7 Feb 2010

Small place, big temptations

When it is grey and rainy and your trip to the beach has been cancelled, and the entire day lies before you like a long shadowless frown, remember that Scotland is a small country, thereby making it possible to easily take a bus or train somewhere new. If the purpose of your amended journey is food based, then you could do worse than finding yourself on the tiny main street of Bridge of Allan.

Following the closure of a long-running copper mine to the east of the village in the early 1800s, the big change came a few years later when the water in the area was found to be rich in minerals. Thus began Bridge of Allan’s boom as spa town. The Victorian era saw thousands of people travelling there each year in order to soak and steam their way back to health and vitality.

Today Bridge of Allan is known more as a haunt for food lovers. For a tiny place it boasts five entries in one of my favourite guidebooks, Scotland Recommends. Four of the five entries are to do with food, while the fifth notes the town’s history as a Victorian spa town.
The first place on the list is filed under the heading “delicatessens not to be missed." The Clive Ramsay deli is a long, narrow shop packed with meats, cheeses, chocolates, breads, jams, wines, (deep breath) chutneys, biscuits, meats, olives… you get the idea. I scooped up a jar of lime curd and two little potted desserts before we went next door to the café for lunch.

It was difficult to forgo the haggis cooked with a measure of Drambuie, wrapped in a filo pastry. Even harder was saying no to Scottish wild venison sausage with parsnip mash and port wine gravy. However, my choices of goats' cheese over Stornoway black pudding on a bed of Scottish beetroot and crunchy salad, followed by a warm salad of king scallops and Scottish bacon with a hollandaise dressing, did not disappoint. Unfortunately the prawn and bacon salad photo did not turn out, but behold this goats' cheese marvel and the hand-cut chips.
Dessert was but steps away across the street, where The Allanwater Café (founded 1902) holds two listings in this particular guidebook. The first is for its fish and chips, which we had to pass up if we had any wish of enjoying the second claim to fame: ice cream.

I launched myself towards the chocolate sundae, while my friend had the alcohol-laced Boozy Baba. While the vanilla ice cream was rich and delicious, the small mountain of little marshmallows cheapened the flavours for me, and I wish sorely that I had chosen the Boozy Baba as well (I did have a taste and it was splendid).

Walking slowly now, there was one stop left on this, the foodies tour of Bridge of Allan, which was Woodwinters Wines and Whiskies, listed as one of the best independent wine shops in the country. Not being a drinker, I bought my beloved a bottle of Deanston 1993 Highland Single Malt, which owes its deep red colour to spending 18 months in a port cask. Apparently it promises a nose of soft milk chocolate with red berry fruits, a palate with some “pretty violet notes with some spice and fresh red berry fruits” and a crème Brulee and gentle floral finish.

There you have it. So if its raining and you just don’t know what to do, head to Bridge of Allan and let your nose and taste buds lead you in a pinball game back and forth across the street until you stumble to the train station smiling a glorious, gluttonous smile.

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