On Saturday night we went for a meal at the Bridge Inn, Ratho,. Ratho is a small village just outside Edinburgh, next to the Union Canal. We went to celebrate Bob's birthday. We'd actually gone along last Monday night, which was his actual birthday, only to discover that the kitchen was closed for that one day and there was no food available.
The Inn has recently been taken over by new owners, so this was a good opportunity to check out the new menu.
The Bridge Inn's business is diverse - it's the pub at the heart of a community, serving food in the bar, in its a la carte restaurant (which I have my eye on for the future) and on two barges which can be hired for special events. On Saturday, one of them was catering for a hen party and we watched the women, spectacularly clad in dayglo disco colours with leg warmers, head off for their night of fun.
I'm not over keen on the proliferation of these rather sterile pub chains with play areas for kids. I'd much rather have a meal with my child than pack her off to some soft play area so the adults can chat. The Bridge Inn shows that you can have a child friendly environment without any of that. They do have an art wall, where children can submit pictures for a free drink and once a month a winner gets a free meal.
An establishment which welcomes my daughter will always get extra brownie points as far as I'm concerned, but what about the food?
We ate in the bar rather than the a la carte restaurant. To start with we had a bowl of bread which came with butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. There were two big slices each - which came in handy as Anna's starter choice of garlic bread with cheese wasn't available. I did wonder how difficult it could be to make some up - although I guess they might have run out of French bread. The Children's Menu was a huge improvement on the nuggets/chips chain menus - and I liked the fact that kids could have a small portion of anything they fancied from the adult menu. However, my daughter was much more predictable, choosing sausages and chips. Bob really enjoyed his haggis Spring rolls - an interesting take on fusion cooking - and my chicken liver pate with toasted brioche with an onion marmalade kind of thing was tasty. The side salad was substantial and well dressed. There was a tiny amount of brioche to go with quite a big serving of pate, so that bread basket again came in handy.
Anna can be hard to please when eating out - but she loved her sausages. Bob liked the flavours in his beetroot and brie tart which came with a well flavoured salad. I was underwhelmed to be honest by my Thai green curry. This is a dish which to me should be zinging with flavour. While the chicken was well cooked, the sauce, despite a small initial kick, was very bland. Even a bit of careful seasoning and a handful of fresh coriander would have made a big difference. However, looking at the steaks that other people were ordering, I think I'd try one for the future. I am very fussy about who I trust to cook me steak, but this lot look promising.
My pudding, however, was sublime. I had a beautiful lemon tart served with what seemed like a rum flavoured ice cream. While the two didn't really go together, individually they were absolutely wonderful as was the dessert wine I had with it. Bob had the cheese and oatcakes which were slightly disappointing. The home made oatcakes looked kind of cute, but there wasn't much variety. I like to see a hard cheese alongside a brie, some blue cheese perhaps, or some local Scottish cheeses - whatever, it has to have a good range of both flavour and texture. While Bob was certainly given a lot of cheese, it came in 3 large hunks of very similar looking flavoured cheddar/double gloucester type things, with not a stick of celery or a grape in sight. It looked like it had been thrown together without a lot of thought. Back on the bright side, Anna had a lovely big bowl of Mackie's ice cream which she thoroughly enjoyed.
I think what made the evening good for us was the friendliness of the staff. I was a bit worried when we first got there that we were going to be rushed through - our starters and the bread basket arrived within what seemed like seconds. My fears were unfounded, though. The rest of the evening was quite leisurely with plenty time to chat and recover between courses - but not so much time that you thought you'd been forgotten about. The staff were all very genuine and really helpful. When we arrived we'd sat down at a table without noticing it was right underneath a huge television on the wall which, in about half an hour's time, was going to show the World Cup match. I thought it was really good to be warned that the tv was going to be turned up for the match and offered the opportunity to move - which we gladly took.
It was this move that caused some confusion with our bill at the end - I noticed we'd been charged for two pints of beer we'd never had. They realised that they'd made a mistake and sorted that out with absolutely no fuss.
Also, one of the most important things for me when I eat out is to know that the staff get the tip that I leave. I usually leave cash because that way I can be surer that everyone gets a share rather than add a gratuity while paying by card. However, I was assured by the waiter that all the gratuities that are given electronically do go to the staff.
While I've made some criticisms about the food, these can all be sorted with a bit of fine tuning. The Bridge Inn wins on atmosphere, service and being genuinely welcoming for families. I'd happily go back there and hopefully the next time the weather will be nice enough for us to sit outside and enjoy the view of the canal.