With celebrations now a distant memory and the tree decorations packed away in the shed, I have kept two rows of rose-shaped candles inside the house, their faint amber gleams giving a touch of festive comfort to these days of darkness and showers.
I hate January. I mean, what is there to like? The shops are full of root vegetables, if they are full of anything at all, and I have run out of ways to make
River Cafe’s delicious crushed celeriac and potatoes (River Cafe Cookbook Green) adapt to a healthier eating regime for the new year.
Since going to a restaurant now requires a risk assessment, I have used cookbooks more and eaten less out. Thus, books written almost like diaries have given something of an alternate thrill to those nights when it feels like going out, like playing Russian roulette with your future, something I am generally not prepared to do a few hours at a restaurant.
January is generally a weird month anyway, as most of us try to lose the pounds we put on over Christmas, on top of any weight we’ve already put on during the pandemic.
Normally, it would mean a desire for lighter food, even though we do not really use the word “diet” that much. But eating most salads in these cold, long January days doesn’t really hit the spot the way a juicy, rich beef stew would, or a plate of spaghetti carbonara.
It is when I long for the complex flavors of Thailand, Burma or Vietnam with their aromatic, sinus-clearing dishes that nourish and delight the senses with steaming spices and herbs.
At times like this I would have much more choice of such restaurants on Tayside, especially in Dundee where only Rama Thai really exists.
Noto – Edinburgh
Despite the worry of going out to eat, I have been to a few places that are worth recommending, even though the first one is an hour away in Edinburgh.
However, it is worth the trip, because here is a restaurant that offers complex flavors and interesting juxtapositions in a variety of small dishes that are light and perfectly balanced.
Noto occupies a modest façade on the capital’s lovely cobbled Thistle Street.
However, do not let this understatement fool you, because this restaurant produces amazingly good food at very competitive prices. As such, it is a major find right in the middle of Edinburgh.
From a menu where we could have eaten everything, my sister and I chose to share the following: steamed duck bun (10 kr., Wonderful), beef tartare, fried potato, egg yolk (14 kr., Sensational), fried trout, radish, wasabi , apple ponzu (£ 13, fantastic) and the best riff on sesame shrimp toast, served here with katsuobushi (bonito flakes) – the best £ 10 you could ever spend, legally or illegally.
A dish with wild halibut, brown butter cauliflower and miso (£ 26) tasted good, but we thought it was a little less interesting than the smaller dishes we shared – and a little overpriced considering the great value of the rest of this menu.
Our shared dessert with chocolate, miso, hazelnut (£ 8) was a rich, down to earth delicacy and a lovely way to end this meal with
Noto is the business – wonderful food, great service and a very attractive, minimally designed space that perfectly complements the ethos of this food.
If I say that everything is cut down here, I mean it as the highest compliment, because it is a time when I am so done with extensive taste menus and irrelevant fripperies – for me a single room with good food and service is everything I want. right now.
Drovers Inn – Angus
Closer to home and more traditional than Noto is the excellent Drovers Inn at Memus, which I included in my recent summary of “the best of 2021” based on previous pre-lockdown visits.
I’m glad to say that Drovers remains as good as I remembered it – in fact, the food this time around was probably the best I’ve had there during my four visits.
My sister and I had lunch here on December 28, a day where one might expect a limited menu.
Fortunately, this was not the case.
There are two sections of Drovers, and to begin with I would have preferred to eat in the bar area, which is more atmospheric than the more formal restaurant. But the bar was full and we suddenly realized that we still preferred the more spacious dining room.
Yes, pandemic paranoia was a factor here – not that the bar is in any way more risky than anywhere else, it’s just right now that I prefer a more expansive place to eat.
But how I wish Drovers would renew their restaurant area!
I mean, it’s perfectly comfortable, but it’s just so bland – the taupe paint, the awful
Chairs in the 1980s style, the naff prints on the walls … it’s all so generic and dated and tame.
