AS THE sun beamed down the other day and I was looking for somewhere to take my teenage niece and nephew for an al fresco drink in Edinburgh, my mind strayed back to the decade when the expansive high-rise terrace at Oloroso, with its panoramic views out over the distant Forth and across to Fife, was the capital’s default option on such gloriously sunny days.
The Old Bakehouse, Main Street, West Linton
Specials: Two courses £19, three courses £24; Starters £4.50-£8.50; Main courses £12-£26; Puddings £7-£8.50
Rating - 8/10
The next destination for my train of thought was to wonder what had happened to Tony Singh, the Leith legend who owned Oloroso until he sold the site to the Thai chain Chaophraya in 2012 (the rotters promptly removed the terrace). Singh, a former Scottish Chef of the Year who worked in several of the country’s best-known kitchens, owned a trio of decent Edinburgh restaurants (I particularly liked his innovative Indian restaurant, Roti) and dabbled in telly (Ready Steady Cook, Great British Menu and The Incredible Spice Men: Todiwala And Singh), with the recent publication of his book Tasty affirming his elevation to the pantheon of celebrity chefdom.
It didn’t take long to establish that there is no mystery to Singh’s whereabouts; he has bought The Old Bakehouse in West Linton, the douce little commuter town 20 minutes’ drive south-east of the capital. A venerable little restaurant that has changed hands several times down the years, the interior remains doggedly unchanged except for a couple of coats of paint. Even the old cast iron doors to the ovens remain in place, while the eight-foot paddles used to retrieve loaves from inside the ovens hang on the low ceiling between the rafters.
Whether or not The Old Bakehouse is a success under Singh’s tutelage will depend, of course, on the quality of the food that comes out of his kitchen. The great man’s output has ranged from outstanding (Roti) through decent with the occasional below-par interlude (Oloroso) to distinctly average (Tony’s Table), so we wondered which Tony Singh would be on show on the night we visited.
Fortunately, as it became clear over the next hour, Leith’s finest had transported his A-game around the ring road and down the A702. From its understated beginning to its dramatic chocolate-soaked end, this was a thoroughly enjoyable meal. It was never flashy or pretentious, just good solid cooking with occasional flourishes of class that elevated the meal.
I started off with what was described as a tomato fondue; essentially an alarmingly small bowl of two molten cheeses in baked Port Salut and Raclette. Served with “ugly toast” (cold, hard, thinly cut, curly toast), this was a solid start in which the sweetness of the tomato clashed pleasingly with the smokiness of the Raclette to produce an interesting salvo of flavour.
Across the table, Bea was beaming after polishing off two summer rolls, best described as a pair of spring roll-sized tubes containing crispy vegetables, prawns, herbs, and pork belly, all encased in rice paper. Fresh, crisp and bursting with taste, they came with an exquisite home-made Vietnamese sweet and sour dipping sauce which gave off a pungent edge of fish offset by chilli and garlic. It was, said the girl who’s put away more starters than your average hotel inspector, up there with the very best for its simplicity of conception and its execution.
If the summer rolls were a nice departure from the usual same-old same-old, then so too was a good portion of the menu. There were some obvious efforts to go off piste in dishes such as crispy soft shell crab with Szechuan sauce, but there were also some welcome allusions to Singh’s background in dishes such as his curry of the day, haggis pakora, Bhangra burgers and black lentil dal with beetroot and a goat’s cheese samosa. Not only that, but he also had a Charcoal Josper Grill turning out everything from chilli dogs to rib eye steaks, plus an interesting ten-strong specials menu.
For her main course, Bea opted for Singh’s signature dish of Punjabi salmon. A nicely-cooked salmon fillet was placed atop a bed of basmati rice in a disarmingly simple yet surprisingly effective dish. Once again Bea was smitten. My main course was equally sound: a roasted whole poussin with a ragout of pancetta, girolles, peas and onions. Again, it was a beautifully cooked dish that I wouldn’t hesitate to order again.
Bea rounded off with a booze-laden liquid dessert called a Jaffa Cake (Grand Marnier, Mozart Dark, double cream, vodka and orange bitters) and was underwhelmed; it was basically just a cocktail and not a particularly good one at that. My pudding of chocolate soup and breads was an altogether different proposition: this hefty bowl of melted and diluted Valrhona chocolate came with homemade shortbread, ginger bread, banana bread, and date bread, and would satisfy even the most ardent chocoholic.
Four months after Singh took over The Old Bakehouse, he has made the place his own without really changing anything. The service was low-key, professional and informative, the wine list sensibly priced and the meal great value if you stick to the specials boards. Most heart-warming of all, though, it was great to see one of Scotland’s best-known chefs back to his best.
• The Old Bakehouse, Main Street, West Linton EH46 7EA (01968 660830, www.theoldbakehouserestaurant.com)