I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Biggar, a town I used to drive through a couple of times most weeks en route from Thornhill to Edinburgh.
It was the sort of place where you could always get a decent bacon sandwich, a pie at Gibson’s the bakers, something vaguely healthy at the Olive Tree Deli, and if you were really feeling like some stodge, the chippy’s none too shabby.
But when it came to the business of sitting down to eat, the options were always fairly limited for a market town that serves such a big swathe of South Lanarkshire and the Southern Uplands.
However, back in 2012 local chef Scott Wallace took a punt and opened The Barony, and so far he hasn’t looked back, establishing a powerful local following.
The evening we visited was a classic case in point. In mid-February, on a Thursday night, the place was buzzing; indeed, had we not booked, we would have found that there was no room at the inn.
No matter how good the food is, most of us like the comfort and affirmation of fellow diners to validate our decision; that, for better or worse, is human nature.
As soon as you enter The Barony, you can see why people like the place. This low-ceilinged 45-cover restaurant is whitewashed and full of understated charm. It’s formal but not too formal; the sort of place where you’re happy to go for a special birthday but not made to feel like you’re on parade.
As well as laidback yet efficient staff, it also boasts one of my favourite assets: a BYOB policy. I only noticed this when I spotted a rather fancy-looking bottle of fizz and what looked like an ancient Barolo on the nextdoor table and took a closer look at the wine list (the Barolo, slightly surprisingly for a small bistro in the sticks, was on it; the fizz wasn’t).
The other thing that endeared The Barony to us – and presumably the thrifty farmers of Biggar – was the good value of our meal, with the set menu of three-courses coming in at £21.95. For that you get uncomplicated fine dining that is long on taste but short on needless fripperies.
For example, our starters were two classic country house hotel dishes that were expertly executed. The first was a good-sized chunk of warm walnut-breaded goats cheese served on an apple, beetroot and rocket salad, which was every bit as enticing as it sounds.
So, too, was the confit duck, pork and orange terrine with pistachios and cranberries which came with an insufficient portion of warm sourdough bread but some beautifully piquant home-made picallili, which made the dish.
When it came to the main courses, there was plenty of choice, with eight separate options.
While we were waiting for our choices to arrive, we couldn’t help but overhear the neighbouring table, which contained a couple of vegetarians, who were fulsome in their praise.
Our meaty main courses weren’t too bad either, if a little pared-down for my own taste. That said, the ballotine of pork had a lot going on: stuffed with haggis, covered with a green peppercorn sauce and served on creamy mashed potatoes, with cabbage and kale, it was a fine plateful of refined comfort food.
The other main course was roast rump of lamb in a rosemary and redcurrant sauce, which was served with creamed leeks, peas, bacon and sauté potatoes. This dish (which incurred a £3 supplement) was a little more sparse but the lamb was nicely cooked and the overall result was a well-balanced dish.
Our puddings were not, if I’m honest, up to the standard of the rest of the meal. The marmalade cream profiteroles with hot chocolate sauce felt shop-bought, and the warm winter berry pavlova was in a pre-bought meringue case with a coconut ice cream that wasn’t a patch on Joe Delucci’s, which is available from at least one of the major high street supermarkets. I’ll go for the pear and raspberry crumble next time.
That said, this was still a hugely enjoyable meal in a convivial environment in a small town that clearly cherishes its neighbourhood restaurant – and so it should.