Having a meal out is all about the total experience – it’s not just about the food, its taste, the way it is cooked and presented.
Of course, the food is an essential ingredient, an integral part of the deal – indeed, a great welcome would ring hollow if the meals were substandard. But helpful, respectful and knowledgeable service, a cracking ambience and clean loos all have their part to play.
In fact, I always find that if you warm to the waiting staff, you want to give the chef a complimentary review even before a bean is served.
We landed at the Links Hotel in Seahouses on a bitterly cold, some would say bleak, Sunday night, with bellies banging and in need of some comfort food.
It was a curious entrance, with a long, narrow room disappearing into the distance where a bar shone brightly, goading you in. Modern, black leather furniture and TV screens weren’t our cup of tea for a peaceful meal for two, so we opted to turn right into the restaurant, which was, by contrast, more homely – patterned blue carpet, patterned terracotta wallpaper, comfortable chairs and neatly-set tables. It was a bit twee but warming nonetheless.
It was at this point that we were greeted by the friendliest, most accommodating waitress you’re ever likely to come across. Nothing was too much bother – she put up with my infuriating indecision over the menu and even brought out take-away cartons when Mrs L’s eyes were once again bigger than her stomach and she couldn’t manage to eat all of her main course.
I have a valid defence for dithering over my choices, by the way. The menu is extensive with choices of chicken, lamb, pork, duck, fish, steak and vegetarian dishes, not to mention the pizza and light-bite options. There really is something for just about every palate. If you don’t believe me, log on to the Links website www.linkshotel-seahouses.co.uk and see for yourself.
It doesn’t stop there either, because there always seems to be a special, bargain menu for seasonal occasions, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day.
The vegetarian selection isn’t as extensive, with just three or four mains, but they do cater for a gluten-free diet.
I liked the idea of a top 10 menu, though, which included all the favourite dishes you’d expect, for £10.95 each (lasagne, chilli con carne, carbonara pasta, steak and ale pie, roast of the day, gammon steak, scampi, cottage pie, liver and bacon and haggis, neeps and tatties. I eventually plumped for the festive special menu, super value at £19.95 for three courses.
But before any of the food arrived, we were treated to a wooden bowl of warm, crusty baguette bread, although, unfortunately, foiled butter pats let the side down.
My starter was deep-fried black pudding served with crispy haggis and whisky sauce and, quite frankly, it was delicious and my favourite dish of the evening. It sounds like it should have been stodgy, but, on the contrary, the tempura batter on the black pudding was light and crunchy and the haggis bites almost floated off the plate. The whisky sauce was the ideal accompaniment, as was a crunchy, colourful side-salad.
Across the way was delivered creamed garlic mushrooms (£4.95), which resulted in some very contented noises. I sneaked a brief taste and agreed – pleasantly cheesy, with both cheddar and mozzarella fighting for supremacy, and chunky mushrooms oozing plenty of flavour.
On to the main courses and I had ordered seafood medley of pan-fried sea bass, king prawns and queen scallops with saffron cream sauce.
Meals are served with seasonal veg, and a choice of chips, mash (plain or cheese and chive), new, jacket or dauphinoise (50p extra) potatoes. I went for the latter.
It was a well-presented dish. The large fish fillets were a bit bland and dry in contrast to the tiny, sweet scallops and plump, flavoursome prawns.
My wife was back on track in her quest to find the perfect lasagne. The Links version put itself firmly in the frame – it was quite heavy on the cheese and had a strong tomato tang but overall, along with some splendid chips, was extremely satisfying, even if she did have to take half of it home!
Needless to say, she only had room for a decaffeinated coffee liqueur (she chose Kahlua), while I tucked into my Christmas pudding, with brandy sauce.
It didn’t look impressive but, wow, what a lovely, light, moist and filling pudding it was.
This was the culmination of a thoroughly pleasant evening. A wafting of light, easy-listening music waved over us as we tucked into the well-presented, fulfilling fare.
A FESTIVE TREAT FOR THE PALATE AND THE WALLET
The Links Hotel has a wide variety of special offers and I took advantage of the festive offering, which gave me a choice of starters – homemade soup, prawn cocktail, smoked salmon, Stilton and bacon stuffed mushrooms, pork, apricot and sage terrine and black pudding with haggis. Mains were roast turkey with trimmings, guinea fowl, rib-eye steak, seafood medley, pork medallions and wild mushroom and potato gratin.
According to the menu, there is a commitment to sourcing local produce and a few dishes detail the local suppliers.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Swallow’s kipper pâté......£6.95
Grilled goat’s cheese......£4.95
Half-shoulder of lamb......£13.45
Chicken breast/king prawns......£13.45
Baked salmon fillet......£12.95
Thai green king prawn curry......£13.45
Half roasted duckling......£13.95
Steaks......from £13.95 to £21.95
Lentil & root veg casserole......£10.95
Chicken tikka masala......£12.95
Chocolate orange tart; poached pears with double ginger ice-cream; brandy snap baskets, forest fruit & crème Chantilly; Baileys & banana trifle.
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8½
Value for money......8½
Access for disabled......8
Toilet for disabled......no
Verdict: Warmest of welcomes with great food to boot.
Contact: 01665 720062 or visit www.linkshotel-seahouses.co.uk