Picture this: it’s a Sunday morning and the kids are all home from university for the weekend. Or, maybe the scenario sees your children visiting with your fractious grandchildren.
Or perhaps it’s the Sunday morning after a rather over-refreshed Saturday night and you’re searching for salvation.
In each of those instances, what all right-thinking people like to do is to get out into the country, go for a peremptory walk with the dog, then head for the place where you can get a hair of the dog and someone else will cook you a slap-up Sunday lunch. Yep, it’s time for a good old-fashioned country pub lunch.
The problem is often finding some rural or small town venue which fits the bill. I can think of a dozen options without pausing for thought: Inver Cottage in Strachur, The George in Inveraray, Fox & Hounds in Houston, Sorn Inn in Ayrshire, Cross Keys in Kippen, Sheriffmuir Inn near Stirling, Sun Inn in Dalkeith, Bridge Inn at Ratho, the Drovers at Memus, The Ship in Elie, Meikleour Inn in Perthshire, the Wheatsheaf in Swinton and Barley Bree in Muthill are all favourite venues.
But this time we wanted to try somewhere different. Let’s expand our repertoire, we thought. So we alighted on the Goblin Ha’ in the lovely little village of Gifford in deepest, darkest rural East Lothian. For those who remember this storied little watering hole in the centre of the village, it used to be the archetypal village boozer, the sort of unreconstructed place where the architecture hadn’t changed for generations, where the food was hearty and where one pint in front of a roaring fire could turn into many pints.
These days, it looks the same from the outside, but inside it’s been given a thorough going-over. Most of the quirky edges have been chiselled off, the crackling log fire is now a roaring log burner and there’s a huge conservatory extension to the rear which is perfect for families with kids.
There’s also a huge identikit menu featuring stacks of Brakes Brothers crowd pleasers, and the whole place functions like a well-oiled machine.
The refurbishment has added much, and all it’s removed is character and charm; surely a small price to pay?
The four of us ordered a whole range of dishes, making sure we didn’t double up.
The undoubted star was the sizeable bowl of whitebait with garlic aioli, if only because we knew they had to be freshly cooked. The baked mushrooms with melted gorgonzola and spinach were fine, but given that these nuggets tasted of brine we suspected they were out of a jar – they certainly weren’t locally foraged shrooms or any such fashionable nonsense; this was stick it in the micro for two minutes and wait for the ping. The nachos were lukewarm and lacking in cheese, while the Stornoway black pudding stack with poached egg, bacon and hollandaise had clearly been assembled recently and would have been great had the black pudding not been incinerated.
The mains were better, especially the two huge slabs of beef which made up the roast of the day and was fantastic value at just under a tenner.
The pastry on the steak and ale pie was spot-on, and there was plenty of meat but the gravy was so runny it was more like a stew, while the mash was horribly powdery. The chicken burger hit the spot, though; so too the fajitas, but then both were chosen because they are virtually impossible to mess up.
We rounded off with a more than passable tiramisu and a spiced apple tart that looked home-made but was so leaden that it wouldn’t surprise me if a more scientific analysis showed it to be denser than concrete.
There was much about the Goblin Ha’ that is good. It was slick and efficient, sensibly-priced, the predominantly young staff were resolutely friendly, the menu featured a dizzyingly wide choice and the place was undeniably comfortable. It’s the sort of establishment that brings casual dining within the reach of a lot more people. But that still doesn’t mean that I can’t miss the bad old days.