OUR plan was to visit the Mad March Hare – a Friday to Sunday pop-up restaurant at the Auld Hoose Pub in North Berwick.
Quality Street, North Berwick
Dinner for three, excluding drinks - £68.65
Instead, we arrived to discover a darts competition in its place, with the tables corralled to the side and a trail of limber-wristed blokes lining up to the oche. The only sign of previous bistro action was a collection of waxy wine bottles on the window sill.
Apparently, they’d stuck a message on Facebook, but we’d missed the memo thanks to shonky internet access. Feeling as weighed down as Bobby George on a particularly bling-some day, we drifted until we spotted a sign outside this place: “Open and under new ownership.”
That’ll do, especially as this friendly hotel restaurant was suitably well ventilated for summer, thanks to wall-sized doors that open out on to the pavement.
Mussels seemed to be the diners’ choice du jour, but we wanted something slightly less prosaic, which was challenging with a menu that’s pretty heavy on the old fish cakes and burgers.
We ended up going for starters including the special – a salad of lamb kidneys (£6.45) – and the a la carte option of tempura prawns and Mediterranean vegetables (£7.45). These arrived tout-suite – a surprise, as the passive aggressive disclaimer of a sign on the wall, “We do not serve fast food, we serve good food so try to be patient”, had steeled us for a long wait that we would just have to suck up.
Our red meat option was pleasant enough. Soft, dense and comma-shaped organs were teamed with a rather ordinary selection of vegetation, such as chopped raw red onion and its spring sister, random leaves, diced tomatoes and their ilk, all with a lemony olive oil dressing.
The proportion of sauce to tempura bits was skew-wiff when it came to our other starter, which featured a huge pot of garlic mayo and another of sweet chilli – enough for every corner of a skip-full of Doritos.
Yet, the potential dip-ees consisted of just two greasily battered prawns, a small wedge of aubergine, a couple of tiles of pepper and a single spring onion, which resembled a long skinny chrysalis. This offering was pitched at that perfect point where you can’t really complain, as everything listed is on your plate, but the overall effect is slightly underwhelming.
Same goes for another special – the sea bass (£12.95). The fish was fine, though unseasoned and with an un-crispified epidermis. It came with two spears of asparagus, five cherry tomatoes on the vine and a few halved new potatoes. They don’t do frills here, but try to be patient.
The monkfish and king prawn curry (£16.95) consisted of a relatively decent amount of seafood, which came in a watery algae-green sauce, with a strong two-note hit of coriander powder, then chilli. It would’ve been OK at £4 cheaper. Still, its accompaniments of bubble-surfaced poppadums were good, and the rice was, you know, white and grainy, can’t complainy.
My haddock mornay (£12.95) featured a too salty and not cheesy enough béchamel, but the other elements of this dish – a fillet of un-smoked haddie, wilted buttered spinach and a mound of mash – were comfort food appropriate, though the yolk of the poached egg was solid.
I had already imagined what the puddings might be and, lo, the selection was as follows: chocolate fudge cake, sticky toffee pudding, apple pie, and strawberries and cream (each £5.95). Hardly scintillating.
We went for the cake, which had a powdery texture and tasted of granulated sugar, as well as the bog-standard Brillo sponge-shaped pudding, which was surrounded by a moat of metallic-tasting syrup.
I wouldn’t be so hard on this place, but the prices made me feel as if I’d fallen into a tourist trap, which had clamped on to my leg and made me stay for three courses. The food is adequate, it’s just that they don’t seem to be aiming for the bull’s-eye.
• No12 Quality Street, North Berwick (01620 892 529, www.no12qualitystreet.co.uk)