There are very few restaurants in Scotland who can claim so many awards for pizzas, but Oro, the former Bella Napoli on Kilmarnock Road in the south side of the city is one such establishment.
Located on the outskirts of the city, it’s easily reached by public transport, and although there is off-street parking available if you’re driving, be aware most of it is metered and patrolled by the council’s wardens to great effect.
There’s excellent disabled access from the street, however, the restaurant is on two levels, the lower one being down a staircase. There are plenty of tables at ground level, but these also have a couple of steps. In saying that I have no doubt, that staff will readily step in to assist those who may need a little more help.
From the outside, the re-branded Italian restaurant looks the business, using golds and blacks to great effect. There are even a few outdoor pavement tables for those two days we get in Scotland which qualify as summer when it gets above 14 degrees Celsius, and you can enjoy a coffee and cake after removing four layers – and not getting hypothermia!
I recently stayed at the Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar for the purposes of reviewing the accommodation, and, normally I would simply include the meals we took within that main review. On this occasion, however, I feel that the food is good enough that it can stand to be reviewed in its own right.
These first few paragraphs may seem familiar if you have read the hotel review, however, are entirely necessary for those readers who may simply be viewing this for the first time as a standalone food review.
Located just off the Main Street that runs through the town, parking is limited to approximately eight spaces directly outside the front door, however, if those are full, then directly across the street there are two other public car parks with ample spaces including marked disabled bays.
The kitchen has a brigade of three chefs and one kitchen porter. On the evening we visited, a Saturday in May there were two parties of 20 and 24 present plus a further 16 eating within the dining room in addition to more in the lounge bar. That’s a busy service by anyone’s standard – and more so with a kitchen brigade consisting of only four people.
In fact, it was that busy, while we were having a drink in the lounge, they must have turned away a good 20 people looking for a table. I know of many award-winning restaurant managers that would give up a right arm to be this busy on a Saturday evening in May, and the tourist season hasn’t even started yet! I wouldn’t fancy your chances of getting a table as a walk-in so I suggest you pre-book. But, and despite it being so busy, there was still an overall smooth professional slickness to the operation.
Food can be eaten in both the lounge bar area which is a more informal setting than either of the two dining rooms or private function suite. Please bear in mind that for disabled guests the lounge bar is the only option available as the dining room is set on a separate level accessed by stairs. However, it’s a pleasant room that also caters to the lunchtime trade with a bar meals menu which is available in the public bar next door.
We were promptly shown to our table at 7pm by one of the waiting staff, all of whom were exceptionally efficient.
Most of them appear to be school-age, yet despite their obvious youth, all of them, without exception, were friendly, helpful, and professional. It’s a pleasure to say that they not only broke but completely trashed the sometimes held assumption that youngsters are lazy, surly, unhelpful youths who wouldn’t thank you for a part-time job. A big round of applause to all of them, and to the hotel for employing so many from a small town which, I suspect, does not provide many opportunities for part-time youth employment.
The staff are all very attentive to their diners, but without being intrusive while a gentleman, I assumed to be the restaurant manager kept an overview of all that was going on. It was only later in the evening it transpired that this was actually the owner himself. There was little doubt that he employs a hands-on managerial style, yet in chatting to some of the staff, it was obvious that he engenders a great deal of respect from them.
The main dining area could seat around 60 for dinner depending on table configurations and a smaller secondary area containing four tables would be able to seat around eight to 12 for dinner. There is also a private function suite on the first-floor level and is available for parties, special events and funeral teas. It has a self-contained bar and a dance floor with access to the outdoor beer garden,
The menu isn’t so large that it becomes unwieldy, making choosing a dish a chore. However, there is still ample choice for most diners and particular dietary tastes from a range of meat, game, fowl, fish and vegetarian.
I had opted for the tasting starter which contained chicken strips, cheese nachos, onion rings, haggis balls and chilli mango prawns. My other half opted for the Cullen Skink soup.
My starter could never be described as Michelin star quality, but that’s not what this hotel is about. They are offering good quality, locally sourced produce which is cooked well at very reasonable prices. And, having seen the number of people that were turned away because there was no room available that Saturday evening indicates that their menu and price point is spot on for the local area.
I have just completed a recent review of a different establishment where I was forced to criticise their choice of frozen, pre-packed food, and part of the reason for my having chosen the tasting starter was simply to check if the restaurant lived up to its advertised blurb that everything, or as much as can be, is not only sourced locally but cooked fresh to order.
