Build it, and they will come.” So goes the famous expression from the film Field of Dreams. However, I’d like to reword it to: “Stick a playground in it, and they will come.”
Archerfield Walled Garden
Archerfield Estate, Dirleton, East Lothian (01620 388588, www.archerfieldwalledgarden.com)
How much? Lunch for three, excluding drinks, £48.50
Archerfield Walled Garden is a case in point. On a Saturday lunchtime it was jumping with parents and their romper suit-clad dictators. This is possibly because it has an affordable kids’ menu, sturdy high-chairs, plenty of nappy-changing facilities (they even have low-slung sinks in the bathrooms, for when nippers want to wash their hands), easy buggy access, and, in a space out back, a climbing frame with a slide (and, yes, I did have a go, in the interests of research).
For those without mini-mes, there is a smart deli area, which offers nicely sourced local goodies such as coffee from North Berwick business, Steampunk, cheese, pâtés, and meats from Ramsay of Carluke and Puddledub. There’s also a microbrewery, which produces Archerfield Fine Ales, a shop with colourful homewares and toys, and a bar area with slouchy couches.
The warehouse-esque restaurant hopes to serve produce that’s been grown in the walled garden area. However, on my visit, three weeks into opening, there was still a large square patch of soil out front. Get with the timetable, plants.
Food-wise their current offerings are quite basic. For starters, the three of us shared the local mussels (£6) – roly-poly corkers sloshing about in an ultra garlicky white wine and cream emulsion.
As this option was topped by a single hunk of bread, we asked one of the selection of youthful waiting staff for some more. This was a bit like asking Daleks to go upstairs. The confusion was palpable. Malfunction, malfunction.
It arrived eventually, but not before one of us had overheard a conversation with the chef in the open-plan kitchen. “But what KIND of bread?”
Our other starter was decent enough. Two foxy-brown haddock fishcakes (£6), served with a ramekin of crème fraîche and a salad of rocket and cherry toms were rather bland, but ticked most boxes (bar the seasoning one).
Mains were so-so. A fillet of pan-seared sea bass (£10) had a baggy skin, but, apart from that, wasn’t bad. It came on top of a yellow pile of pulverised baked potato. Proper mash would have been nicer, and there was no evidence of the billed “lemon butter” ingredient, just a token wedge of lemon.
The vegetarian option of egg yolk-coloured butternut squash risotto (£9) was pleasant at first, but a little too intensely sweet and rice-pudding soft after the first few mouthfuls. A bit more of the nutty Parmesan addition might have taken the edge off. Still, not bad.
Our steak and Archerfield Ale pie (£10) featured decent gobbets of meat in an unremarkable, carrot-studded gravy. It was topped with a Fray Bentos-like Frisbee of puff pastry and came with a metal tub of “handcut chips”, which were doing an excellent impression of McCain’s.
The hot dessert of the day was Eve’s pudding (£5) – aka a neat pot containing a layer of stewed apple and another of sunken sponge. We were told that this would come with custard but it was accompanied by plain old cream instead.
Fine, but this ain’t gonna tempt anyone out of the Garden of Eden.
We also ordered something from the cake counter, where you’ll find four levels of traybakes, pastries and gateaux.
The millionaires’ shortbread tart (£2.50) featured shortcrust pastry, which was topped with a thick layer of “caramel”. Unfortunately, the latter was almost transparent and, oddly, tinged with a pale iridescent green. We peeled the chocolatey bit off the top, Jaffa Cake-style, and ate that instead.
While getting our bill, we asked our waitress if there was anything to do on the estate, as the website mentions woodland trails. She told us to ask someone at reception, as they lived nearby and might know. We didn’t bother.
I’m not sure what’s going on here. The concept vaguely reminds me of the marvellous Whitmuir Farm (www.whitmuirtheorganicplace.co.uk), but without the organic and eco-friendly slant.
There are certainly the bare bones of a business that could be good, but the restaurant element needs lots of tweaking.
Like their target customer, Archerfield Walled Garden feels rather embryonic.