Review: The White Hart Inn, Edinburgh Scotland

While Australia obviously has one of the oldest surviving indigenous civilisations in the world with a millenia of oral history, the sad thing is that modern-day Australian culture generally suppresses this history through the celebration of the arrival of Captain Cook and the early colonial settlers, as though Australia was only ‘discovered’ in 1788 and did not exist before then. That’s white privilege for you.

Europe on the other hand, has more than oral history on its side. Almost all streets you walk down in town centres have buildings that date back hundreds of years, or boast of luminaries from their past, or talk proudly of how the town was founded by Romans in the early years of A.D. European history isn’t any more superior to Australian indigenous history, but by virtue of its tangibility, is more widely celebrated and acknowledged by historians.

I will have to admit, I’m susceptible to this historical bias. Walking around in Europe, I got particularly excited over the written and documented histories that we were exposed to – more excited, than when I stand on sacred indigenous sites in Australia. That’s a fault of mine, and one of which I’m trying to be conscious.

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Still, it’s hard for me not to get excited over eating at places like the White Hart Inn, reputedly the oldest pub in Edinburgh, celebrating its 500 years of operation in 2016. Combined with its link to royal history (the white hart was a mythical creature that could only be captured by those of royal blood), it had enough appeal to draw me in for lunch one day while we were in Edinburgh.

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The pub is surprisingly small inside, seating only about thirty for a meal at various tables and booths, plus a few more at the bar. It’s quiet during the daytime, catering mainly to tourists and local workers looking for a bite to eat, but gets busier at night with people looking to have a drink during whatever sports game is playing on the TV.

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Table service was prompt and friendly – the waiter came around from the bar to serve us drinks and take our orders, and walked by throughout our meal to check on us. He recommended their White Hart ale for K and served it in the smaller half-pint after K shied away from the full pint. It was a particularly malty and full-bodied ale, with quite a beery aftertaste. I was happy to stick to my usual Diet Coke!

Wee Taste of Haggis, served with creamy mashed potatoes, bashed neeps and creamy whiskey sauce, 4.99 GBP
Wee Taste of Haggis, served with creamy mashed potatoes, bashed neeps and creamy whiskey sauce, 4.99 GBP

K was keen to try a bit of haggis for tradition’s sake, as we hadn’t yet tried this stereotypical Scottish dish in our time in Edinburgh. Haggis is traditionally served as it is here – with mashed potatoes, mashed neeps (turnips, or rutabagas) and a healthy drizzle of gravy.

One of our tour guides had claimed that haggis was no longer the random mixture of offal that people expect – these days they are apparently made up more of different bits of ground meat, oats and spices – livers, kidneys and hearts are used only rarely.

Despite this claim though, I still found this particular haggis mix particularly liver-y with too much of an offal flavour to entice me to try any more than a mouthful! K ended up eating most of this dish.

Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise, served with creamy mashed potatoes and garden peas, 12.99 GBP
Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise, served with creamy mashed potatoes and garden peas, 12.99 GBP

He went on to have Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise for his main course, served of course with mashed potatoes and peas – the two side dish mainstays in a British pub. The salmon was a bit over-dry, even when coated with the hollandaise sauce – but the mashed potato was quite buttery soft.

Steak and Ale Pie served with garden peas, creamy mashed potatoes and a jug of ale gravy, 9.99 GBP
Steak and Ale Pie served with garden peas, creamy mashed potatoes and a jug of ale gravy, 9.99 GBP

My Steak and Ale Pie was absolutely delicious, far superior to K’s salmon. Again served with mashed potato and peas, the sides came with a jug of ale gravy which was quite thin, but surprisingly full of flavour. The highlight was the pie itself though, with its super crispy tower of puff pastry (buttery and delicious) and its large chunks of tender beef cooked in a thick savoury sauce. This is what a pie is supposed to taste like!

