The Marine Hotel in North Berwick would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.
I had a lot of suspicions. Was it the old ladies, eating fish and chips, and exploring the rest of the room? It could have been the glamorous young American couple drinking Martinis, the big table of middle-aged golfers, or the seemingly innocent solo dinner, reading a book.
Who seizes? Well, there haven’t been any casualties yet. I hope it wouldn’t be us. We didn’t want to be bludgeoned by a candlestick. This is a very undignified way to proceed.
Blame the monolithic, gloomy 19th century building – a North Berwick landmark – for putting me in this mindset.
Their new look, after a revamp under new US owners, Marine & Lawn Hotels and Resorts, is very theatrical, with lights falling on frames that resemble a car’s exhaust system.
I like drama, from floral wallpaper and dark wood to dog paintings, but on a dark evening it was a little oppressive. In the daytime, I bet the setting is a suitably adorned setting for views over the Firth of Forth and West Links golf course.
I wanted to visit this restaurant for over a year, but there were blockages. They don’t do lunch except on Sundays, and for a time they were only open to residents.
We took a chance on a recent visit. We wandered in after a walk on the beach and they placed us on a lighted table for two. Boom.
The menu seems to have been tweaked since the early days. At first it looked pretty exciting, with MasterChef: The Professionals 2017 contestant Chris Niven serving as executive chef.
Now it’s more conservative, with main courses of macaroni and cheese, burger and steak. They obviously had to temper their ambition, and everyone in the dining room when we visited was making fish and chips, so it obviously works for them.
The starter list is more exciting and I tried the Citrus Smoked Salmon (£11). This gummy slice of fish was sprinkled with pea shoots, micro-herbs, bubbles of orange tobiko and narrow croissants of candied lemon. I liked it, although I couldn’t help but feel that something more zesty was missing, as the citrus additions were very subtle.
The celeriac, truffle and apple soup (£8) was more of a mash than a broth. It was one step away from needing to be sliced with a knife. The sweet, grassy flavor was good though, and we enjoyed fishing the little pepper balls, which looked like gnocchi.
As I preferred the look of the starters, I opted for another – cheese soufflé (£12) – as a main course. It featured a ton of intensely mouse-appealing Parmesan cheese, old-fashioned mustard, and leek sauce, all poured over a very dense, spongy soufflé. As an accompaniment, I had opted for the ‘Anna Crispy Potatoes, Malt Vinegar’ (£5), made with two blocks of butter the size of a Rubik’s Cube. The sour element was provided by a dusting of malt vinegar powder, but I would have liked MUCH more. I think they should have powdered them like baby bottoms.
Our Ayrshire pork chop main course (£20) was also ok. The meat was bronzed around its fatty edges and came with chewy apple wedges, armadillo-armored black pudding bon-bon, apple compote, a sweet Calvados-injected sauce, and hazelnuts. crumbled.
The pudding was probably the best thing. It was an awesome malt tasting chocolate mousse (£8), a scoop of caramel ice cream and chocolate crumbly biscuit pieces.
We also tried a few cocktails, which were delivered by the nearby Bass Rock bar. Had one of their Scottish Serves of Dark Matter Spiced Rum with Ginger Ale (£10) and the Craigleith (£10), named after the micro-island you can see from the window here. It needed a bit of a stir, but it was otherwise a great blend of Ocho Blanco tequila, cherry, apricot, lime, and agave.
We were well fed and watered, but I feel that they are struggling a bit. The service was very welcoming, but a bit disjointed. You become that annoying person who asks for two things, like dessert AND the bill, every time a waiter comes to your table because you don’t know when they’ll be back.
Anyway, at least no one took us out with a wrench. Not even these ladies.
The only thing the suspicious-looking diners wanted to murder was The Lawn’s fish and chips.
18 Cromwell Road
(01620 897 300, www.lawnrestaurant.co.uk)