EATING OUT AND DRINK
LUNCH, then, in Bridge of Allan, steeled upon only after rubber necking the big houses on the road in, parking at the hotel, lolly-gagging up the main drag and scanning window menus. I’m a nightmare to go for a quick lunch with. One: I think a snap decision about a restaurant is a decision absolutely always regretted. Usually 30 seconds after the drinks have arrived when it is definitely, undoubtedly, too late to leave, though I have done precisely that. Most recently in a tapas place in Glasgow where the whole ambience, the prices, the general terrifying slackness all around had me paying up and heading for the door before a morsel arrived, teed off family in tow, while the owner was taking a momentous huff.
Two: if I see chicken liver pâté on a menu I always have to walk on. Immediately. Why? That’s exactly what Ian is asking me as I spot another one over there. I dunno, it’s too easy, too safe maybe.
Why take up a whole starter slot – and there should never be more than four – with something so unimaginative? Something that usually arrives in the back of a van, possibly in a plastic tub, and has been doing so at certain types of restaurants for so many years.
So we end up at the Jam Jar Cafe, which you might think we should have gone to first given the lovely weather and the seats outside and, er, that we have pretty much reached the end of the road.
We take a few seconds to take in the prices. Deep breath. It’s good to get out the central belt. It’s also good to remember that the correct price for any dish in any restaurant is the price most customers will comfortably pay. And come back.
This is the modern uni-menu at play here – all things to all customers. Pulled pork sandwiches at nearly £11, sigh. Pizzas at £10. Another menu with starters, though strangely two of those (there’s only three) consist of mozzarella and tomatoes on either bruschetta or flatbread. Flatbread costs an extra 25p. Must be a Bridge of Allan thing.
There are also superfood salads, a Skinners of Kippen burger, fish and chips, nibbles, more mains, some sides, a smoked haddock and black pudding risotto, and desserts weighing in at £6 minimum. From all this menu chaos we are ordering in the most coherent fashion we can when chicken liver parfait, shallot gel, serrano ham crisp and homemade olive crackers jumps out.
Where did that come from? It’s cauliflower in a tempura served in a bowl on a wooden board that we end up with. Cauliflower tends to be bland and it’s not helped by a sticky, sweet and generic-tasting chilli jam but the batter is crisp.
I’m preparing to moan about truffled mac ’n’ cheese with toasted garlic three-flour sourdough, not because just reading the menu description is exhausting, but because at £12.50 it had better be good.
In fact it is moist, creamy, packed with cheese and the truffle, an oil probably, doesn’t overwhelm it. It is probably the most expensive mac ’n’ cheese I’ve ever seen, and I doubt I would have it twice, definitely not for lunch anyway, but it’s a success.
Across the table Ian is having one of those calorie bombs that can easily sink an afternoon. Shredded beef brisket on toasted ciabatta, red cabbage, jalapenos, peppery rocket (is there any other kind?), mixed leaves and handcut chips.
The menu description for this promises much more than it, and the £12.50 price-
tag, delivers. The meat should be soft and unctuous and the dominant flavour. It’s simply none of the above.
Still, we’re sitting outside. It’s a lovely afternoon and the staff who were a bit slow off the mark at the start are fine. What’s more, it’s busy. Presumably they know what they’re doing, then.
For me, it’s a pleasant enough place but by trying to be all things to all diners it ends up having no discernible character of its own.
The menu at the Jam Jar Cafe spans risotti, pizza, superfood salads and more besides
Quay Commons occupies a former bonded warehouse in Leith