for food we were given a gin menu, which was as thick as the current Yellow Pages.  As we got asked, maybe a little too quickly, what we would like to drink I panicked and plumped for a Hendricks and tonic. OH asked for a local ale.

The food menu was not huge – maybe a dozen items, 3 of which were vegetarian, which I prefer to an extensive menu as you know your food is going to be cooked to order. However, there was nothing jumping out at me as I either thought the dish was overpriced for something I could cook at home or it had a main ingredient I was not keen on. burgerI, therefore, decided on The Botanist Burger, which was beef, halloumi , smashed avocado and came with horseradish slaw and fries.

Yet again OH had not brought his glasses so he did what he usually does and just went with whatever special the waiter says out loud. This meant he went for the Jolly Pie of the Day, which wpieas chicken and leek (served with seasonal vegetables and hand cut chips).

Now, you might be able to see from the pics, but (like my fries) the pie came in one of those old fashioned, white with blue trim tin dishes. Like the ones your mum had to buy you if you were going on a camping trip with the guides because you needed an unbreakable plate. OH hates a filling with a pastry lid and always wants to pour the contents on to the plate rather than eating out of the dog’s dish. However, you will also notice the meals came on boards rather than plates. Hmm.

He soldiered on and liked what he had. He enjoyed the vegetables most of all, did not eat all his chips and left some of the pastry (which annoyed me because obviously that’s the best bit of a pie!)  If everything had been on a plate or if he had a beard, no socks and a waistcoat he would have enjoyed it a lot more.

My burger was great. The meat was thick, the roll did not collapse on me and the avocado worked well but the juices did run everywhere and made a mess of the leaf painted table. I liked the slaw too but the devil had sneaked into the kitchen and put celery in it. Now the fries. I loved the fries but the reason I loved them was that they came ready salted. I’ve been trying to reduce my salt intake as I have high blood pressure and since chips are rotten without salt I have been avoiding them. However, there was no avoiding these fries – they were hot, crispy, very salty and I ate the majority, much to my GPs probable disgust.

I have to mention the toilets. They were lovely, very clean and like something Drew Pritchard would have had a hand in. No – he wouldn’t have had his hand down the loo! He would have provided the wrought iron trestles the shallow, square sinks sat on, the piping for the plumbing on show and the industrial lights.  Someone had also hand painted the bottom of the toilets with a lovely blue leaf pattern.

On the way back from spending a penny I paid the bill, which came to £37.20 for the 2 mains and 2 drinks.

Incidentally, my gin was £6.50.

As soon as we left The Jolly Botanist it started to pour again so we ended up in Diane’s Pool Bar just a short distance up the street. Quite possible the exact opposite kind of place to our previous stop. OH bought the round. A gin and tonic and a pint. It was less than a fiver for both (therefore less than my 1 gin) and the pool table was only 20p. Obviously, we had to stay in there ’til the rain was well and truly off (5 games later).

A week in Gran Canaria

Looking for some winter sunshine I looked at Gran Canaria to book a week long getaway. OH and I are not ones for lying on a beach so after much searching decided on an AirBnB apartment in Agaete – a small fishing village on the North West of the island. A long drive away from where the majority of tourists lie starfished in the sand.

imag5840We hired a car from the airport and drove anti-clockwise around the round island. We were not disappointed when we were shown around our new home for the week. The view of the mountains and Atlantic was amazing (the wine and beer left in the kitchen for us were also great). After stocking up on some essentials we chilled for the rest of the evening enjoying the first of many amazing sunsets whilst sipping wine and nibbling cheese.

The following day (Sunday) we drove in to the capital of the Gran Canaria, Las Palmas. It was the day of their annual marathon so the city was buzzing. Groups of drummers lined the route, helicopters and motorbikes followed the runners and the locals cheered and clapped as the sweaty athletes sprinted (or limped) past. There is also an old town aspect to the capital, which was definitely prettier on the eye than the new builds and chic shopping centre.

