Food – Melrose: Marmion’s Brasserie. Quite simply, this is one of the best restaurants in the Borders.

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If you’re ever pootling about in the Borders region of Scotland, as I was with my other half recently, then I suggest you set up your sat-nav for Melrose and Marmions Brasserie.

This converted home sits on Buccleuch Street and has been a restaurant for around 30 years. Its ownership last changed hands ten years ago and has been run since then by Turkish-born Chris Kurt – and a splendid ‘mein host’ he makes too!

The location of this establishment is a narrow street with some on-street parking at the door, however, if you can’t get parked there, then a large public ‘pay & display’ car park is only two minutes walk distance. Disabled access is excellent at Marmions, with a small 2″ step at the front door. Internal space is all open plan with plenty of room between tables for wheelchair users.

The restaurant can accommodate approx 60 covers in a wood panelled dining room, which also seems to double up as an impromptu art gallery. Unfortunately, the exterior design, of the red canopied doorway, hanging baskets and a veritable garden’s worth of greenery wasn’t carried over to the internal, which, although not offensive, wasn’t what I was expecting from a ‘brasserie’. Still, that’s all rather subjective when it comes to matters of decor and taste.

Firstly, before moving onto the food I should spend a moment reflecting on the extremely warm welcome from Chris and his staff – well, actually there was only one young lady who was exceptionally friendly. Shown to our seats we were presented with menus, a drinks order was taken, and we were then left in peace to peruse said menu.

It was nice to see that Marmions hadn’t gone down that usual road which so many do – by compiling a ‘War & Peace’ menu selection. This was two pages, one for starters and mains and the second for desserts. Simple, effective and non-confusing. My worry, when given a 32-page menu, is whether the chef can actually cook anything, and will it be fresh!

There is a nice selection of dishes, which I would class as typically Scottish fayre, but with a Mediterranean touch thrown in now and then just to ring the changes, and keep you on your toes. There are the usual offerings of fish, meat, poultry, and vegetarian options, so something which will suit everyone.

A lovely touch is the restaurant’s ethos of utilising local suppliers, many of whom are actually based in and around Melrose itself. Not only does this permit Chris to have an audit trail, but as he said: “If I support my local suppliers, then, in turn, they will support me, so it’s a win-win situation really. Plus I get to know them, they’ll let me know what’s in season and I can make menu purchasing decisions to keep things seasonal and fresh.”

Another wee delightful touch is the warm home-made bread rolls served before the starters – perhaps the restaurant will consider offering a choice of more than just white at some point in the future, as it’s certainly not outwith the capability of the kitchen staff.

So onto the menu. My choice of starter was the sage infused rabbit terrine with Stornoway black pudding and a rabbit sauce. The terrine wasn’t huge, but then it didn’t need to be as it’s so rich. It sat atop a slice of the world’s best black pudding – in my opinion, that is, from Charles Mcleod of Stornoway. The rabbit meat was tender, and whilst it’s difficult to say, I’d hazard a guess it could’ve been wild rabbit as opposed to farmed. There was that earthy overtone to the taste that can be missing on the captive bred variety. The sage didn’t overpower the flavours, and the rabbit sauce – a stock reduction – was delicious. The whole dish married together well and it was a great choice of starter.

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Sage infused rabbit terrine with Stornoway black pudding and a rabbit sauce.

The CO opted for the smoked salmon on potato cakes. This one didn’t challenge the kitchen too much! It was essentially a well-cooked and seasoned mashed potato cake topped with slices of Scottish oak-smoked salmon. However, that said, I’ve had some potato cakes in my time which were dire. This was light golden brown, crispy around the edges and held together well, The salmon wasn’t too oily, however, I wouldn’t have said it was wild, the taste of that variety was missing. It was much more likely to have been farmed. Overall, however, ‘she who must be obeyed’ said it was delicious, and, a good portion size too. The fact the kitchen forgot to add the dill creme fraiche to the plate didn’t matter – she doesn’t like it anyway! So it was a good 9/10 for starters.

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We ventured forth onto the mains. I opted for the rather opulent sounding chicken ‘pie’ with a truffle mash, while Mrs M chose the good old solid favourite of beer battered haddock served with chips, peas, side salad and coleslaw. Mrs M’s was the first to be served up promptly followed by mine. WOW – was it haddock she ordered, or whale? What a portion, a huge slab of fish held up by a bed of peas, a plateful of chips and a small dish of tartare sauce along with a good dollop of coleslaw. I bet her £10 she wouldn’t finish it – rather in the hope I’d get a piece – I lost!

The fish was so fresh it almost jumped off the plate. A good thick fillet, completely boned out, It flaked well, and the taste, well she oohed and ahhed continually, so that’s as good as it gets! The batter was delicious with just a tang of the beer, was crispy, light and golden brown in colour. And as for the chips, fairly sure they were hand-cut and fresh as opposed to those frozen things. Lovely and crisp on the outside with a light, fluffy, soft interior – cooked to perfection, and I’d imagine a King Edward, Maris Piper or similar tuber. Even the slaw and tartare sauce were home-made. All in all, it was a fine plate of food.

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Now to the chicken ‘pie’. You may wonder why I’ve shoved quotation marks around that word pie. Well, here’s the answer. It’s not actually a pie at all, but a chicken dish served in a vol-au-vent! I was considering calling it a deconstructed pie, but that doesn’t work either as there’s no pie crust, shell or topping. It came served with a small bowl of the mash with truffle. The first thing I noticed was the amount of white space on my plate, which could easily have been filled up with some local seasonal vegetables, and would have made it look less of a ‘younger brother’ to the cram-packed haddock and chips plate.

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But, you know what, after the first forkful, all was forgiven, talk about a lush taste. This was the chicken ‘pie’ of all pies. The free range roast chicken used was tender, the button mushrooms plentiful and the leeks adding that extra onion taste to the overall dish, which had been enveloped in a creamy white sauce. The crispness of the vol-au-vent added yet another texture to the whole meal. The only disappointment for me was the lack of enough black summer truffle in the mash.

Again it’s a good 8/10 for the mains.

For dessert, I chose to go for the cheese board. I was provided with a sheet of available cheese – eight in total including four local ones and told I could choose any four I liked. These were then served on a wooden board along with peeled celery strips, black seedless grapes, a home-made chutney and a selection of biscuits. And it went down a treat. My Strathdon Blue, Connage Clava Brie, Old Smokey Gigha, and the extra mature Orkney Cheddar were everything they should have been – delicious.

Mrs M opted to go with the apple cheesecake with apple puree, apple jelly and toasted meringue. I wondered if this could have been a case of apple overload – not a bit of it, she said, as she wolfed it down. I very nearly lost an arm as I approached with an outstretched fork in my hand!

This course hit the mark on all points so it’s a good 10/10.

A three-course dinner for two with drinks comes in around the £50-£60 mark and for what you get in terms of both quality and quantity is exceptional value for money.

So if you’re in the area I’d suggest you make a beeline for Marmions in Buccleuch Street – you won’t be disappointed.

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