Donald's Kilspindie House, Main Street, Aberlady (01875 870 682, www.kilspindie.co.uk) How much? Lunch for two, excluding drinks £38.35
"The soup tastes like water," said the grouchy diner to Malcolm Duck, who once owned Duck's at Le Marche Noir in Edinburgh (now a vegetarian eatery, L'Artichaut), but now focuses his attention on his East Lothian enterprises – Duck's at Kilspindie House and its adjoining bistro, Donald's, where my boyfriend Rolf and I decided to do Sunday lunch.
After an abject apology from the hands-on proprietor, who replaced their potage, reduced their bill and practically started self-flagellating with a napkin, the tricky customer was still muttering; "And the sandwiches are too small."
In my experience, if they'd been dining out in a big city, they would have been lucky if they'd been told to like, lump or wear their watery soup.
But, then, as we've found, the customer service in this place is great. We'd stayed over in one of their 26 rooms the night before, and had been fussed over in a manner that made us feel like fluffy ducklings (ie members of the Duck family).
Still, after hearing grumbling from the other covers at this place, which is named after Malcolm's cartoon-ishly monikered late father, we avoided the sandwich/burger menu. Instead, we chose bistro staples, from a list that included fisherman's pie, mussels and seafood chowder. It was the ideal grub for those who, like us, had spent the morning filling their lungs with the salty sea air of Aberlady Bay.
Rolf went for the duck liver parfait (4.95), while I chose the grilled goats cheese (4.95).
The latter consisted of juicy plum tomato slices underneath a still crunchy (rather than soggy) brioche doorstop, which was topped with a wad of grilled goats cheese. On the side, was a drizzle of a pesto dressing and a heap of mixed-leaf salad, dressed simply with olive oil. Fresh and delicious.
My beau's entre featured a silky smooth terrine, which was sealed in its ramekin by a disc of pale yellow clarified butter.
This was accompanied by a dollop of a watery Cumberland sauce, and a few decent oatcakes, which might have been slightly nicer if they'd been rustic and homemade.
As these entres had been so competent, we were champing at the bit for the main event – venison casserole (8.50) and roasted chicken breast with wild mushroom risotto (9.95).
My dining partner rated the latter dish as one of his desert island dinners. He'd been presented with a mound of wild mushroom-laden arborio rice, which was run through with parsley, preventing it from tasting too heavy. Atop of this offering was a crunchy-skinned chicken breast and leg, with a meaty red wine reduction on the side. As the dinner-sized portion was beyond generous, the chef deserves a trophy for making a dish that was tempting enough to make Rolf eat like a hummingbird (two thirds of his body weight daily, wildlife fact fans).
My main featured tender venison chunks, which were bathing in a very sweet, piquant and glossy sauce, in which I could identify caramelised carrots, Worcestershire sauce and redcurrant. Intrigued, we asked the maitre d' about the recipe, and he explained that it contained a hotchpotch of leftovers from the posher restaurant next door, Duck's. On the side, was some smooth mash and a handful of green beans.
Post-gorging session, Rolf attempted to select something light for pud, such as the ice-cream.
"Boring," I said, and forced my bloated boyfriend to have the red berry crme brle (5). According to him, this vanilla-pod scented cream, blended with a raspberry compote, was delicious, although we had to sneak the three large rounds of shortbread into my coat pocket, for later.
The only criticism of my sweet choice, a chocolate fondant (5), was that it wasn't very hot. Aside from this, it was fine, with a rich cocoa taste, and a dollop of a lovely pink sorbet on the side (which had been billed as raspberry, but tasted very much like rhubarb to me).
So, the only downside to our meal was Rolf's postprandial coffee, which was full of gritty grounds.
How I would have loved to have complained about this – just to see a grown man like Malcolm Duck cry – but it was hardly a fly in the ointment (or, indeed, the soup).
Three to try
Hotel du Vin & Bistro
1 Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow (0141-339 2001, www.hotelduvin.com)
Feeling really hungry? Then, for lunch, treat yourself to a slab of Buccleuch beef at this chic eatery, then return later for one of their lovely afternoon teas.
Bulas Bar and Bistro
Ballachulish Hotel, Onich, Near Fort William (0844 855 9133, www.ballachulishhotel.com)
The menu in this couthy eatery includes some slightly retro haggis-based dishes, as well as more exotic-sounding treats, such as pan fried seabass.
Balbirnie Park, Markinch Village, by Glenrothes, Fife (01592 610 066, www.balbirnie.co.uk)
This grand house may look intimidating from afar, but you can still find unpretentious and affordable comfort fare in their bistro.
This article was originally published in The Scotsman on 20 February 2010