The weather on Monday was perfect for a drive, this time clockwise, down to Maspolomas where we found miles of sand dunes. Imagine the Sahara Desert but with a coast. img_20170124_180703_063

There’s a main road, which runs from Agaete round the majority of the island and is the sensible route to take if you’re going anywhere. Additionally, there is also a spiders web of roads, which wander through the middle of the island clinging to the sides of the mountains. These roads are seriously narrow, have sheer drops, crazy hairpin bends and don’t offer the chance to get into 3rd gear too often. However, as well as the near death experiences they offer, they also give you breath taking views. So after a wander over the dunes we drove back to Agaete through the mountains. img_20170124_180233_758imag5685Stopping off at Roque Nublo, a precariously perched volcanic rock and the second highest point in the island.

This drive messed with my hands and nerves giving me white knuckles, sweaty palms and muscle cramps as I tensed at each and every corner (and I wasn’t even driving!) but they also give some amazing views – img_20170125_170331_759the kind of scenes you wouldn’t normally see unless you’re the type that actually enjoys leaving the car behind and trekking up a mountain for hours. Incidentally, the roads were also full of cyclists. Lycra clad mentalists pedalling along the extreme roads, cycling just as fast as the cars could drive.

imag5734When I booked the break in Gran Canaria the last thing I was expecting to hear was that I could visit a coffee plantation. Yes! They grow coffee in the Agaete Valley at Finca Los Castaños. This was only a short drive for us but it was still another scenic trip into the valley where we loved the relaxed tasting of their own red, rosé and white wines accompanied with cheese made from cow and goats milk and some pork pate on chunky bread. This was then followed with a lovely cup of the only coffee grown and produced in Europe and some delicious home made cake. This was all enjoyed whilst being surrounded by orange trees, grape vines, coffee plants and lush green mountains. The word you’re looking for right now is bliss.

Our apartment looked over Puerto De Las Nieves making it only a short walk down through a cactus garden and along the coast. The working port boasts a string of fabulous fish restaurants. We could easily have dined in a different place each night and not been disappointed. As the area isn’t full of tourists there were very few menus with photos or waiters trying to coerce us to a table so it was great to wander and choose at will without pressure. imag5707Additionally, the lack of beach seekers meant the meals were reasonably priced and didn’t break the bank at all.

As well as the amazing fish dishes we also managed to eat like cavemen when we dined in a restaurant, which had been carved out of the mountains. Restaurante El Centro Guayadeque The menu was fascinating. Eventually OH decided on a Steer Steak, which, when it arrived, covered the whole plate and looked like at least half of the beast. I had chicken skewers, which I couldn’t finish but wanted to. Both dishes were beautifully flame grilled. Like Fred and Wilma, we ate our meals sitting at a stone table in a cave, which was surprisingly cosy.

I could go on and on and tell you about everything else we did and every meal we ate but I’m already way over my usual word count so will stop now.

So, in summary, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about Gran Canaria. Perhaps thinking it’s just a place to go and lie on the beach. This certainly isn’t the case. Gran Canaria is an absolutely beautiful island, which has something for everyone and even more if you venture off the beaten path. I, for one, wouldn’t hesitate to go back.imag5675

Café Montmartre, Dundee

One of our favourite places to go for an authentic taste of France locally used to be in Cupar, Fife. However, Café Montmarte had the audacity to move to Dundee so unfortunately was no longer on our beaten track. However, it did go on our list of places to go when we want to travel further afield (and OH doesn’t mind not getting any wine).

So today was the day we ventured over the Tay Bridge. imag5568I called the night before to book a table and I’m glad I did as although there were only 3 people in the restaurant when we arrived by 1.25pm the room was full and there were no spare tables for anyone walking in off the street.

We ordered from the Set Lunch menu (a la carte and snack menus also available). When we go out we always try to order something different and usually this isn’t a problem as we have very different tastes. However, today we both wanted to have the Duck rillettes pate but since OH was driving I let him  win. imag5570They arrived served on crusty bread garnished with apple and plum relish. Initially OH raved about his choice and  I had to agree when I tasted the pate. It had a great texture and a nice but not over powering gamey taste. However, by the end of it OH needed a mouthful of my wine to help the pate down as it’s richness  became too much. There was nothing wrong with it just too big a portion.

imag5569For my starter I had Calamar & prawns in tempura with garlic & dill aioli. The squid was lovely. Not chewy at all and when covered in the aioli just wonderful. The prawns were also done to perfection. I couldn’t leave any aioli so finished it off with some bread.

