Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Livingston's Restaurant, Linlithgow
Linlithgow, half way between Edinburgh and Stirling, owes its name to the Brythonic language (one of the two branches of the Celtic language family of Britain). The name comes from "Llaith Cau" meaning "Moist Hollow". For a long time, the ancient town was just called "Lithgow" - the "Lin" (meaning loch) was added later.
King David I founded the burgh between 1124 and 1138 and a royal manor house existed there in the 12th century. Although a fort had been built on a knoll beside a loch in the days of the Anglian occupation (from the 7th century to 960AD), it was King Edward I of England, during his forays into Scotland, who built the first known castle (made of wood).
Linlithgow is closely associated with Mary Queen of Scots, who was born at Linlithgow in 1542 and she returned there after the death of her first husband, King Francis II of France. By that time, there was a substantial Palace of Linlithgow.
Livingston's Restaurant's address is on the bustling High Street of Linlithgow. But as it is tucked away, down an alley-way (known as a vennel in this part of the world) at the back of the buildings fronting the street, you would never know the traffic was so close by. Indeed, there are not many restaurants where you can dine while watching a family of rabbits doing the same on the lawn outside! Garden furniture, flowers and shrubbery also add to the relaxing view.
The restaurant has two distinct areas for eating. Tables in the original stone building are softly lit and seem ideal for a candle-lit meal, while the newer patio extension is wood and windows, creating a bright and cheerful ambience. As you can see, furnishings are a comfortable, rich red.
Ronald and Christine Livingston started their restaurant here in the early 1990s and it is a testimony of its success that it has thrived so long in such a competitive field. Livingston's restaurant has won a number of accolades for its cuisine, including a Macallan "Out of Town Restaurant" Award Winner, two AA rosettes and a listing in the respected Michelin Guide. Son Derek has joined the family business and after a spell learning the ropes in the kitchen, now leads the front of house team. It was Derek who greeted us on arrival and he made sure that we were indeed well looked after.
The lunch menu is not over-long, but was unusual in being hand-written - the day's selection is dependent on the availability of fresh produce. As a starter, my lunch companion (a former colleague) was attracted by the warm salad of Stornoway Blackpudding, topped with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. Blackpudding is said to have been "invented" in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. The ingredients include pig's blood, suet, bread, barley and oatmeal and it is often to be found as part of a full Scottish breakfast. The Livingston's version proved to be a substantial one and the mixture of flavours proved to be very tasty, while the different textures of the blackpudding and the poached egg went well together too.
Although I was intrigued by the roast tomato soup on the starter menu (wondering what the roasting would do to the flavour), I went instead for the smoked haddock pot, with parmesan and cream mustard sauce as I am fond of smoked haddock. There was a generous portion of fish in the "pot" and the parmesan cheese blended well with its strong flavour.
And on to the main course.. The chargrilled Scottish sirloin steak with handcut chips and whisky peppercorn sauce was the selection of my lunch companion. Good quality steak has risen sharply in price in Scotland as demand outstrips supply, and there was a £2.50 supplement for this on the cost of the fixed price lunch. As with the other dishes, this was well presented and looked attractive to the eye, even before getting going with the knife and fork. The steak was voted as "good, but not the best I've tasted", but then Gordon had returned recently from Alaska (which was the 50th US state he has visited over the years) and has perhaps been spoiled by those American T-bones. But I did notice he mopped up that whisky peppercorn sauce with the freshly-baked bread that had come with the starters!
While trying to decide what to have as a main course myself, I had given a surreptitious glance at an adjoining table as the braised lamb shank arrived there, rising like Vesuvius from the plate, accompanied by impressed murmurs from the guests. Although that would have provided a great illustration (always considering the readers of these reviews, of course!) I went instead for the supreme of chicken, filled with Scottish Brie cheese, on a bed of white chilli bean stew. The Brie (wrapped in ham) certainly gave a lot of flavour to this dish and so I was glad that the chilli was not too prominent in the generous portion of bean stew.
After two substantial courses, there is always that dilemma of whether or not to have a dessert. A perusal of the menu soon persuaded us that we would be failing to give a complete picture for this review if we didn't "force ourselves" - you know how it is.... But although it sounded interesting, we decided not to try the iced peanut butter parfait, but opt instead for a more traditional apple and cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice-cream. That was a good choice as, once again, this was attractively presented and the topping was a really crisp, crunchy, crumble.
To finish, the coffee was accompanied by some delicious, soft, sweet, tablet. Livingston's has become famous for this - produced to a secret recipe by Mrs Livingston after a lot of experimentation. Derek says that he is trying to encourage Mrs Livingston to make a lot more and sell it in the local shops. If that goes ahead, it will be another good reason for visiting Linlithgow!
See www.livingstons-restaurant.co.uk for current menu and prices.
For further information or to make a reservation, see the Livingston's Restaurant Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
If Livingston's Restaurant had been around in the days of Mary Queen of Scots, there is no doubt that she would have popped round from her palace on a regular basis to enjoy the food and the relaxed atmosphere. The menu has a number of out of the ordinary combinations and presentation is excellent throughout. Service is friendly, helpful and impeccable. I can particularly recommend a table with a view of the garden - and always have tea/coffee to finish, just to get some of Mrs Livingston's tablet!
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