145 High Street, Biggar, Scotland, www.elphinestonehotel.co.uk
Situated on Biggar high Street, The Elphinstone isn’t quite what it seems. A traditional olde-worlde pub from the outside, its wonky-walled charm hides the fact that The Elphinsone is built on the same principles as a rabbit warren. Once inside the door a maze of corridor and rooms twists this way and that, seemingly for miles, all fitted together like a crazy jigsaw with odd little corners and mystery walls. Uniform it isn’t, for this is a building that’s grown organically over 300 years, and rather wonderful it is too.
Proprietors Robert and Janette Allen are aiming for the genuine warmth of a traditional Scottish pub, and while it’s true that the lounge bar vetoes cutting edge design in favour of a roaring wood fire and a tropical fish tank, it’s none the worse for its mildly retro charm. To make this building conform to a modern design ethic or indeed chintzy’rustic’ glamour would have been a mistake; that isn’t the character of the building, and to their credit the owners have recognized this.
The public areas are fairly simply decorated, but they’re cosy, comfortable, and I can’t help noticing for an old building with all those difficult to get at nooks and crannies, scrupulously clean.
Our spacious room is excellent Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the dÃƒÂ©cor is fresh and comfortable with a large flat screen TV and a very generous sized bed with toasty down bedding. The sizeable en suite is clean and modern with a bath and shower, and there’s an attractive seating area over by the window with comfy chairs.
There’s a lounge bar and restaurant, a public bar with a pool table, plus a function suite and a large outdoor seating area for summer, but we ate in the lounge area next to that roaring fire since the day outside was damp and grey. That said, Biggar is a pretty old market town and worth a look around for its independent shops, which include an award-winning grocer, a renowned chocolatiers and a world famous puppet theatre workshop.
Back at the’Elph,’ as it’s known by the local’Biggaronians,’ we order from a menu crammed with Scottish goodies. The food is rich, hearty and old school, featuring lots of favorites such as prawn cocktail, deep-fried Brie, and steak and ale pie. I wouldn’t have expected anything less. Done right, these are the rightful icons of pub cuisine, offering robust flavours and satisfying heft.
What closes the gulf at the Elph between stodgy pub grub and good restaurant dishes is the obvious effort to use quality ingredients, even when coatings and rich sauces could be used to hide second rate fare.
Portions are a generous and my creamy fish pie took up half the plate with a rich, silky sauce coating chunks of beautiful Scottish salmon, smoked haddock and large meaty prawns, all topped with a golden puff pastry lid. A plentiful portion of vegetables on the side Ã¢â‚¬â€œ green beans, baby carrots and new potatoes Ã¢â‚¬â€œ made for a tasty plateful.
Chicken and haggis brought moist and flavorsome chicken breast with a disk of rich and crumbly black pudding in a whisky cream sauce – a comforting and delicious dish on a murky November day.
If there was one slight criticism it might be that presentation isn’t exactly refined; my veg, in particular, could have been prettier and perkier since it looked a little overdone but actually tasted pretty good. I do think its important to treat veg with as much reverence as meat or fish, even if its just a simple side of potatoes or a salad.
Dessert was one of the Elph’s specialty ‘build your own’ sundaes, a gooey concoction of maltesers, cream and ice-cream, it was lipsmackingly good and a little indecent Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if you’re outfaced by the prospect of a whole one, just ask for a couple of spoons and share. Other possible flavors include the banoffee sundae or a traditional knickerbocker glory, or just make up your own concoction. The ice-cream is locally made by Taylors of Biggar, an award winning outfit that uses traditional methods for a nicer ice.
So all in all it’s an enthusiastic thumbs up for The Elphinstone, with friendly service and modest prices it hits the mark with tasty, unpretentious food and homely surroundings less than hour outside Edinburgh. Although the rich food might not put a spring in your step it’ll put a smile on your face, as you stagger from the table and through the cosy tartan-carpeted maze, in search of somewhere to lie down.