It’s very easy to tell from things like chicken strips and onion rings whether these are fresh or not. I’m pleased to report that in fact, everything on the tasting starter was, in fact, home-made and cooked fresh with the exception of the nachos, which is no surprise. Too often deep-fried foods can be greasy, overcooked and frankly tasteless cardboard. A starter like this soon sorts the men from the boys. The onion rings, by the very nature of the informal size and shape were doubtless fresh and proved to be exceptionally tasty. A good thickness of onion ring had been used which was coated in a delicate yet tasty batter, seasoned to perfection, and made for something which couldn’t be further from a frozen pre-packed product.
However, the star of the show was undoubtedly the haggis balls, of which there were two good-sized lumps on the plate. These were spicy with a nice peppery hit, the haggis was softand held together well within the batter coating. At the time I remember thinking I wonder if I could get that as a supper at a local chippy! The breaded chicken strips were tender, soft succulent pieces of meat which hit the spot. Finally, the two chilli and mango prawns which had been butterflied and coated in a spicy panko breadcrumb also deserve a mention. The last element of this platter was the cheese nachos, which were, well, simply cheese nachos and I would suggest that these are swapped out for something else which shows off the kitchens skills and/or abilities. The platter also came served with two dips – a barbecue sauce and a tomato yoghurt.
Mrs Grub and Travel Guides said her soup was delightful. An accolade, because I’ve lost count of the number of time she’s complained when Cullen Skink soup has been too salty. This is normally only a problem if the smoked haddock has not been soaked in advance to remove some of that saltiness prior to cooking in the stock. Not so this time around. She did say she would have liked a little more fish which was a bit sparse, but the creamy “chowder” style base had plenty of potato and leek and the whole dish came together to produce a good quality version that those in its hometown of Cullen in Aberdeenshire would be proud of. And of course, no soup is complete without some carbohydrate to soak up what’s left and such was the case at the Elphinstone. The warm poppy seed bun was an added extra which Mrs M used to soak up the last dregs of golden nectar in the bottom of her bowl.
My main was the Fillet Jacobean described as being medallions of fillet beef layered with haggis and smothered in a pepper sauce, and that’s exactly what arrived on my plate. It was offered with a choice of chips or boiled potatoes and for me, there was no competition as to what works well with a steak – chips all the way! Now, I will say, that this perhaps isn’t the most delicate-looking of dishes and it certainly won’t win any prizes for presentation but, who cares when it tasted as good as it did. The meat is supplied by a local butcher three doors away from the hotel, as was the haggis and I had two good sized fillets, half-a-stone of hand-cut chips and yet a further portion of those onion rings, that’s how good they were and all of it generously coated with a luscious, thick, creamy, peppery sauce.
I always order my steaks rare if it’s a fillet I’ve chosen which can easily be cooked in such a manner. I’m well aware as a reviewer that many other cuts of meat containing fat will always taste superior to fillet once the fat renders down and works its way into the meat. On this occasion, however, the sauce did the job of adding an extra flavour to the excellent quality fillet beef which literally could have been pulled apart with two forks without the necessity of needing a knife.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve returned overcooked steaks to kitchens. In my book, it’s the sign of a good chef who can truly cook a steak to a customer specific requirements, particularly if ordered blue or rare. My beef was perfect – red in the middle and simply browned on the outside to seal in any juice, it was cooked as a rare steak should be.
The chips were excellent. None of that frozen potato that masquerades as a fry. These were skin-on, golden brown on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, they were little gems of potato delight.
The sauce complemented the meats rich earthiness layering in another level of flavour over both the steak and the haggis filling.
Mrs M chose one of the Elph’s specials, pork fillet with black pudding and caramelised apple with a cider cream sauce. Although the waitress had advised at the time of taking the order, that this was served with potato dauphinoise and vegetables, the dauphinoise had transformed into a mash and there was no veg. But no matter, Mrs M said it was perfectly fine the way it was served. There were two fried pork fillets with wedges of caramelised apples and slices of Stornoway black pudding all served with a cider cream sauce. The mash was smooth buttery and creamy and provided the base for the dish being the largest component with the remainder sitting proudly atop it. Mrs M felt she could have done with one more slice of the pork, however, at only £14.95 that was never going to happen, particularly when this was not a cheap cut of pork.
How often have you ordered pork in a restaurant which arrives at the table and looks just like the stuff your granny used to provide – tough, grey and inedible. Not at the Elphinstone, it was truly a delightfully tender, succulent and indeed mouthwatering piece of meat. You’ll never go wrong with Stornoway black pudding as an accompaniment. If you want to know what it is, click here The cider cream sauce was perfectly complementary to the whole dish wrapping it together as a fusion of flavours.