I have a feeling that the White Hart Inn occasionally takes advantage of its position as (one of) the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, perhaps letting some standards drop as in the case of the dry salmon. In other ways though, they are an excellent local establishment – service is fast and friendly, and they serve up a mean pub classic like the steak and ale pie. Go for the history and the pie, and stay to watch a sports game with a drink.

The White Hart Inn is located at 34 Grassmarket in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Review: The Jacobite Lounge in Ben Nevis Bar, Fort William Scotland

Fort William is one of the largest towns in the Scottish Highlands…I believe they may even have a McDonalds! Not that you would want to resort to American fast food in this location though – with little cafes and pubs on every second corner, interspersed between old-fashioned lolly shops, bakeries, ice-cream parlours and shops selling hand-knitted Scottish wool jumpers, there’s much greater delights to be had.

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We stopped into Fort William for a late lunch on our overnight trip to the Highlands, after a morning spent driving through to Glenfinnan to see their viaduct and Bonnie Prince Charlie memorial, and then through to Mallaig which is the final destination of the historic Jacobite steam train – which unfortunately, doesn’t run through winter! Although we couldn’t ride on the Jacobite steam train, we could still eat at the Jacobite Lounge in the Ben Nevis Bar though.

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Seated at the window with views of the large Ben Nevis mountain looming over the town, we perused the menus…which you have to admit are pretty quaint and cute. While they’re obviously not genuine retro menus and are simply made to look like they are, they’re still pretty cute! The contents inside are many and varied – there’s a handful of pub classics, but then they also offer a variety of sandwiches, burgers, and even a few Indian curry dishes.

Mushroom and stilton topped chicken (served with chips and peas), 8.59 GBP
Mushroom and stilton topped chicken (served with chips and peas), 8.59 GBP

I ended up choosing the Mushroom Topped Chicken with Chips and Peas. The chicken was a tad dry but given that it was absolutely drowned in the creamy mushroom sauce, it barely signified. The main disappointment was that there was hardly any trace of stilton cheese in the sauce as they had advertised – any strong blue cheese flavour was highly muted. At least the chips were crunchy!

Punjabi Style Vegetable Marsala (peppers, aubergine and potato is a mildly spiced marsala sauce, served with pilau rice and a poppadom), 8.29 GBP
Punjabi Style Vegetable Marsala (peppers, aubergine and potato is a mildly spiced marsala sauce, served with pilau rice and a poppadom), 8.29 GBP

K decided to try his luck with one of their advertised Indian specials, a Punjabi Style Vegetable Marsala. This was surprisingly tasty – far beyond the quality of Indian curry that I expected from a pub in the Scottish Highlands! The peppers, aubergine and potato were all cooked to a tender melt-in-your-mouth point, and the spicy marsala sauce was a delight on the pilau rice. The mini naan bread it was served with (rather than the advertised poppadom) wasn’t freshly made – in fact, it was barely warm – but still worked well when dipped into the sauce.

"Make it a feast" by adding fresh onion, coriander and tomato salad, onion bhajis, poppadoms, minted yoghurt dipping sauce and mango chutney, 1.75 GBP
“Make it a feast” by adding fresh onion, coriander and tomato salad, onion bhajis, poppadoms, minted yoghurt dipping sauce and mango chutney, 1.75 GBP

The menu offered him the opportunity to upgrade his meal and Make It A Feast, an offer which he took up. I wouldn’t recommend it – the onion bhajis were extremely over-cooked and tasted more of chunks of charcoal than onions. The only real highlight was the minted yoghurt dipping sauce, which was quite tasty with the poppadoms.

The Jacobite Lounge didn’t quite live up to our hopes – I fear they may rely a bit on the summer tourist crowds, or locals going in just for a few pints and to watch a game. While ambitious in their variety, their food offerings don’t quite measure up. They’d be better off trying to perfect a smaller menu than trying to do a bit of everything. Proceed with caution, and perhaps stick to the pub classics like the Steak and Ale Pie which I saw some of our fellow diners enjoying.