Sticking with game, OH plumped for Guinea Fowl, which was on the special’s board. I don’t have the exact description but the French owner reported it as being with beans and sausage. You can see for yourself from the pic. I haven’t had Guinea Fowl for over 26 years since the first and only time I have had the bird I thought I was licking the cobblestones in a farmyard. Yuck. It obviously put me off. However, when I tasted OH’s it was nothing like that at all. It was a cross between chicken and pheasant and therefore, not too gamey. OH enjoyed it and said all the ingredients worked well together. Himag5571e loved the potato and leek mash and the bean cassoulet but again his only complaint was that the portion was too big. He hates waste and was brought up to clear his plate so having to leave food upsets him.

For my main I opted for the Oven roasted salmon steak, set on spinach, ginger and beurre blanc sauce. The salmon was perfect and the sauce glossy and thick. I wasn’t keen on the tomimag5572atoes, which looked roasted but tasted uncooked. It was the same mash as OH’s which stayed hot right to last bite and was lush. Overall I loved it.

Remember how OH was complaining about the portion size being too big? Well, of course he still managed to enjoy a dessert.imag5575 La Boulanerie Opera – fine layers of almond sponge with coffee cream & chocolate ganache, served with espresso ice cream. I just asked OH if he had anything to say about his dessert and he just went “Mmmmm. The coffee ice cream wasn’t too strong, the cake was just slivers of loveliness and it rounded off my meal perfectly”.

IMAG5576.jpgNot having a sweet tooth and taking advantage of the fact there was no supplement, I went for the cheese board.  For once there was more crackers/bread than there was cheese, which was great. I could have done with a little chutney but other than that the cheese was great and the perfect portion size (yes, I know when to leave the bread alone).

Since moving to Dundee, Café Montmarte has lost none of it’s previous ambience and charm. The menus and food are still great and the décor very similar only now our  favourite little bit of Scottish France is now in Dundee but really you should go see for yourself, you won’t regret it.

2 x 3 course set menu lunches, a pineapple juice, 500ml of house wine and a double espresso = £55.20

 

 

 

 

 

Melrose Abbey and Barony Castle Hotel

Since it was my birthday midweek OH and I decided to celebrate it the weekend after and booked a hotel near Peebles – the near bit is important as there’s no way you could say it was in Peebles – it’s 5 miles out of the town! The wrongly named hotel was the Mercure Peebles Barony Castle Hotel. Before OH and I checked in we decided to go further south and visit Melrose Abbey as I had never been before. The abbey is beautiful and the complimentary audio tour is definitely worth listening to as it gives you all the history of the abbey, highlights all the nooks and crannies you’d want to see and gets you to look for things such as the bagpipe playing pig gargoyle that you’d probably miss otherwise. There are spiral steps up to the roof, which gives a fantastic view but they aren’t for the faint hearted and my thighs muscles are still sore from the climb so be warned. melrose-abbeyAfter the abbey we had a quick wander around the shops and then headed back up to Peebles.

As usual I had picked a dog friendly hotel so (for an extra £15) Amber could come too. The hotel is a 15th Century building with a mixture of old comfortable chairs and modern, stylish furniture. There is a spa and conservatory area as well so the hotel has done well to marry old with the new.

During check-in we were asked if we wanted to book a table in the restaurant but it would have to be later on as the hotel was fully booked and there were no dining room slots until 8.45. Being a Fifer, I have a 5 o’clock tummy so we decided to eat in the bar instead where there was a typical pub grub menu. I opted for Chicken fajita wrap with seasonal salad and fries £12.95 and OH went for the Beer battered haddock, peas, homemade tartare sauce, crisp salad and fries £13.95. Just in case you’re interested the restaurant menu has things like deer, duck, lamb and salmon.

When my fajita arrived I was surprised to see it was already rolled and not the usual DIY job I am used to. It left me wondering how I was supposed to put the sour cream, guacamole and salsa on to it. I then tried to pick up the tortilla and it collapsed fajitahsungracefully in front of me. So that was my problem solved as I then ate it with a fork and knife and added the sauces to it as I ate. Overall it was tasty enough but I’d have preferred a couple of tortillas and the chance to build it myself. I had no complaints with the accompanying fries as they were delish.

fishOH’s fish looked a bit small compared to other pieces of haddock he has had in the past but the batter was nice and crispy and although it looked like a bit of a tiddler OH said it was filling enough. Surprisingly, he also said he quite liked the tartare sauce as it wasn’t overpowering. This is unusual for him as he isn’t normally a fan. Of course he also loved the fries.

