Food – Carlops: The Allan Ramsay Hotel. Good honest home-cooked food in comfortable surroundings.

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Having stayed overnight at the Allan Ramsay Hotel in Carlops, we decided not to eat out and to try their own restaurant. And what a fortuitous decision that was. In fact, it was that good I’ve decided it merits a review all of its own.

So, having booked a table for 8pm we duly arrived at 7.45pm to be shown to a nice corner table where we wouldn’t be overlooked by others, but, we needn’t have worried on that front, as you’ll find out later!

The restaurant forms part of the hotels ground floor see Accomm – Carlops: The Allan Ramsay Hotel. It’s rare to find somewhere like this, but a joy when you do! and is an open plan design with seven tables which can seat 28 covers.

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The dining room.

In keeping with the historical character of the building, the dining room features dark wood panelling and tables to match, offset against the whitewashed original stone walls, and features, in addition, an open fireplace at one end.

The red carpeting and curtains added an air of luxury to the many oil paintings hanging on the wall space.

Kenny, whom we had met at check-in, brought over the specials blackboards. I think it’s only right and proper that I mention at this point the kitchen is run by a single chef ably assisted by a kitchen porter. So you won’t find a menu here that reads like ‘War and Peace’, but something much more succinct, yet none the worse for it.

Don’t expect formality here. Kenny is an extremely chatty, friendly individual who exudes a relaxed and laid back attitude. I’d suggest you go with the flow, but don’t think this is not a professional service. There’s an undercurrent, laid back or not, about getting it right for the customer.

As mentioned earlier, this is not refined Michelin dining  – but that would be so out of place here anyway. What you do get is food that is perfectly well cooked in a  good old-fashioned home cooking style. It’s was nice to see that there was no attempt to upsell. You know the usual, would you like to order a bottle of wine with that?

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No shortage of choice in gins.

The specials on offer that weekend were salt and pepper squid. This was advertised as salt and pepper stirfried squid with chilli, spring onion, beansprouts and a cucumber salad, priced at £5.95.  The main course specials were a duck duo: Pan-fried duck breast on a bed of Puy lentils, home-made smoked duck sausage, crispy potatoes with a plum sauce at £12.95.  An alternative special was a fish pie containing halibut, cod, monkfish and prawns topped with a cheesy mash crust at £10.95.

Some of the standard starter dishes on the menu included haggis bonbons, Scottish smoked fish salad, mozzarella basil and tomato salad and, my preferred starter, a mushroom bruschetta. This was described on the menu as being mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce on a slice of toasted home-made bread and served with a bistro salad priced at £6.90.

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The main menu is supplemented by weekend specials.

This was an excellent portion sitting atop two slices of the home-made toasted bread. The field mushrooms had not been sliced too thinly and were well coated with the creamy garlic sauce. For me personally, I’d have liked more of a garlic kick, but that’s always a rather subjective opinion when it comes to garlic and how much to use. The sauce also contained cracked black pepper providing a nice little bite of heat.

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Mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce

Mrs M opted for the lentil soup of the day, which arrived along with two nice slices of home-made wholemeal bread and a couple of butter portions. The soup was steaming hot and had just the right amount of seasoning, both salt and pepper and had a nice smoky bacon flavour running through it (presumably from a smoked ham hough being boiled for the stock).

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Home-made lentil soup

Surprisingly the restaurant was exceptionally quiet, even although this was a Saturday evening at 8pm. In fact, we were the only two diners, which is a shame that it did not appear to be better supported locally given its position in the community, however, on enquiring, the weekend previously they had served 67 covers! So, it’s fair to say the atmosphere wasn’t all it could have been on a busier night.

I opted for the special duck duo as my main. For me, this could have been served a little warmer, but I wasn’t going to return it to the kitchen to be reheated and risk overcooking a delicious duck breast which was cooked perfectly pink. The Puy lentils had just the tiniest bite remaining. The sauce was described on the menu as being a plum sauce and for me, my palate would have much-preferred something on the sweeter side rather than that which was served which just tasted too much of vinegar and gave a “suck your cheeks in” moment.

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Duck duo ‘special’.

