The Treehouse67-69 Sandgate,
01292 288 500
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Sun, sea & starch
Review published on 10/09/2012 © Sunday Herald
Blimey, the Scots don't half strip off when the sun shines. Sitting in the window of the Treehouse bar and grill in Ayr, on a sunny day, we had a good vantage point to observe the world go by. For the men, the popular street style seemed to be to strip to the waist and display logo-ed boxers under jeans on a downwards trajectory. As for the women, you can forget qualms of the "does my bum look big in this?" variety. Many women clearly feel comfortable wearing the tiniest, most revealing articles of clothing. We spotted several teenage girls on the street wearing skimpy bikinis that consist of daringly skimpy triangles of stretchy fabric. OK, the Treehouse is on a street that eventually leads to the beach, but steady on.
To bare peely-wally flesh requires confidence. A svelte figure helps. Achieving that may be a tall order if you eat regularly at the Treehouse, where "three-a-day", that's three portions of starch with every savoury dish, seems to be the order of the day. So when I ordered the carb-rich lobster macaroni (of which more later), it came with a pile of chips plus garlic bread. Choose a Thai chicken crèpe here (I wouldn't, if I were you) and it also comes with chips. Would-be healthy mussels arrive with the same garlic bread/chips duo. I'm only surprised that these dishes don't also come with a bowl of rice.
The Treehouse may appeal to those who enjoy a buzzy, urban atmosphere, a vast choice and manageable prices, but the kitchen's palate needs adjusting. Our starter mussels came in a Thai coconut sauce that was crazily sweet. Ditto the claggy dressing on our Caesar salad. It tasted as though sugar and mayonnaise had been mixed in a 50:50 ratio, turning the salad, composed mainly of the coarse outer leaves of little gem lettuce, into something more akin to a pudding.
Lobster pasta may have been a relative of the three-cheese baked macaroni from the cheap lunch menu, only with those briny, tasteless crayfish through it. I couldn't see any lobster although, via our waitress, the chef assured us that there was some buried in there among the over-boiled pasta. Who wants to be palmed off with scruffy crayfish when you're promised a patrician crustacean? I sent it back and commendably it was struck from the bill.
There was little of a positive nature to be said for roast rump of lamb with gratin dauphinois and red wine jus. Ordered medium rare, the meat was grey, the gratin a mush inside a desiccated crust, the green beans shrivelled, and the jus was a gloop. It had all the charm of a meal kept warm for hours under a plate in the oven.
Desserts were catastrophic. Eton Mess truly lived up to that second word - a purple mush of freezer forest fruits and dusty meringues, barely bound by cream. Passion fruit cheesecake had the fizzy, fermented tang of dairy products that are going off. And these were the better options, unless you relish the prospect of caramel shortcake served with ice cream and chocolate sauce, or the likes of Mars Bar cheesecake.
We escaped to Culzean Castle for a more uplifting experience, or it would have been, if we hadn't been greeted in the tea room by stacks of crisps, fizzy drinks, 1970s-style cafeteria sandwiches with grim grey meat, and long-life industrial muffins.
This line-up is an embarrassment for Scotland. The National Trust for Scotland should be ashamed. It compares particularly badly with the National Trust in England and Wales, which is doing great things with its culinary offering: some properties there even cook and sell food they grow themselves.
I dread to think what conclusion all those thin, bemused European tourists draw from the food culture at Culzean, supposedly the jewel in the National Trust for Scotland's crown. It must surely make them look forward to heading home.