Renowned for rarely leaving the New Town, the Social Bitches have ventured south towards the Borders, and discovered a former coaching inn almost two centuries old. Here you can expect a warm welcome, stunning food, and even moderately-priced champagne. Tick, tick, and tick!
A hop, skip, and possibly a jump from Oxenfoord Castle – roughly half an hour from the centre of Edinburgh – lies the Stair Arms Hotel. Inside, twelve charming rooms, a decor that’s bang up to date, and a bustling restaurant where a reservation is essential.
Originally commissioned by the Lord & Lady Stair [ of the aforementioned castle ] it’s now owned and run by three generations of the Ramsay Family. They arrived in the early nineties, and from what we can see, are doing a brilliant job.
After checking in, we’re immediately happy with the room, and rather impressed by the dimensions of our en suite. Obviously the recent refurb is a success, and there’s even, through yonder window, a rolling field for us to contemplate.
Though about 30 seconds later, we decide what we really want to contemplate is a handsome, well groomed waiter pouring us a cheeky glass of champagne, and asking if we’d care for something spicy to nibble on.
So, another 30 seconds after that, we’re in the bar, getting to know our hosts. They’re lovely, full of friendly chat, but incredibly busy. The restaurant’s fully booked, and there’s a wedding on tomorrow. There’s also many a local, hoping to get a table last minute.
Clearly, there’s a lot of love for the Stair Arms, and by the pop of our second champagne cork we’re discovering why. The food looks amazing, and the portions are enormous. Even so, we proceed to order like two fat b**tards who haven’t eaten in weeks.
Along with the homemade bread and dips – which we love, and promptly ask for more – we begin with the Chicken Liver & Cognac pate.
It’s oh-so-creamy, and rich in flavour. Add to that the spice and fruitiness of the Cumberland sauce, and our gluttonous journey is off to an exciting start.
This is soon followed by the Breaded brie with redcurrant jelly and salad leaves. While the greenery doesn’t get too much of a look in, the warm runny cheese, combined with the jelly, is the very definition of happiness.
We’re then on to our third starter [ but who’s counting? ] the Lothian Haggis pakora with cucumber, tomato and herb creme fraiche. Wowsers! This definitely deserves a wee rant, it’s fan-bleeping-tastic.
Spicier than we expect – in a good way – it feels like the fusion of Scottish and Asian has never been so successful. The pasty is perfectly crisp, while the haggis is full of flavour and zing. We love every rapidly-taken bite, and can not recommend it enough.
But it’s not just the taste that’s impressing us. The presentation’s also top notch, and the kitchen’s delivering these dishes in what seems the blink of an eye. So much so, we barely have time to order yet another bottle of fizz before our main courses arrive.
First cab off the rank is the Fresh haddock coated in batter, with coleslaw & homemade tartare sauce. It’s delicious. Sumptuously naughty, but not too oily, and the tartare sauce is a triumph. Meanwhile the chunky triple cooked chips are wildly addictive.
Being dedicated carnivores, we also tear into the John Gilmour 8oz Ribeye steak served with wholegrain mustard, Glenkinchie cream sauce, haggis parcels, and mashed potatoes. And yes, it really is as good as it sounds.
The steak’s of course perfectly cooked, but the real delight here is the many fabulous contrasting flavours on the one plate. The sharp tang of the mustard, the full-bodied splash of the single malt, and our particular favourite: the haggis in filo pastry, just gorgeous when teamed with the beef.
Meanwhile, and to our shame, our so-called “side” is actually another main – the Macaroni cheese with vine tomatoes & garlic bread.
Another of the Social Bitches’ many addictions, the sauce is wonderfully thick, and gently nudges us into a diabetic coma – in a good way.
Ready to burst, we wrestle the cutlery from each other’s chubby fingers, and vow to maybe do some mild form of exercise one day soon-ish. But these gestures prove even emptier than they sound when we’re asked how we feel about dessert.
Moments later, we’re almost in pain but hugely enjoying the Homemade Nutella cheesecake served with cream and drizzled in chocolate. It’s stunning. As is the Tablet Sundae with vanilla ice cream, homemade tablet, butterscotch sauce & fresh cream.
Now, when we say we can not manage another bite – perhaps ever – we truly mean it. Even so, this somewhat greedy meal has been an absolute joy, and it’s no surprise that this hidden gem is utterly packed full of punters.
Like the gorgeous haggis pakora, we really cannot recommend it enough!
In a pre-theatre nutshell:
Edinburgh 30 minutes drive
Breakfast / Lunch / dinner
Starters £4-6 / Mains £12 – £15
01875 320 277