You will take to it like a Duck to Aberlady

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I WAS finally able to tick off one of the restaurants on my to-do list the other week, when I paid a visit to Malcolm Duck's Kilspindie House Hotel.


• 2 x two-course set lunches 27.90

• Burger with red onion marmalade and hand cut chips 9.95 Glass Rioja 6 Still water 1.40

• 2 x soft drinks 3.15

• Total: 48.40

Quality ****

Menu choice ****

Surroundings ***

Service ****

Value ****This charming 17th century whitewashed building, which takes centre stage in Aberlady, was totally revamped by the present owner when he took over the business in 2004, and as a result, has been awarded a three-star rating by Visit Scotland under the category of a restaurant with rooms.

In easy reach of coastal walks, a bird sanctuary and too many golf courses to mention, it really is a delightful spot and although only a 25 minute drive from Edinburgh, it feels as if you've travelled much more in terms of distance in the search for tranquillity.

We'd made a booking for one o'clock but arrived half an hour late, fully expecting to be shown the door but not so. It seems business is quiet in the weeks running up to Christmas, even on Saturdays, which meant only two tables were occupied in the restaurant.

If we had preferred, we could have remained in the cosy bar for a sandwich or a light snack instead, but the a la carte menu looked too good to ignore, thanks to head chef Ben Sparrow.

He has put together some great dishes and at 13.95 for two courses and 16.95 for three, there's no denying it's terrific value when you consider the quality of food that's coming out of the kitchen.

Take the hot smoked venison, for example, which was drawing me towards it like a magnet and waving a warning flag in my face at the same time.

I haven't eaten red meat in years but I reckon after my recent bout of flu, this was mother nature's way of replenishing my perilously low reserves of vitamin B.

How good was this? Succulent and with the merest hint of smokiness. I might, after this, be persuaded to bin the iron supplements.

I was driving so it was no wine for me but there's a fair selection on offer from a reasonably priced list. Next time I drop by, I'll go for the Fleurie.

The second class act coming my way and battling for equal marks with my intro was pan-fried sea bass. Cooked just enough to crisp the skin, but not too much to spoil the flesh, it was both meaty and moist and in terms of texture and taste, worked beautifully with the accompanying fennel mash and light drizzle of mustard beurre blanc.

There was applause too from the other half of this culinary partnership when the order of mussels arrived. They were seriously plump, not those stringy little things masquerading as the real deal, and far too many for one person, so, in the spirit of true friendship and international relations, we all had a hand in mopping up the garlic and wine broth.

Just as well, really, because he would not have been able to finish the risotto that followed, which again, proved a fairly substantial portion.

When cooked to creamy perfection, this simple dish made with arborio rice is rather special and chef's version didn't disappoint.

Layered with blue cheese and walnuts and served with a parmesan salad, it was declared "fantastic and so filling, there would be no room for dinner".

Our academic friend on the other side of the table had changed order and menu mid-sentence, switching from pheasant with rosti potatoes to beef burger with smoked cheddar, served with a good dollop of red onion marmalade and - that great British cure-all of the superior kind - hand cut chips. I think his choice might have had something to do with feeding the hangover brought on by a malt whisky drinking session the previous evening. It must have done the trick because he cleared his plate in a flash, and was looking for more.

Back in the bar, we agreed we may have caught Kilspindie at a quiet point, but when the chill leaves the air and Christmas is just a memory, you can be sure the place is jumping.

But if you don't want to wait that long before paying a visit to this gem of a place or if you simply fancy a trial run, leave the car at home and check out Duck's new menu in the city at Le Marche Noir on Eyre Place.

• Duck's at Kilspindie House, Main Street, Aberlady, 01875-870 682