Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics Treasure Island and The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, has been on my mind, as he was born 167 years ago tomorrow on 13 November, 1850.
Some might choose The Master Of Ballantrae as their favourite Stevenson novel, but I’ve always loved the action-packed adventure of Kidnapped. I’ve no idea how he crammed in all the exploits of the main characters, David Balfour and Alan Breck. These included the abduction referenced in the title, shipwreck, plus a whirlwind race across Scotland, not forgetting the infamous Appin murder thrown into the mix for good measure. This real event, which happened in 1752, resulted in a notorious miscarriage of justice, in the aftermath of the ’45 Jacobite rising.
Although Balfour is fictional, Breck was a real person. Balfour’s name was borrowed from Stevenson’s mother’s maiden name. I’m named after the lead female character of the sequel to Kidnapped, Catriona, which was published in 1893. In the book her full name is Catriona MacGregor Drummond, but she couldn’t use MacGregor as it was banned by King James VI of Scotland. McGregor is my mother’s maiden name, so I feel doubly connected.
Stevenson used to visit the Hawes Inn at South Queensferry, canoeing here via Cramond with a couple of his friends. I’m following in his adventurous footsteps and taking the whole clamjamfrie to have a spot of dinner. The building dates from the 17th century and its pretty stepped gable frontage is as welcoming as can be on a dark autumn eve, situated underneath the rail bridge in front of Hawes Pier. Inside the interior is modern and comfortable; think Farrow & Ball on the walls and herringbone tweed coverings on the seats. I’m half-expecting to see a bluff old cove sitting in front of the fire, but no such luck, so we make do with Andy, our attentive and lovely waiter. Our crew peruse the menu and the fella sups a pint of Bitter and Twisted ale (£3.65), while we dither over our choices. The literary allusions keep on coming – the name of the beer is also a great description of Kidnapped’s baddie, uncle Ebenezer.
As a locomotive rumbles over the bridge, the younger says: “That’s not a train, that’s my stomach, I’m starving.” She must be, because she demolishes her starter of prawn and lobster cocktail (£5.95) in jig time. It arrives slathered in mayonnaise on a bed of salad, accompanied with hunks of bread, although the enormous slab of butter is sidestepped with suspicion. The other starters we select are chargrilled lamb koftas (£5.50) skewered on sticks with a tzatziki and dressed slaw, homemade dough sticks served with diddy pots of pesto, garlic butter and chipotle chilli mayonnaise (£4.95), with the tomato and basil soup of the day served with doorstop rustic bread (£4.25) completing the order. All are demolished in the same time frame as the prawns.
Next up are the mains, and the hunter’s chargrilled chicken breast is cooked to perfection (£11.25) with plenty of fab sides. Topped with smoked cheddar and streaky bacon, it is accompanied by mushrooms in a tomato sauce, a tasty helping of triple fried chips and a gravy boat of delicious barbecue sauce.
The elder wean opts for the spiced chickpea aubergine and spinach burger (£9.95) in a rustic bun with a red pepper sauce, which is declared mighty fine. It is served with chips and some onion rings, as well as a curious pesto and tomato dip. However, it is back on form with the side order of seasonal vegetables (£2.50) which were first class.
While the young one devours the 8oz sirloin steak (£14.75) with triple fried chips and onion rings, she also has requested baby potatoes as a side dish (£2.50). Andy the waiter asks if she is sure about the extra dish, but she scoffs the lot. Perhaps she is scared it will be her last meal before we ship her off to the Carolinas, aboard Captain Hoseason’s skiff.
My roasted butternut squash and portobello mushroom tart (£9.95) is more of a pie, complete with soggy bottom, perhaps due to the blue cheese sauce which is released in the form of a tsunami when I cut into it.
We can’t resist the dessert menu. Our younger, who is clearly experiencing a growth spurt, demands that we order the sharing platter (£8.95), which features a little bit of everything; chocolate brownie, melba mallow mess, crème brûlée and bourbon pecan pie with butter biscuits. Luckily on this occasion I’m allowed to share a morsel. The fella is pleased with his favourite, crème brûlée (£5.25), and elder child Hoovers up a coconut milk sorbet with raspberry sauce (£5.25), declaring it to be just like a Bounty.
If you are planning your own clan gathering or are keen to follow in the footsteps of a Scottish hero, book yourself a table at this literary inn.