And to dessert. For me a caramel apple pie with ice cream and for Mrs M a snowball deluxe. My caramel apple pie was sweet, savoury, hot and cold. It was a taste sensation. The pie was well filled with good quality Bramley apples which had held their shape well, had a cheek-sucking tartness and created a foil to the sweeter caramel topping. The pastry was short, and delightfully buttery which encased all the other ingredients. The ice cream was plain vanilla, which was supplied by the award-winning Taylors of Biggar three doors down in the opposite direction from the butchers. Mrs M opted for one of her childhood delights a Lees coconut snowball served in a sundae glass with strawberry sauce and ice cream. And if, like us, you’re an aficionado of good quality home-made ice cream then get yourself along to Taylors in Biggar as I’ve now elevated them to the top of the list for the best ice cream in Scotland.
Unfortunately, we had left no room for teas or coffee!
The following morning we turned up for breakfast which was self-service. It’s served at weekends from 7.30 to 9.30am. A table had jugs of fruit juices, (apple, grapefruit and orange) which also contained a selection of yoghurts, cereals, and fresh fruits. There was also a hot buffet. This included fried eggs, bacon, sausage – square and links, beans, haggis, black pudding and freshly grilled half tomatoes.
Tea and coffee along with a selection of toast is served directly to the table. The staff on duty were very attentive bringing us extra toast and tea when requested. Empty main plates were removed promptly and, being a hot buffet, one could decide to have as little or as much as one wants for breakfast.
I’ve had many breakfasts over the years – some good, some excellent, and some utterly tragic excuses for breakfast. I have no idea why some hoteliers put so little faith in what essentially is the main meal of the day. So, I was exceptionally pleased to see that the black pudding was once again Stornoway, the haggis had been supplied by the butcher and was the same version used the previous evening, the tomatoes were fresh and not tinned, the local butcher had also supplied the two different types of sausages available along with the bacon, and the eggs were, I can say, free range. Oh, I nearly forgot the potato scones – yes, that’s right, from the bakery across the street!
The table had a selection of preserves, honey and marmalade in small individual jars. I worry slightly about wastage using these jars where very little is used and the remainder is wasted after being discarded. However, the alternative would be to supply larger dishes decanted from catering tins and quite possibly without as much choice being available, where, quite likely more than one person will have dipped a spoon into. I have never quite resolved the argument for and against in my own mind on this one.
So, do I recommend the Elphinstone for its food offering? Without a doubt, it’s a resounding yes. If you don’t want fussiness and fancy presentation and are more about the support of local businesses using quality produce to create cracking home-cooked honest-to-goodness food, the Elphinstone is for you.
Tucked away in a corner of South Lanarkshire, Biggar is a small town with a huge history and a good selection of locally-owned artisan shops – and, the reason for my being here – the Elphinstone Hotel.
It’s situated on what is known as the old peddlers way between Edinburgh and the south-west of Scotland and is reputed to be one of the oldest roads in the country!
The Elphinstone Hotel may actually be standing on the site of an older establishment owned by one Bessie Bertram who, it is reputed, gave lodging to King James IV in 1504. Amazingly, in 1947 after demolishing some older outbuildings, a workman found a groat from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
By the end of the 18th century, the hotel’s name had changed to the Wigtoun arms after the then owners, the Flemings of Boghall Castle were made the Earls of Wigtoun. The estate passed to a descendant, Lord Elphinstone and the name subsequently changed to its current one. It is fondly referred to by the locals as the ‘Elph’.
But, enough of the history lesson folks, let’s get to it.
Glenluce is a small rural village situated off the main A75 leading to Stranraer in the County of Wigtownshire. Its main claim to fame is the 12th-century Cistercian abbey, but it’s also home to the wonderfully relaxing and peaceful Whitecairn Holiday Park.
Our visit was rather a last minute thing. Having been on a previous trip travelling the NC500 (Travel: NC500 – Scotland. How to break your motorhoming virginity!), our hired vehicle developed engine problems and the second part of the holiday had to be cancelled. So, a quick search of Google revealed the above holiday park located in a part of Scotland I had spent little time in. And, what a lucky find it was too.
Whitecairn is in the Dumfries and Galloway Council region in the southern tip of Scotland and is very well-placed for touring this particular part of the country.
Normally access to the properties is from 2pm however, on the day before we were due to leave home, a member of staff called to advise we could arrive anytime from 10am as the unit wasn’t being used the evening prior to our arrival. A nice personal touch there, so things were looking positive from the outset.
On a clear day, the view from Glenwhan’s highest point seems to go on forever stretching across two lochans down the glittering expanse of Luce Bay and across the Mull of Galloway.
Warmed by the Gulfstream, the spectacular 12-acre garden has an astonishing collection of plants from around the world. The winding pathways lead the visitor on a relaxing, yet vibrant tour until you reach some well-placed seats, many on viewpoints, where you can relax and enjoy the peaceful ambience and beautiful scenery.
