The Bonnie Badger
Heading out for dinner used to be such a simple affair.
“Have you got your wallet? You have? Great, let’s go!”
In this Covid-19 era it is a little more complicated. The first thing you have to do is find some clothes to wear. I don’t mean posh clothes, dinner jacket and evening gown, as if you were heading out to The Ritz. No, I just mean any vaguely respectable clothes, to replace the sweatpants and moth-eaten t-shirt you have taken to wearing over the last eighteen months.
If you find yourself in this position, and don’t remember where you left your clothes, I suggest looking on the floor of your wardrobe. Or under the bed.
Then there’s getting there. As we’re off to the Bonnie Badger in rural Gullane, travelling by car seems the only sensible option.
“By car? Do we still have a car?”
Once you have established whether or not you have a car, and provided you can find the keys, and the battery and tyres aren’t flat, then you’re good to go.
Just don’t forget your wallet.
At the Bonnie Badger I settled into a little nook in the Broc Bar. I would like to pretend this is because last time I crossed the threshold here I dined in The Stables, the more formal side of the restaurant, and I thought I would mix it up a little this time. But the truth is rather less considered; late-bookers can’t be choosers, and I took the only table available. The Broc Bar it was then. As it happens, I still ate pretty well.
I kicked off with half a dozen Loch Fyne oysters, served in the traditional fashion. They were cool, fresh, a good size (in fact a couple were huge) and they were perfect with a quick squeeze of lemon. The very first of the six sent shivers down my spine and brought a grin to my face, such was the intensity of that iodine and sea spray flavour (despite the fact Loch Fyne oysters are farmed in a brackish sea loch fed by several rivers, rather than true sea water). After that the next five slipped down very easily. I also had a quick taste of the endive, blue cheese and walnut salad, which was a brilliant combination, with bitter chicory, sweetly toasted walnuts on the verge of caramelisation, and the creamy-saltiness of the blue cheese. I almost wished I had chosen that instead of the oysters.
The pub feel returned with our main courses, a spelt and lentil burger which just oozed juicy goodness, and traditional fish and chips, with tartar sauce and mushy peas. I was not born with the mushy pea gene, so my opinion on these counts for nothing, but everything else on the plate was delicious, the fish flaking away in little white jewels, the batter bright, crisp and piping hot. What’s not to like? I know some say Krug is the thing to drink with battered fish (or maybe with anything) but I plumped for the 2019 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Le Verger from Luneau-Papin. Sadly they had just sold their last bottle (rats!), and so the 2019 Sancerre from Pierre Martin (or Yves – his father – as it says on the list) stepped into the breach (sorry that you were second choice, Pierre). This was good, but also typical of recent warm vintages, being fruit-rich and textured, and relying on its phenolic elements for structure rather than the acid cut I know some (me included, I have to say) would prefer. It still works though.
Not wanting to appear rude I also tucked away a milk chocolate ganache, which was very skilfully encased in a thin layer of chocolate, and outshone the chocolate ice cream and crystalline chocolate served alongside.
We left happy and satiated, convinced that this new post-Covid fad of ‘dining out’ will probably catch on. We returned home, and as we divested ourselves of our dinner jacket and satin green evening gown, we resolved to locate some more pub-appropriate clothes in preparation for the next time.
Prices: The endive salad was £9, the oysters £19.50, the lentil burger £13, the fish and chips £16 and two puddings were each £8.50. The Sancerre was a fairly hefty £57; there are some more sensible options on the list for those not obsessed with the Loire Valley. The total bill came to £131.50 for two diners. (30/7/21)
Tom Kitchin made his name working out of his eponymously named restaurant The Kitchin, in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. From there he has established a miniature epicurean empire, branching out to create The Scran & Scallie and Southside Scran, as well as fostering new talent in city’s dining scene, not least Dominic Jack at Castle Terrace.
