I’ll confess straight away, I wasn’t very well prepared in arranging this New Year dinner; searching for a Saturday night table for two, I was only telephoning around the preceding Wednesday. Strange chance then, that I ended up with what some might consider the best table in the restaurant at The Champany Inn in Linlithgow. The result of my disorganisation was that we were seated in ‘Heaven’, a small table for two away from the main dining area, above the bar, surrounded by, at my estimate, four hundred of the restaurant’s thousand-plus bins of wine. What fine surroundings for someone with my predilections!
The Champany Inn, run by Anne and Clive Davidson, is a long-established restaurant rightly renowned for the quality of its Aberdeen Angus beef, and unsurprisingly this dominates the menu…for the main courses, at least. To start I picked out the scallops (seafood is another specialty here, oysters and lobster in particular), which were exceedingly good; very soft, almost melting, not quite totally free of grit but pretty close, and certainly some of the best presented scallops I have met in a very, very long time. They came with some huge asparagus spears, which was a little off-putting; it’s certainly not the season for asparagus, and these were just a little tough (although this could have been sorted with an extra minute in the pan) but also lacked flavour. Thank heavens for the accompanying Hollandaise; lashings of this helped everything go down a treat. The whole dish failed to match the pleasure derived from a black pudding with sliced apple and onion marmalade, however, which was rich, nicely balanced and flavour-packed.
But now, the main attraction; the steaks. We took two cuts, the ribeye and the porterhouse. Each was quite a handful, and so they should be at the prices here. They were both packed with genuine beef flavour, and if judged on flavour alone this easily ranks among some of the best beef I have ever tasted. It is, however, easy to pick holes in the presentation; quality aside, there is no imagination here. You order a steak, you get a steak. A bloody good steak, I admit, a little too like charcoal on the outside, nicely pink in the middle, but that’s it. Mustard on the side, if you wish. This isn’t a kitchen that oozes the flair and excitement that provides for a fine dining experience; it just does excellent meat. So I finished my meal feeling that a superb ingredient hadn’t quite been done justice, although I’m prepared to admit that others might find a bloody good steak enough to call it a great meal. I found my Dauphinois potatoes to be fairly good, although nowhere near as rich or hedonistic as the steak they accompanied. The ‘Famous French fries’, or whatever they were called, turned out to be thick-cut chips. The vegetables were nice. And that was that. We washed it down with a half-bottle (I had to drive, you know) from the superlative wine list. With 1017 bins, taking in every region imaginable, and a decent selection of half bottles, this is a list I cannot praise highly enough. It is obviously kept nicely up to date by the wine waiter, who spent quite a bit of his time up by us at his workstation amongst the many bottles, opening and decanting wines as required. He opened and decanted our wine before we sat, but there was no mistaking its pedigree:
Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 1998: Good colour. An appealing Rhône nose, a little woody at first, but soon opening out to reveal great earthy, funky Syrah notes. Good presence on the palate, just a little flesh, but certainly a nice, rounded feel. Integrated and ready, with nice character. Drink now. Good. 16.5/20 (January 2006)
Puddings; ‘home-made’ ice creams were good, as was a warm savarin with dark cherries in a chocolate sauce. Neither were amazing, but they were tasty and filling. Service throughout was spot-on – friendly and attentive, but not overbearing.
The Champany Inn is definitely worth a visit for those wanting to experience high quality, chargrilled beef. Judging by the clientele on the night, it’s seen as a ‘fine dining’ experience, a special treat for the weekend. The prices support this assumption. It’s a very good restaurant, with a superb wine list, but it there were just too many missing notes in the symphony for me. It’s a restaurant I would recommend for those looking for a steak or seafood experience and a great wine list, but with some provisos about the rest of the package.
Price: For three courses, including a half bottle of wine and service (10%, included), this night out was £154. The steaks account for much of this, at £32 for the ribeye and £38 for the porterhouse, not including side orders such as potatoes or vegetables. The comprehensive wine list was admirable for having many well priced bottles, as well as a large number of well aged examples; I am now intimately acquainted with those from Burgundy, having sat next to them at dinner. (11/1/06)