The Jacobite Lounge at Ben Nevis Bar is located at 103 High Street in Fort William, Scottish Highlands.

Review: Laroch Bar and Bistro, Ballachulish Scotland

The Glencoe and Ballachulish area of the Scottish Highlands is absolutely replete with bed and breakfasts and other self-catering accommodation for the intrepid trekkers and romantic getaway seekers who venture north from England and Edinburgh for long weekends. Restaurants are harder to find, and range from casual cafes like Glencoe Cafe to casual pubs.

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K did a spot of research though, and decided that we would head to Laroch Restaurant and Bar in Ballachulish for dinner on our overnight trip to the Highlands. With lots of positive reviews online for the hearty food cooked by Michelin-trained former Scottish-Chef-of-the-Year Allan Donald, Laroch definitely stood out as the best restaurant in the region.

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We were lucky to get a table early on the evening when the restaurant was still quiet, thankfully after having stopped by earlier that day to make a reservation. Even though it was a Tuesday night, the restaurant was full by the time that we finished our meal and left. They’re popular not only with tourists like us but also with locals – one large group was clearly a local group of mums out on the town, free from the responsibilities of kids for one night!

Garden salad, 4 GBP
Garden salad, 6.95 GBP

The regular menu is short and simple, but nothing jumped out to me as a dish that I have to try. Luckily, the chef is particularly keen on using seasonal produce as it’s delivered to his kitchen, so the daily specials menu is always long and ever-changing. K and I chose both our mains off the specials menu, but chose some sides from the regular menu – this Garden Salad for example.

I’ve never encountered a garden salad that’s as well put together as this. Instead of a few limp salad leaves drizzled with vinaigrette, this is a full-bodied garden salad made up of rocket, plump juicy cherry tomatoes, creamy avocado and tart pickled vegetables like turnips and carrots. The pickled veggies were the perfect touch to add a touch of acidity to the sweetness of the tomatoes, the creaminess of the avocado, and the peppery rocket. A wonderfully balanced salad.

Onion rings and chips, 3 GBP each
Onion rings and chips, 2GBP each

Unsure of how large the main meals would be, I also took the liberty of ordering two more side dishes – Onion Rings and Chips. This proved to be a mistake as you will see how large our meals were, but I can’t ever regret ordering crunchy fried onion rings.

Roast Loch Duart Salmon, chorizo, chick peas, courgettes, tomatoes and salsa verde, 14 GBP
Roast Loch Duart Salmon, chorizo, chick peas, courgettes, tomatoes and salsa verde, 14 GBP

I chose the special of the Roast Loch Duart Salmon – I’m always a fan of supporting local producers, and fresh sustainable salmon from a local Scottish loch was highly appealing. While it was cooked more than I would personally prefer (I prefer my salmon pink and barely seared!), the crispy caramel skin of the salmon was a real delight. The bed of rich tomato-y chickpeas highlighted with the occasional piece of spicy chorizo was the perfect accompaniment.

Herb crusted lamb chump, potato rosti, wil mushrooms, fine beans, braised puy lentils, 18 GBP
Herb crusted lamb chump, potato rosti, wil mushrooms, fine beans, braised puy lentils, 18 GBP

K chose the Herb Crusted Lamb Chump for his main, and was delighted with its tenderness and subtle savoury lamb flavour which while not overpowering, was still very much present. The potato rosti was a winner, but I preferred the occasional gem of a plump mushroom in the lentil mix.

Laroch Restaurant and Bar may not present ten courses of each dish with mere morsels beautifully plated. Do expect Michelin-quality cooking when you visit though – they offer a delicious meal of local ingredients cooked with loving care in a way to highlight their best attributes. Food is tasty and plentiful, offering home-cooking but by a Michelin-trained chef of the highest calibre. Laroch is definitely worth a visit if you ever go to the Scottish Highlands – just make sure to make a reservation beforehand!

Laroch Restaurant and Bar is located at Loan Fern in Ballachulish, in the Scottish Highlands.