HAVING BEEN ILL and house-bound for several weeks, it was good to be back in the swing of things. The Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar was the destination and I can’t say I’ve been on a more beautiful drive for a restaurant review. But would the food make it worth the trek out of Edinburgh?
Before the visit I was very impressed by the hotel’s website. It was slick. Clearly it had had some investment; us restaurant critics appreciate a decent website. From this I learned the venue was a family-run hotel with a mission statement aiming to provide excellent hospitality and use locally sourced produce, of which South Lanarkshire is blessed. The owners, Robert and Janette Allan, have been at the helm for over 25 years. I don’t know these parts well, but judging by the talk from the clientele, this establishment is a real pillar of the community.
The hotel sits on Biggar High Street, which is impeccably looked after and full of independent businesses. We arrived to a very warm welcome where a busy service was well underway, explaining why we could only get a table as late as 8 p.m. There is a small, semi-enclosed bar area on your right as you enter and a couple of paths that lead to other parts of the building. Initial inspection suggests this place is well loved and tended too. It’s spotless and has a real cozy vibe to it.
The menu is an extensive one to say the least. There is a specials page at the front, providing a slightly more modern offering, then the usual menu which serves up a mixture of steaks, classics and plates influenced by various countries around the world. I was particularly intrigued by the ‘Breakfast Stack’ (see menu) but that’ll have to wait for another day.
I love scallops and black pudding and it was a treat to see it on the specials tonight (£7.95). Accurately pan seared, they melted in the mouth like butter, exploding into raptures of sweetness that’s offset with the warmth and meatiness of the Stornoway black pud. A salty kick and crisp texture from the neat bacon pieces round off this symphony. My only qualm was that a kick of acidity – a grate of lemon zest – or a dressing of some description was needed to really polish up those notes to a tee.
Sarah also went for a seafood starter with chilli and mango king prawns in breadcrumbs (£5.95) her choice. We liked how the prawns were coated in the chilli and mango jam then breadcrumbed. It was a bit different and tasted great. The shellfish was moist but the coating was the outstanding part of this dish.
I was drawn in by the bacon steak from the excellent Ramsay of Carluke for my main – just an example of one of the excellent producers around these parts. This is what I’d call a ‘dirty’ main course, in that it’s not healthy in the slightest – not that I care. Priced at a generous £10.25, it came with two fried eggs, onion rings, mushrooms, chips and a tomato (the healthy part). Sadly, the steak is covered by the eggs in my picture, but it looked and tasted amazing. Tender as you like and bristling with smoked pork flavour. Pig of the finest quality. The onion rings were really light and crisp, with the ‘shrooms superbly cooked. The chips were fairly run-of-the-mill, but at least they were crisp.
Delving into the specials menu again, Sarah ordered duck breast with wild berry jus and fresh sugar snap peas (£15.95). The duck was well-rested and beautifully pink inside. The skin could have been crisper, which wasn’t helped by the sauce been drizzled over it, but it was a sharp and tasty effort that we know works with the bird. A big dollop of smooth mash was ideal for mopping up the dressing and the sugar snaps were al dente, as expected, and added a freshness to the plate.
It began to dawn on me the scale of the food operation at this hotel as service progressed. There was a corridor to the left of us that looked packed, then another room upstairs ( a function of some sort, I suspected) also full, yet service was comfortable and the kitchen clearly in control. While there were a few tourists around, it was obvious that the majority of customers were local and had probably been eating at The Elphinstone for years, if not decades. The owner mingled with guests and a young chap,
I suspect the son judging by the resemblance, offered particularly impressive service to the guests in our section.
Now desserts were awesome to say the least. A significant section of the puddings menu consists of a variety of sundaes made with ice cream from local producer Taylor’s of Biggar. I had the ‘Rob Roy’ (£4.95), which comprised of cream, crunch and sweetness from layers of shortbread, vanilla ice cream and a warm Drambuie sauce that transformed a rather fun offering into something more adult.
Sarah selected the sticky toffee apple crumble option at the same price. It had started pouring with rain by this point so the warmth from the apple seemed appropriate. The tartness cut through the creamy ice cream in what was a truly delicious thing.
We were well looked after at The Elphinstone tonight. It’s great to see a hotel remain such a strong part of the local community, both in a social sense and in the way their ingredients are used. The stunning drive from the city was well worth it.
Phone: (01899) 220044
Address: 145 High Street, Biggar, ML12 6DL