Thursday, November 29, 2012


When Tripadvisor started I thought it was a good idea, so started to report on my findings whenever I visited anywhere. Over the years this web sites power and influence have grown enormously. Now if I write a bad review I am invariably contacted by the place I have reviewed, many of whom seem to think its almost illegal for me to write and say they are not up to standards. Restaurants and hotels have never before been the subject of visible proof of their competence and it is very scary for them. Oh they would have customers unhappy, but these would each be isolated and covered up so that the general public had no idea of their problems. Now the good and the bad are revealed and its up to the reader to judge the veracity of comments and make a decision...but at least they now have a place to look.

There is also still a general failing to complain when one purchases food or lodging that is not up to par. When we were in Jersey recently we ate at the Atlantique Seafood restaurant and were presented at one point with a bowl of rice that looked like and wobbled like a blancmange  We sent it back and eventually the owner came over and apologized and said once she realized the rice was so overcooked she stopped the kitchen. But we looked around and there were many customers who had eaten one or two mouthfuls of rice and left it back, but didn't complain. When one is paying top rate for food, one should get perfect food, if one doesn't, then its your right, and in fact a sort of duty to other diners, to complain. By putting both complaints and praise in one place with a rating system, Tripadvisor has provided the perfect vehicle for checking out where one is going before booking and I use it a lot. WEB SITE

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday Lunch

48 weeks in the year my wife and I return from church and cook a meal for our family at home. If we cook a Tesco chicken then it costs about 4 pounds and with all the vegetables (a 50kl bag of potatoes costs 5 pounds) I think we probably eat for about 2 pounds a person and eat very well, with tasty gravy made from the chicken, potatoes, two vegetables and apple sauce.

Why then do we risk disappointment by eating out 4 Sundays a year (all we can afford on a pension), food that is usually not as good as our own and costs up to 500% more? Well its a little treat for my wife, an opportunity for my boys to be in a social setting, an opportunity to see how someone else cooks,  and a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves. It is therefore doubly disappointing when the meal does not reach the standards implied by the cost.

What we are discovering is that there are very few places within our geographic reach that exceed our hopes and expectations. In the South, particularly around London the quality and standards of pubs and hotels has reached almost Michelin heights, but that is not true North of the Border.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Best Value Car Service - Serviceline

I think I have tried most of the car places around the Borders and have been disappointed with almost all of them for one thing or another. Rutherfords in Earlston have twice damaged my car as part of a service, the first time one of their mechanics finding removing the cover on the battery annoying ripped it off and damaged all the plastic bolts, the second time they cracked my windscreen and then said it was "chance". Yes chance that I brought it to you that morning ok and that night it was cracked. Volkswagen at St Boswells charge an arm and a leg and I think I am paying for the fancy new showroom and admin office. ATS in Galashiels is good and reasonable but if your car is there for a service what do you do cut off with no transport.
Finally I have been recommended to Service Line in Newtown St Boswells which loans you a car and which I am so far impressed by. For example they found the hand break wasn't working and told me they may have to change the brake pads etc, but on investigation it was the cable that had frayed and stuck so it only cost me 21 pounds rather than 100. They did a good service and MOT at a reasonable price and are friendly people. My neighbors all use them and all speak highly of them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Best Butcher in the Borders

I hesitated to write this one as there are several good butchers. But over 4 years trying them all the list of top five goes to J C Douglas of St Boswells, Learmonts of Jedburgh, Purvis in Duns, Bairds in Melrose and our own butcher Donaldson in Earlston. A honorable mention to Shaws of Lauder who are a bit out of my area, but are a good butcher indeed. Both Kelso are a bit pricey for me, although the one by the bridge is better.

Of these I have to say J C Douglas in St Boswells is the king. They are not the friendliest or the least expensive (that honour goes to Earlston) but their sausages, and the quality of the cuts of meats, and choices of top meat is better than anyone else. Now there pies suck frankly and Learmont in Jedburgh has everyone beat with pies.

LINK TO J C Douglas

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cobbles Inn - Continues to offer fine food

Took the family to Cobbles Inn in Kelso last week for Sunday lunch and was very pleased with the meal indeed. Oh yes there were one or two things that caught our critical eye, the broccoli and cauliflower cheese was overcooked, they served an odd purple cabbage cooked in some Indian spice that didn't work at all. But these minor problems were lost in the finest pork loin I have had for years, the nicest cooked sea bass my wife has had, and our boys superb fresh haddock cooked perfectly with huge hand cut chips. Service was excellent and the atmosphere very nice with the light wood and clean lines. Well done Cobbles!!

Burt Hotel Melrose - A Disappointment

I have popped into Burts for a coffee now and again on a cold winters day and maybe I had over rated them in my mind and over praised them at home based on that experience. But I had been impressed by this old quality hotel in the heart of my favorite Borders town. I took my family their for lunch today and I am sorry to say they went down a few notches indeed!

All started off well. We arrived and had a bottle of Beaujolais and although I thought that the Brushcetta was really just an ordinary garlic bread, the olives were nice and I was in a good mood.  That was until after 45 minutes we were still there waiting for our meal while EVERY other table in the place, some of whom came in 25 minutes after us were served. Something was clearly wrong as waitresses walked past us with averted eyes, but no one spoke.

Just as I got up to leave extremely angry by now, the food arrived and as I am being critical it needs talking through. My meal was the house roast sirloin with trimmings. The menu urged one to be aware it would be medium was overdone. The gravy came from I know not where but certainly not from the meat, it tasted like burnt syrup and was awful. The potatoes and vegetables (beans and broccoli)  were perfectly cooked but unfortunately covered in dark brown syrup. The meat was not tender, whether this is Baird the butchers fault or the hotel I do not know.

My wife chose duck which came overdone and dry and the sauce was not up to anyone's standards. One son had roast chicken and said it was lovely, but I guess by then he was actually scared I would stand up and make a fuss. The other son chose pork and noodles. Well what a strange meal he got, the pork was tender and tasty but the boodles were overcooked and stuck together and looked frankly disgusting. Strange but I saw someone else with noodles and they were much nicer looking.

So what happened? was it as my wife suspects that Burts prefer locals? The locals next to us clearly felt sorry for us and got their meal in less than 10 minutes....or was it some kitchen catastrophe which they were too embarrassed to admit? I will never know as I certainly will not be going there again and spending 96 pounds of good money on a poor lunch. I mentioned my disappointment to the lady at the bar when I paid and her response was "oh that's too bad".  Oh and by the way they let the fire go out on a chilly day!