The Elphinstone Hotel appears at first glance to be a typical old fashioned Scottish bar/restaurant with old-fashioned charm and traditional decor such as tartan carpets and a sprinkling of pensioners.
We were greeted by the staff and given the best table in the house by the fire (hurrah!) and handed a huge menu, but it was too big to know quite where to begin! Following on from our observations about the surroundings, the majority of the menu was what we'd expected - typical pub fare like macaroni cheese, burgers etc but the "daily" specials page (again not 1 or 2 specials but a whole page) however sounded very interesting, for example: north African style chicken, prawn laksa and red snapper, which isn't something you see too often.
A copy of the Daily Record complete with recent Tam Cowan review was also passed our way while we waited for our starters. Tam certainly rated the food and he agreed with our assertion that the menu is too big.
And so to start...
Cullen slink soup for Mr Foodie with Lockerbie butter - soft (yay! why is butter so hard in so many places!?) and a warm soft seeded roll. The soup contained big chunks of potato but could've done with more fish but it was lovely and creamy and certainly filling.
Mrs Foodie opted for the Fishcake. A fishy fishcake (no less!) and a thick gooey smokey Applewood cheese sauce with a crisp coating and fresh salad with croutons. Pretty good.
Next course, one of the specials - Red snapper. Don't think we'd never had this before, it was really meaty; the grilled skin was a bit like mackerel. It also came with puy lentils, a refreshing pineapple salsa which worked well with the fish and red amaranth for decoration (now there's something you don't see everyday!) This was really well made, very filling and was a pretty healthy choice (to be undone by the dessert later...)
Prawn Marie rose salad, with a huge portion of prawns (not watery) with a tasty Marie-rose sauce and lots of salad and more croutons. Another healthy choice.
Taylor's (local) ice cream - we plumped for the more unusual offerings - a scoop of ginger and coconut each. The coconut certainly tasted like coconut but it was too "powdery" tasting like ice-cream covered in desiccated coconut - which it probably was! What I mean is, the ice-cream melts but leaves behind a mouthful of desiccated coconut, which leaves your throat feeling dry and isn't the most pleasant sensation. Perhaps it would work with less desiccated coconut or perhaps we had a bad batch?
The ginger was much better, sweet with small sugary ginger pieces.
We also had an Eton mess sundae - lots of cream and ice cream so nice and creamy but personally we'd have liked to see more meringue and real fruit chunks rather than just a syrup, but still delicious and a huge portion.
Overall, the Elphinstone provides a really big choice of food, which is good but it's a bit overwhelming when they should perhaps concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The description of the daily specials piqued our interest as all of them sounded great and worthy of a top-class establishment so we struggled to pick just 1 main from the selection. Justifiably the presentation, cooking and taste of the Red Snapper dish had all the hallmarks of a top restaurant. If the Elphinstone cuts down their menu and focuses on dishes of this quality then they are on to a winner! I'm sure they have local customers who like the regular pub grub so I wouldn't want them to get rid of all the dishes but perhaps trim it down a bit?!
The staff were friendly and helpful and answered our queries about the framed photos of Biggar on the wall (there are some pretty good shots of the Hogmanay bonfire celebrations which take place just outside the Elphinstone!), there's a cosy real fire, a fish-tank with a variety of small fish and plenty of seating round the back and although there is no real ale they do have John Smith's and McEwan's 80/- on draft. The toilets were clean and fully stocked with soap and paper towels. The gents also has proper old-fashioned urinals.
We'll certainly pop in again when next down Biggar way.