Tuesday, 10 April 2012

[Out of Oxford] St Andrews round-up

When I visited St Andrews recently, I didn't plan to do any blogging. I was there to relax, after all. But this Scottish town, despite its small size, turned out to offer a great range of good food so I decided to do a summary of what I ate where and illustrate it with a few photos that show Scotland basking in the sun of the third warmest March on record.

St Andrews is a miniature conglomeration of sloping streets, narrow alleyways and distinctive granite buildings. It's most famous for its university and its golf courses, but you can also visit the castle, which juts out over the rocky coast, and wander round the ruins of the cathedral. West Sands beach, as seen at the beginning of Chariots of Fire, is an expanse of pale sand stretching towards the horizon, while East Sands is more suitable for building sandcastles and paddling (and for fully-clothed German teenagers to throw each other into the sea, apparently). It's also next to St Andrews' small harbour. There is plenty of fishing in this area and on the first night we went to the Tailend restaurant (130 Market Street), which serves fish and chips to take away and eat in. The service was a little rough and ready, but the food atoned for this: the chips (a huge bowlful for the whole table) were thick, crunchy and indeed probably the best I've had anywhere. Haddock in a crisp batter was appropriately fresh and flaky, and Arbroath Smokies (local smoked haddock), grilled and served with streaky bacon, were a welcome discovery, with a lovely deep smokiness (fish and chips all £9-10, specials a bit more).
Tailend on Urbanspoon
After a day of scampering around the coastline, the next evening we were ready for something a little more sophisticated. The Doll's House (3 Church Square) has a winning pricing strategy: virtually the same two-course menu is offered for £6.95 at lunchtime, £11.95 in the early evening (or all night on Sundays, when we were there) and as part of an à la carte the rest of the time. The interior looked cosy but it was warm enough to sit in the quiet square outside. I enjoyed my mozzarella and tomato carpaccio, and a special starter portion (cheerfully arranged by our friendly waitress) of the pumpkin risotto with pecorino and chilli oil was comfort food shot through with interesting flavours, but the rump steak with a cognac and Dijon mustard gravy main course was the star. The meat had the right balance of charring and tenderness and we mopped up the sauce, savoury with a hint of sweetness, with crusty bread (this was included, as were potatoes and vegetables - this is a very good value deal). A shared cheeseboard (about £6) was a nice end to the meal, although it would have been good to know which of the four or five cheeses were of Scottish origin.
Dolls House Restaurant on Urbanspoon
The next morning I was lured to the bakery Fisher and Donaldson (13 Church Street) by rumours of their famous fudge doughnuts. Mine was disappointing - I liked the sweet sticky icing but the custard inside tasted artificial, with an unsettling hint of banana - but I was impressed by the large array of other baked goods. Some of them, like the macaroni pies, looked a bit stodgy but I can vouch for both the potato and the fruit scones as being light and fluffy. This is also a good place to pick up packs of shortbread, oatcakes and moreish Highlander biscuits to take home.
On our final night we went to the Glass House (80 North Street), which is a sister restaurant to the Doll's House and has a similar set menu offer, although we were too late this time. Many of the dishes have an Italian tinge: ground pork, smoked bacon and red chilli meatballs with tagliatelle (£8.95) was substantial, meaty and flavourful, while sirloin steak and rump of lamb were also tender and finely cooked (no more details, I'm afraid, as I wasn't really in blogging mode). The four of us shared - I think ordering it for one person would be unwise - a Nutella pizza for dessert. The dough was a little flabby but it was hard to take issue with the half jarful of Nutella spread on it. On balance I think I slightly preferred the Doll's House, as there was more on the menu that I wanted to try and the interior was less cramped than its sibling, but you could do a lot worse than dinner at the Glass House, and the staff were very attentive and warm.
Glass House on Urbanspoon
After all that tasty Scottish food it was quite a disappointment to return to homogeneity in the form of M & S and Burger King at Edinburgh station. I'd certainly recommend St Andrews as a seaside holiday destination, although before you pack your bucket and spade you might want to make a wish for a repeat of March 2012's record-breaking temperatures and hours of sun. The week after I was there, it snowed.

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