‘God knows what rent the Marine is charging, but the knock-on makes for some frightful numbers’
SINCE its earliest days I’ve been a devotee of the original Two Fat Ladies on Glasgow’s Dumbarton Road, and loved the way they rescued the Buttery from terminal decline. But sometimes you can just get too much of a good thing, so I was interested to find out what the deal was with the Two Fat Ladies’ latest bout of expansion, this time to the Costa del Ayrshire.
At first south Ayrshire seemed like a strange segue for a determinedly Glaswegian enterprise, especially as Two Fats’ calling card is top drawer seafood and there is already a locally renowned fish restaurant on the harbour in MacCallums Seafood Bar, not to mention the very popular Scotts at Troon Marina. On reflection, it’s probably the success of those two, allied to the fact that the M77 means this is now wealthy Glasgow commuter land, that tempted the Two Fat Ladies to hoist up their skirts and waddle southwards.
The recent change in ownership of the Marine Hotel also provided the opportunity. The Marine is a classic turreted sandstone pile of a hotel that reminds me of Rusacks in St Andrews and the Marine in North Berwick in both ambience and its proximity to a famous old golf course. Indeed, the Marine could hardly be closer as it backs on to the clubhouse at Royal Troon. Like its namesake and St Andrews counterpart, the Marine is also traditional and beautifully well turned out. With its views across the golf course to the sea, the place has a timeless quality.
In the dining room, crystal and starched white linen are the order of the day. So, too, are panoramic sea views across the Royal Troon links, which had been emptied by 60mph winds. All in all, that combination was a good backdrop for lunch, even if our prompt arrival did mean that the place was otherwise empty for half an hour until the welcome arrival of a coach party of 50 retired Lancastrians brought a bit of life and ailment-related banter to proceedings.
With Christmas beckoning, we started off by seeing whether the bar could make us an egg nog or, failing that, a glass of mulled wine or cider. Sadly none was within the bar’s capabilities so we busied ourselves with a menu that looked very similar to those offered up at the Dumbarton Road mothership. There was, however, one difference: the price. God knows what rent the Marine is charging, but the knock-on makes for some frightful numbers, such as £8 for a starter of vegetable pulse cakes, and £18 for a main course of pumpkin tortellini. Still, we thought, the devil will be in the eating.
On our waiter’s recommendation, I started off with a pressed game terrine that came with a plum and ginger chutney and was very impressed, although I really should have been for £9.50. Soft, succulent and moist, its dark, rich interior was encased in a thin strip of Parma ham and came with a chutney whose faintly tart edge set off the terrine beautifully. Ailsa’s grilled goat’s cheese was less impressive and pretty much did what it said on the tin. It was served with six small discs of overcooked but cold blue, yellow and white potato (the “three potato salad”) that had clearly been sitting around for some time, and a curiously sweet raspberry vinegar dressing.
So far so decent, and after a short break our main courses arrived. Ailsa had opted for the poached supreme of chicken filled with wild mushrooms, spinach and couscous, and topped with a creamy Arran mustard sauce, while I tugged my forelock to Two Fats’ seafood heritage and chose the flash-fried halibut with Parmesan mashed potato and a langoustine bisque.
As with our starters, these were competent without ever threatening to have us reaching for our diaries to schedule a return visit. Both Ailsa’s chicken breast and my fillet of halibut could have spent slightly less time being cooked and gained plenty, but it would be unfair to say that either was really overcooked. It would, however, be no exaggeration to say that Ailsa’s ensemble was so bland and boring that it took a concerted effort to finish it. Granted, couscous is always going to be a filler, but the mushrooms seemed to have all of the flavour cooked out of them while the mustard sauce bordered on insipid. Indeed, with my Parmesan mash tasting only faintly of Parmesan, the star of our main courses was the langoustine bisque, which was strong enough to make an impression but not so overwhelming that it clashed with the clear but subtle flavours of the fish.
We rounded off with a beautifully coarse crème brulee that came with two halved and (under)stewed plums and a slice of orange and polenta shortbread, while Ailsa immersed herself in a gorgeously cloying iced dark chocolate parfait accompanied by a sticky orange sauce and crushed Amaretti macaroons. A big smile and five minutes of silence from the other side of the table told me all I needed to know.
Two Fat Ladies At The Marine Hotel
8 Crosbie Road, Troon (01292 676220, www.twofatladiesrestaurant.com)
Starters £5.50-£9.95 Main courses £17.95-£24.95 Puddings £6.50 (cheese, £8.95)