The Marine hotel in North Berwick would be the ideal setting for a murder mystery.
I had a lot of suspicions. Was it the elderly ladies, eating fish and chips, and scoping out the rest of the room? It could have been the young and glamorous American couple drinking Martinis, the big table of middle-aged golfers, or the seemingly innocent solo diner, reading a book.
Who-dunnit? Well, there was no victim yet. Hopefully it wouldn’t be us. We didn’t want to be clubbed by a candlestick. It’s a very undignified way to go.
Blame the monolithic and shadowy 19th century building - a North Berwick landmark - for getting me into this frame of mind.
Their new look, after a revamp under new US owners, Marine & Lawn Hotels and Resorts, is very theatrical, with dropped lights on frames that resemble a car’s exhaust system.
I quite like the drama, from the floral wallpaper and dark wood to the doggy paintings, but on a dark evening, it felt a little oppressive. In the daytime, I bet the decor is a suitably ornate frame for the views out to the Firth of Forth and the West Links golf course.
I’ve wanted to visit this restaurant for over a year, but there have been hold-ups. They don’t do lunch, except on a Sunday, and, for a spell, they were open to residents only.
We took our chances on a recent visit. Strolled in after a walk on the beach, and they slotted us onto a spotlit table for two. Boom.
The menu seems to have been tweaked since the early days. At the start, it looked quite exciting, with Chris Niven, MasterChef: The Professionals 2017 contestant, as their executive chef.
Now, it’s more conservative, with main courses of macaroni cheese, burger and steak. They’ve obviously had to temper their ambition, and everyone in the dining room on our visit was doing the fish and chips, so it’s obviously working for them.
The starters list is more exciting, and I tried the citrus-cured salmon (£11). This gummy slab of fish was strewn with pea shoots, micro herbs, orange tobiko bubbles and narrow crescents of preserved lemon. I enjoyed it, though I couldn't help thinking that something zingier was missing, as the citrus additions were very subtle.
The celeriac, truffle and apple soup (£8) was more of a puree than a broth. It was one step away from needing to be sliced with a knife. The sweet and herby flavour was good though, and we enjoyed fishing for the little pepper dumplings, which were like gnocchi.
Since I preferred the look of the starters, I went for another - cheese souffle (£12) - as a main. It featured a whack of intensely mouse-baiting Parmesan, wholegrain mustard and leek sauce, all poured over a very dense and sponge-y souffle. On the side, I’d gone for the “crispy Anna potatoes, malt vinegar” (£5), which consisted of two Rubik’s Cube sized buttery blocks. The acidic element was provided by a dusting of malt vinegar powder, but I would’ve liked a LOT more. I think they should’ve talcum-ed them up like baby’s bottoms.
Our main course of Ayrshire pork chop (£20) was decent too. The meat was bronzed round its fatty edges, and came with soft quarters of apple, an armoured-like-an-armadillo black pudding bon-bon, apple sauce, a sweet Calvados-injected gravy and crumbled hazelnuts.
Pudding was probably the best thing. It was a genius malty-tasting stout chocolate mousse (£8), a scoop of caramel ice-cream, and some crumbly chocolate-y biscuit bits.
We tried a couple of cocktails too, which had been delivered from the Bass Rock bar next door. There was one of their Scottish Serves of Dark Matter Spiced Rum with ginger beer (£10), and the Craigleith (£10), named after the micro island that you can see from the window here. It needed a bit of a stir, but was otherwise a great combo of Ocho Blanco Tequila, cherry, apricot, lime and agave.
We were well fed and watered, but I sense 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 nobody took us out with a wrench. Not even those ladies.
The only thing the suspicious-looking diners wanted to murder was The Lawn’s fish and chips.