It really would not cost much to update this room and I think it would be worth it because the food and service here is really wonderful and the location is very attractive.
It’s a large menu, which is all the more surprising because it felt like everything was actually cooked here (not always given when offered a large menu).
Commendably, there is also a vegan menu, which is not just unusual for a country pub in Angus, but for this whole area. Kudos to Drovers for this!
Our appetizers were delicious, as was the bread that preceded them.
Elaine chose seared scallops, crispy pork cheek, celeriac truffle puree, pickled apple and herbal oil (£ 9.95) and pronounced it excellent – the very generous five scallops were beautifully cooked and presented with finesse.
The classic flavor combination of scallop and pork was enhanced by everything else on the plate, so much so that my cooks sister declared it to be a perfectly harmonious plate of food – and Elaine can sniff out a foreign ingredient as fast as a dog can sniff a bone .
My starter with fried wood pigeon, pearl barley, ceppuré, game chips
and jus (£ 7.50) was winter on a plate and so, so delicious.
The cooking of the wood pigeon was spot-on. Top thing!
Our main courses were just as good.
Elaine’s fried veal liver with caramelized onions, bacon, creamed potatoes, buttery kale and red wine sauce (£ 15.50) was as earthy robust a dish as one could wish for on a crisp December day.
My venison was, I felt, the star of the whole meal.
This roasted loin was perfectly cooked and was served with a crust of hazelnut and herbs, braised leg boulanger (sic), a puree of carrot and star anise and juniper juice (£ 18.95).
It was heavenly.
If you go to Drovers, I must also recommend you to throw any notion of cool, diet, denial or culinary elitism to the wind, and do as we did and order a side dish of their amazing onion rings (£ 3.50).
Elaine had seen these glories come past us earlier on the way to another table and we knew we just had to indulge.
I have to say, even though they may have brought a trash can to our table,
the risk of shame was so worth it – these clouds of joy formed from the most basic ingredients gave as much enjoyment as the earthy truffle or the finest caviar.
Dessert with winter berry cheesecake, blackberry sorbet, berry coulis and lemon balm (£ 7.25) was lovely, but probably the least inspiring dish of all we had. Excellent sorbet though.
Service everywhere was just fantastic – friendly, knowledgeable and professional. Our charming waitress apologized for any delays in getting the food to us, but it really was not necessary – it all worked and it worked excellently.
While chatting with the waitress, she mentioned that they had experienced a sudden stream of reservations the day we ate there, which would take into account that the bar and restaurant were already full.
She also mentioned that they had suffered from 200 cancellations during the Christmas period.
My sister, who once owned her own famous restaurant in Dalston in east London, said her heart sank when she heard this news, not that it was something we did not realize was happening.
We had already seen a table near us being quickly rearranged from a seat with five to two seats because three of the party could not reach it.
What a time for our hospitality industry! While I’m very aware of why we may not be able to eat out as much as we would like right now (I’m even paranoid about getting Covid), I think it’s important that we all do, what we can to support this besieged industry.
For me, it means at least making sure that I give as much notice as possible about any cancellations or changes to a reservation, and also that I arrive on time for a reservation and remain aware that the reservation is often too limited period.
Making a reservation and just not showing up is not only very disrespectful to a restaurant, it also jeopardizes their livelihood and right now we all have a duty to behave with as much responsibility as possible.
We left Drovers and felt well satiated, but also hopeful that places like this can ride the pandemic out and keep doing what they do.
It is very admirable to me that somewhere in a small village in the Angus countryside provides food of this quality and service, so good.
That they manage to do so while facing problems that can sometimes seem relentlessly overwhelming means that we need to support them all the more.
I can not wait to go back to Drovers and like it so much that I would even take my own Farrow and Ball paint card with me to the restaurant renewal!
Address: Drovers Inn, Memus, Angus
T: 01307 860322
Price: Starters from £ 5.50; Main courses from £ 13.95; Desserts from £ 6.95
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 5/5 (with a glass of paint)