And yet it seems he is not content to stop there. His latest venture is The Bonnie Badger, a newly refurbished upmarket pub with rooms in Gullane, in East Lothian, well east of Edinburgh. Previously known as The Golf Inn, I think this is a smart move by Tom; Gullane is a golfing hotspot (as the old name of this inn suggests) visited by wealthy putters from the world over which is, apart from the rightfully popular La Potinière, woefully short of fine dining options. Those lucky enough to secure a table, however, still face being stranded in the middle of the East Lothian countryside, at the end of a long Chablis- and Chinon-fuelled dinner, by which time getting behind the wheel is clearly off-limits. The solution, from Tom and his wife Michaela, comes in the shape of 14 freshly refurbished bedrooms.
Dinner in this very spacious, airy and tastefully redecorated dining room follows the from nature to plate ethos that Tom has followed at his other venues. In view of the venue, and the pre-opening publicity material, I was expecting high-quality gastropub-style food. Tom – or rather Tom’s team – still had one or two tricks up their sleeves though.
I kicked off with scallops, cauliflower and raisins (pictured below) from the specials menu, which turned out to be a very wise choice. The scallops came lightly (by which I mean perfectly) seared, and nestled in a bed of puréed cauliflower. Dressed with golden raisins, which shimmered like jewels, Lilliputian florets of cauliflower and apple matchsticks, this was a divine dish which left me gasping for more. And it also left me a little confused; I came here expecting gastropub food, and found myself eating something that seemed altogether more refined. I would not have turned my nose up at this had I been eating at The Kitchin, or indeed any of Edinburgh’s more exalted eateries. I also had a quick taste of an alternative starter, dressed crab, avocado and toast, which seemed to tick all the boxes albeit with rather less flair.
Having settled in for the evening it was a surprise to have my understanding of The Bonnie Badger turned upside down again when my main course arrived. Having been so thoroughly hooked by my starter (I was tempted to ask the kitchen if I could just have the same thing again for my main course, and then for pudding as well) I now had a sneaking suspicion that my main course, fish and chips, would be something special. Would it be curiously deconstructed fish and chips? Or some other equally ingenious play on the traditional Friday-night fish supper? All I could do was wait to see what the kitchen produced.
What arrived, in a return to a more gastropub feel, was in the end nothing more complicated than a well-presented plate of battered fish and chips. A beautifully cooked flaking white fish wrapped in batter, hot and crispy, and looking like it had been given a chamois-leather polish just as it had left the kitchen. The chips were crisp and bright, although the highlight of the dish was the chunky tartare sauce, essentially a pile of chopped gherkins, as broad as my little finger, sliced into discs and held loosely together by sauce. It all worked together very well (although, as always, I would have liked more tartare sauce). But I won’t pretend that swinging from a fine-dining starter (whatever fine dining means, but the scallops certainly brought the phrase to mind) to a fish-supper main course was a little confusing. A wagyu beefburger which appeared on the other side of the table was also pretty good. There was no doubt in my mind, however, that my choices were better matches with the 2017 Sancerre from Pierre Martin (listed as Yves Martin, but we all know Yves is Pierre’s father, don’t we?) that I eagerly pointed at when handed the wine list.
We finished up here with a cheesecake and a treacle tart, both pretty serviceable. But long into the night, and indeed for much of the following week, it was the memory of that scallop dish that persisted. Sufficiently so for me to return here I think. I just need to phone ahead and check it has reappeared on the specials list first.
Price: The dressed crab was £14.50, the scallops £15.50, both main courses were also £15.50 each, and the puddings were £8 each. The total bill, including a glass of tonic water, was exactly £80.50 for two. This seemed a little light (a bargain that would have me eating here every weekend) until I noticed the Sancerre, at £56 per bottle, had not been included. Once I pointed this out to the staff, and the bill had been amended, dinner for two came to £136.50. For more information on the rooms (I did not stay over so can’t make any comment on them), check out the link to the website above. (27/3/19)