In addition to the well-kept and tended gardens, there is also a 17-acre moorland walk which has around 120 species of wildflowers and grasses melded together in a way that is both wild and natural all at the same time. Or for something different why not follow the well-marked tree trail which winds its way all around the site.
If you’re a wildlife fan, then you won’t be disappointed as it’s in abundance at this location including red squirrels, a substantial number of birds along with various waterfowl in and around the pond areas. Look out for the peacocks and peahens strutting their stuff in the grounds.
The 17-acres of wild land that surrounds the gardens and Arboretum is a mosaic of moorland, wetland and bog. Paths lead you among Hawthorn, Willow and Rowan where you can smell the coconut scent of gorse in flower. Colourful native heather and wild thyme grow together among the rocky outcrops. You might also see harebells and orchids scattered throughout the grassland, dependant on the time of year you visit.
So, you think motorhoming is something only the over 65s do? I know what you’re thinking, the retired vicar and his wife, a small dog, probably a Chihuahua, trundling along in front of you, at 40mph, refusing to let you, and quite likely, your BMW pass.
Well, think again folks. More and more younger people are taking to the roads with their hotel room on wheels – and why not?
It’s just so convenient as a mode of both travel and accommodation. Stop and start where you want, pick your viewpoint; by the mountain, the sea, next to a town – it’s all in your hands.
But, and it’s a biggy, make sure you do your homework first and pick a rental agency that doesn’t just offer what looks to be a cheap deal. It’s absolutely imperative that who you choose offers a full package. This should include the motorhome rental, backup, advice, travel tips and the one item you can’t pay for – experience.
And that’s where Scottish Tourer Motorhome Hire in Perth comes in. From the initial email contact through to the vehicle handover, there was a level of professionalism that provided comfort in the knowledge I was dealing with people who knew what motorhoming is all about.
Here in Scotland, it’s so rare to have temperatures higher than 12°C that the moment we see that furnace in the sky, we red-blooded males form queues at the meat counter of every supermarket like we’re about to enter the next ice age.
We also have another odd habit, that of pulling out a rusty old barbecue generally found lying in a dusty corner of a shed and pretending that we’re the next Gordon Ramsay!
Rarely does black cremated meat ever form part of a normal diet, yet, we offer it up twice a year on the two days that we call summer as if it’s five-star dining.
There’s one other oddity that we Scots generally do during our “summer”. We load the car with everything but the kitchen sink, tip the kids in, and then pack up enough food to feed a small country for around a month before heading off to the seaside for what is commonly known as a picnic.
Just the name alone conjures up the sound of the waves crashing off the shore, the salty tang in the air and the smell of fresh seaweed washed in on the last tide. Ardnamurchan, for me, a West Highlander born and bred, is reminiscent of home in so many ways.
So imagine the surprise that this was a restaurant which prided itself on good highland produce and I’d never heard of it!
Located at the top end of Hope Street, opposite the Theatre Royal, the restaurant is outside that busy section of the city centre in Glasgow that, is, quite frankly, now saturated with eateries and not all of them deserving of your hard-earned cash.
Hope Street is a one-way street and while there is some on-street parking available outside the restaurant, the chance of getting a space is akin to winning the lottery. So, do what we did and park at the NCP car park in Cambridge Street. After 6pm you can park for the full evening at the princely sum of four pounds and it’s literally a five-minute walk to the restaurant.
Level disabled access from the street is excellent, however, the restaurant does have an upper floor reached by some steps, therefore be sure you request a ground floor table if you need one.
There can be few more spectacular dining settings than here at the Lake of Menteith Hotel, perched, as it is, on the shores of its namesake. The hotel itself is styled in the design of a New England waterfront inn and sits perfectly in this landscape.
Located in central Scotland some 14 miles from Stirling, and even from Glasgow or Edinburgh, can be reached within an hours drive.
The lake is Scotland’s only natural one. It contains Inchmahome Priory, a now abandoned Augustinian priory formed by Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith in 1238. The Island of Inchmahome is where Mary Queen of Scots spent three weeks hidden following Somerset’s defeat of the Scots army at Pinky Cleugh. The Priory can be visited by boat from Port of Menteith during the months of March to September.
If you’re lucky you just might see an osprey feeding on the trout in this stocked fishery. Herons patrol the shallows and reed beds and in the evening, as darkness falls, you could be in for a treat if the otters that inhabit this area make an appearance.
The kitchen brigade is run by the hotels chef-patron Jason Henderson, who, rather amazingly, not only is the head chef, but also the man behind the overall control of the hotel, ably assisted by his right-hand man, general manager, Malcolm Copland.
It’s a quite remarkable achievement. Running a kitchen is in itself a full-time job, never mind adding in the complexities of a hotel to the mix, but Jason not only manages but makes it look effortless too.