We spent the rest of the evening in the bar running up a large drinks bill. The décor of the bar again brought together  the ancient with the contemporary. However, some of the old chairs could do with a bit more padding. I’m pretty sure Drew Pritchard would be interested in buying and re-upholstering a number of the armchairs in the Blue Dug Bar.

The following morning we were woken by one barking dog and another whining. My best guess is that their owners had left them in the room whilst they had went for breakfast and they had set one another off. I have been to a number of dog friendly hotels before and this is the first time this has happened. Fortunately Amber didn’t join in the dog chorus. barony

The hotel breakfast was good and there was the usual vast selection of hot and cold stuffs on offer. After consuming as much of the buffet as we could we went for a walk in the grounds to see the The Great Polish Map of Scotland. << Click the link for more info but basically the map is a huge 3D map of Scotland, sculpted in concrete and measuring some 40m by 50m. It is a sight to behold and my pic really doesn’t do it justice. map

All in all, we had a fabulous time in the Borders and enjoyed our stay in the Barony Castle Hotel.

 

 

 

The Oak Tree Inn, Loch Lomond

Last week OH went paddling in Loch Lomond and put in at Balmaha (btw ‘paddling’ and ‘putting in’ are both kayaking terms – just so you know he wasn’t up there bare footed with his trousers rolled up) Anyhow, he loved the area so much he wanted to take me back to see the scenery – particularly in autumn. Therefore, first thing Sunday morning, we set off and headed towards Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. He wasn’t wrong. The scenery was stunning.img_20161023_175218

After a scenic walk along the shoreline just after Balmaha, we travelled back and parked across from the Oak Tree Inn. When we entered we could see straight away how busy it was. There was a large bar, restaurant and conservatory that were all bustling. However, the staff were keen to help and found us a table for two in the conservatory.

Annoyingly, we had a couple of false starts where we had to ask for menus and then find someone to take our order but as it was so busy we made allowances. Looking around though, I realised that the place would always be like this at lunch time and the initial poor service was not the norm as the staff were plentiful and pretty attentive and, with hindsight,  I couldn’t really fault them – it actually was just a false start.

What I could fault though, was that the specials were written on a board in the restaurant and I had to stand up and walk through to see them, which was annoying. Particularly becimag5191ause the blackboard was positioned above a table and I had to stand in front of a couple and squint at the hard to see options.

Turns out, I was glad I made the effort as I went for the special of Sea Bass with creamy white wine sauce served with asparagus and a savoy cabbage and onion mash. It was amazing. The construction of the dish, the way the ingredients complimented one another and the presentation were all spot on. The Sea Bass had large meaty flakes and a crispy skin, the mash had just the right amount of cabbage and spring onion mixed through it and the asparagus had a lovely fresh bite. Overall, it was a dish I’d order time and time again.

OH decided on the Traditional Steak and Mushroom Pie made with locally reared beef, topped with crunchy puff pastry served with fresh market vegetables served with chips or parsley buttered potatoes (he went for chips). imag5188His pie came in one of those tin enamel, white and blue dishes, which people in the 70s   used when camping. (probably earlier and in the war but I just remember camping with the Guides in the 70s and having to get a blue and white enamel tin mug and plate before I’d pass muster). He got rid of the dish as soon as possible as he hates steak pie being in a separate dish (I don’t think he’s alone with that). The stew part of his pie looked rich to me, the gravy was really dark brown and glossy. The vegetables were a great mix of peas, turnip, courgette, cabbage and carrots and his chips, were, well, chips.  OH says he really enjoyed his pie – he said it was rich and there were good chunks of meat that threaded up when he cut into them and the mushrooms weren’t soggy.  The added on pastry lid however, was just ok. Personally, if I ask for a pie I want a pie and not stew with a bit of pastry on top so I can see his point.img_20161023_174409

Happily, we were both sated after our main courses and we didn’t even ask to see the dessert menu – even though I’m sure they’d have been just as good as our mains.

…and just in case you read my last blog – the toilets this week were on point and I had no complaints there either 😉

2 mains, a coke, a white wine, a coffee – £37.30 (the amazing scenery was free)