THE GOOD OLD British summer, or lack of, has brought a distinct lack of beer garden visits this year, seeing Sarah and I switch to road trips along the east coast for kicks. The scenery was as beautiful as it ever today, as we check out what, we hoped, would be a real find at Donald’s Bar and Bistro in the quaint village of Aberlady.
Owner Malcolm Duck took the time to chat beforehand, filling us in about his new chef and plans for the re-opening of the other eatery here at this restaurant with rooms – Duck's – that has long held two AA rosettes. This will see a real focus on produce from around East Lothian feature on a refined menu - watch this space.
Perhaps a goats’ cheese tart is not the most exciting sounding of dishes to a grace a menu these days, but nonetheless, done well, it can be a satisfying starter; this effort being in the latter category. I dived into the tomato pesto, which impressed with garlicky notes and a zingy freshness. The acidity married enchantingly with the creamy goats’ cheese. The pastry was cooked well enough but wasn’t overly warm, yet I found the goats’ cheese was piping hot; perhaps it had been blowtorched. A neatly packed fresh salad of slightly bitter, dressed salad leaves was a sufficient accompaniment for my £6.50.
Sarah’s starter was grilled asparagus with parmesan, olive oil, lemon and rocket (£6.95). Asparagus season didn’t run into August in Britain last time I checked, but I’ll give this dish the benefit of the doubt (Peruvian asparagus is widely available), as it was immaculately presented and equally as well cooked. Tender with a slight crunch, the cheese added a little saltiness, although a further smidgen of salt wouldn’t have done any harm. There was a surprise element in the form of a chilli dressing, which was delicious enough to suggest a little more of it would have been a good thing.
My main course of glazed short rib of Tweed Valley beef with mash, which I subbed for hand-cut chips, caramelised shallots and pickled celeriac had a lot to live up to with a price tag of £24.50; it didn’t disappoint. The meat was delicious and slow-cooked perfectly to allow succulent, soft meat.
The little brunoise of celeriac tells me this is a chef who has skill with a blade and the shallot relish was sticky and sweet. I have to hold my hands up and say mash, as originally billed, would have suited this dish better, but those chips were so good, I could have just sat in the bar with them and a cold beer and been satisfied.
Priced at £18.95, Sarah opted for shellfish linguine with seared scallops, king prawns, chilli and garlic oil and confit cherry tomatoes. There is huge scope for error with a dish like this, but the execution of the scallops and prawns was flawless and clearly cooked with confidence, as was the suitably al dente pasta. There was a waft of garlic, which I love and a pleasant burst from the confit tomatoes to boot. There was some spinach in there to add greenery and further flavour, and again, the presentation was neat and tidy.
Our young French waiter was very polite throughout the evening, as was his female colleague, who offered particularly good service across the dining room, answering a few questions confidently and knowledgeably.
Dessert on this occasion was a decent chocolate marquise with cherry compote and white chocolate mousse (£6.95). There was nothing wrong with the slab of chocolate; I simply would have preferred a stronger type, but it was smooth and at the correct serving temperature. The cherry compote brought sweet and sourness to the dish but was a good foil and I was thankful that the mousse wasn’t too sickly.
For Sarah, she went for the good old sticky toffee pudding (£6.50) which seems to be coming back into fashion. It always makes me think back to my college days when chef Edwards used to boast his sticky toffee pud was the best in the world. He might be right. Anyway, I liked the ginger flavours running through this and felt it really enhanced this version. The ice cream was creamy and a no-fail partner for it.
A fulfilling dinner at Donald’s has left us pretty impressed, particularly with kitchen’s handiwork and the front of house team. The prices are competitive and need to be if you’re going to leave the city centre for a visit. However, on this evidence, it’s definitely worth a trip.
Phone: (01875) 870 682
Address: Main Street,