The “crispy potatoes” were simply Parmentier potatoes and, before you start running to Google, they are simply small cubed fried potatoes. See Parmentier potatoes

Mrs M had opted for the good old tried and trusted steak pie with peas and mash. This arrived at the table in a ceramic dish with a puff pie topping displaying the letters AR for the name of the hotel. Alongside that was a good healthy dollop of creamy mashed potato and a portion of garden peas. As the good lady broke the top open it was quite obvious the pie had come straight from the oven – steaming hot. Looking inside it was filled to the brim with meat and gravy. I was beginning to wish I had chosen this as it was right on point for a steak pie.

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Good old steak pie and mash.

She soon tucked in and between oohs and aahs I was able to ascertain that the meat was exceptionally tender, very tasty, coated in a delightful beefy gravy and all topped off with a buttery pastry topping which was both chewy and crispy, just as it should be.

I decided I would give the dessert a go, while Mrs M sat back having eaten her fill. I opted for the apple and bramble crumble with cream and custard. A bowlful, which, quite frankly would have served two people arrived held proudly aloft by Kenny. Digging underneath the golden brown topping I found whole sliced apples and brambles in a lovely cherry-red sweet-and-sour piquant sauce. But one of the best bits of the dish was the crumble topping. It had obviously been made with plenty of sugar which, in cooking had caramelised and created an almost buttery, toffee, crumbly topping which I’d have happily eaten on its own. Two small pots containing cream and vanilla custard were supplied and took what was originally an excellent dessert to the belle of the ball.

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Apple and bramble crumble – Mmmmm.

Given the menu and the fact that only two other diners were eating between 8 and 10pm this must have been a little demoralising for Susie the chef. As I mentioned earlier, the restaurant offers good honest home cooking and I should imagine that a lot of this has to be frozen in portions and then reheated later as there is no possibility that this kitchen can provide everything on the menu freshly cooked every day. But, in saying that, this is no different to kitchens the world over in many smaller establishments who want to provide quality food, but are well aware of environmental concerns over costs and wastage. And maybe Susie was quite glad of a quiet evening!

The following morning we appeared for breakfast at 8.45am and were shown to a table by Rosemary who manages the business along with her partner Kenny.

There is a choice of three fruit juices available for breakfast: orange, apple or tomato. A jug of fresh orange juice was on the table awaiting our arrival. A choice of cereals, yoghurt, porridge, fresh fruit and berries are available also.

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A limited menu at breakfast but sufficient choice.

The main breakfast menu options consisted of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, scrambled or poached eggs on toast, and the ubiquitous full Scottish breakfast. Now, in my accommodation review ( Accomm – Carlops: The Allan Ramsay Hotel. It’s rare to find somewhere like this, but a joy when you do! ) I mentioned that Kenny appeared to be a jack of all trades with the exception of cooking. Boy was I wrong because out he appeared from the kitchen fully resplendent – in his chefs whites!

I opted for the belly-busting Scottish breakfast which, never fails to satisfy. All ingredients are of top quality as opposed to the cheap catering versions many others use to cut their costs and increase profit margins. I find that breakfast is where some establishments drop the ball, but not here. The menu goes so far as to tell diners where various ingredients are sourced from. The sausages and bacon are provided by John Brown Craft Butchers of Edinburgh, eggs are provided by local farms, while the smoked salmon comes from M and J Seafood in Broxburn and the mushrooms and tomatoes are supplied by George Anderson Greengrocers. This is accountability and traceability at its very best.

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There’s no mistaking this dish!

My breakfast arrived with two rashers of bacon, two sausages, two soft poached eggs as requested, mushrooms, beans and a home-made tattie scone. And, as if that lot wasn’t enough out came the toast with home-made marmalade, tea and coffee.

I had no complaints about my breakfast. The bacon had obviously been air dried, It had none of that white frothy liquid normally found in inferior injected bacon products. The sausage was exquisite, meaty, with a good quantity of pork, certainly at least 85 per cent along with a nice hint of pepper and spice to round it out. There was no getting away from the eggs, these were free-range at their very best, golden yolked domes of delight.

More tea and toast was offered by Rosemary, our hostess, who ensured that nothing was left to chance with her careful eye to service and customers needs.

“All in all, we made the right decision not to travel further afield to eat – we’d have had to go some way to find anything as good as that which we received.”

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