Joanna Blyth­man

Green Gates 4/10

Sunday Herald Life - - REVIEW -

THE rea­son Stir­ling hardly ever fea­tures in these re­views is that I can’t find any­where good to eat there. Be­fore com­plaints to the ed­i­tor flow in a bloody Bannockburn-style surge against the enemy, let me make clear that it’s not for want of trying. When­ever I meet some­one from Stir­ling, or some­one who goes to Stir­ling, I quiz them about where they eat, but no luck. Quickly they’ll start blur­ring the ge­og­ra­phy, talk­ing about Crom­lix House out­side Dun­blane, or head­ing fur­ther north to the Mhor es­tab­lish­ments around Cal­lan­der.

Per­haps the city of Stir­ling is top-heavy with stu­dents, not a de­mo­graphic that nur­tures a good food cul­ture, and then of course, there are all the tourists who con­trib­ute to a Venice or Barcelona ef­fect: in­flated prices, in­fe­rior food.

But at least in these two no­to­ri­ously touristy cities there are great places to eat if you know where to look off the beaten track. I’m not con­vinced that Stir­ling has hid­den gems, but I’d love you to prove me wrong.

So when trusted friends rec­om­mended Green Gates as a prop­erly high-stan­dard In­dian out­fit in Stir­ling, I was ju­bi­lant; they lived in Delhi, so they know what they’re on about. On pa­per the menu looked a lit­tle av­er­age – it wasn’t push­ing the boat out – but done well, it could be fine.

Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, the tal­ented kitchen crew is headed by chefs who worked at the well-re­spected restau­rants, Mother In­dia and the Wee Curry Shop. But has there been a change of chef?

The front door stays open through­out our long, slug­gish meal. It’s 13C out­side and there’s no ob­vi­ous heat­ing. We be­come colder and colder. The lac­cha paratha ar­rives first. It has more but­tery lay­ers than your stan­dard paratha we’re told, but its too elas­tic, not re­ally that but­tery, and chills in sec­onds. Alarm bells ring with the com­pli­men­tary mush­room soup. Salty, mouth-fill­ing, in­de­ter­mi­nately milky, if it’s not from a packet I’m sur­prised that any­one can make a soup from scratch that tastes so fake.

A tough dosa fol­lows, rolled round an un­der-spiced fill­ing of puz­zlingly sweet, slip­pery pota­toes. It cools in­stantly on the stone-cold plate. Where’s the cus­tom­ary co­conut sam­bal? At Green Gates the dosa comes with a hot red chilli sauce as subtle as a cav­alry charge. All you can taste is chilli pow­der; the other con­stituents of this sauce are ob­scure, a mys­tery.

On TripAd­vi­sor peo­ple rave about the fish pakora. These are the least bad things we eat; al­most any­thing deep­fried has its charms. The bat­ter is crunchy, but the fish is a form­less mush, past peak fresh­ness.

Its side “salad”– a gru­elling combo of ice­berg let­tuce, sweet corn, those cheap pit­ted olives that taste of card­board, and chopped pep­per – looks as tired and cold as I am be­gin­ning to feel.

There’s more of the bolt-on, multi-pur­pose chilli sauce. A sep­a­rate starter of spiced had­dock baked in foil con­firms my feel­ing that the slack, tone­less fish has en­tered that stage of life where it should be re­tired.

We wait and wait; we be­come colder and colder, then ex­pe­ri­ence a surge of hope as warmish plates are set be­fore us for the main cour­ses, which are mas­sive. Maybe this gen­er­ous quan­tity helps blind peo­ple to in­fe­rior qual­ity. Goan fish curry tastes like a thicker ver­sion of the paste on the fish in foil. Hot, toma­toey, tainted by a stale gar­lic taste, I can’t get it down even with a load of the rice, which lacks bas­mati per­fume and looks like stan­dard long-grain.

An ox-blood red mut­ton masala fry be­lies its de­scrip­tion: “cooked with co­conut cream, mus­tard, and curry leaf”. The firm meat cubes taste as though they’ve been plunked in their vine­gary-sweet dragon’s breath sauce at the last minute. What’s this got to do with Goa? The spinach in the creamy sag pa­neer tastes tinned, the cheese is of the plas­tic sort. Yet again that rank, old gar­lic pres­ence pol­lutes the palate.

We eat very lit­tle. Would we like our left­overs wrapped to take away? No thanks. It’s bad enough eat­ing build­ing block food re­assem­bled in dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions once. I’m not anx­ious to re­peat the ex­pe­ri­ence.

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