Souter Johnnie's Inn47 Main Road,
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
At Souter Johnnie's elbow...
Review published on 10/08/2009 © Sunday Herald
Souter Johnnie's Inn looks like something from a fairytale. Named afterTam O'Shanter's famous drinking buddy, its new, perfectly thatched roof frames the cream cottage which has recently been restored to its former glory, complete with Burns theme throughout. Recommended by a friend, we head down the A77 to find out what the fuss is all about.
It's another Costley-owned venture - the family business dominates the Ayrshire hotel dining scene with successful venues such as Brig O'Doon in Ayr, Lochgreen House Hotel in Troon and several others. Their formula of doing up run-down buildings, bringing them back to life and serving good, homely food that doesn't cost the earth has gone down well with Ayrshire folk and helped them build a successful business empire.
Refurbished in 2007, Souter Johnnie's Inn is a charming destination in a place full of history. It is built on the site of the schoolhouse where Robert Burns learned his craft in 1775. Across the road are the ruins of the church where Robert the Bruce was baptised in 1274, and the real Souter Johnnie - John Davidson - and Tam O'Shanter are both buried in the grounds.
After tootling along the country roads just south of Ayr, we finally arrive in Kirkoswald at the cosy-looking inn. We pass Souter Johnnie's cottage en route which looks a bit drab in comparison to the gleaming inn which is a few doors down.
Inside, the decor is much as you would expect - traditional and in keeping with the Burns theme without being too twee. OK, maybe a wee bit twee. Tartan carpets come as standard in this neck of the woods, as do pictures of the great man and his poems which line the walls. When the weather's better there are some seats outdoors, but today the summer rain spatters off the tops of the tables.
It's one o'clock on the day before the start of the Open down the road in Turnberry and there is only one other table filled, which is not a good sign. Things look up when the huge menus arrive, boasting 12 starters and 20 mains plus salads, specials and baked potatoes. From baked fresh local langoustines with avocado, white wine and cheese(£8.50) to pressed smoked ham and chicken terrine(£4.95), there is almost too much to choose from.
My friend, Jane, skips the starters but her young daughter, Rosie, has sliced melon with fruits and sorbet(£4.75) which is presented beautifully and is topped off with golden spun sugar. She enjoys the nice mix of flavours - the sweet mango sorbet along with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, passion fruit and kiwi.
I have fried calamari with chilli dip and sour cream(£4.95). The squid is cooked just right, and the chilli dip is nice, although the sour cream didn't really help much.
For the main course, there are lots of Burns-style items on the menu, presumably designed to appeal to the tourists, such as Kirkton Jean's lamb chops(£9.95) and haggis neeps and tatties wi' a dram(£11.95).
In the end, Jane orders poached salmon with tomatoes, cheese glaze and pastry fleuron (£8.95) which is simple, tasty and good for a light lunch. She says the cheese glaze is a good accompaniment to her salmon.
Rosie goes for her favourite, macaroni and cheese with leeks(£7.50). It's a huge portion and goes down well.
My rib-eye steak with parsley butter, tomatoes, mushrooms and onion rings(£15.50) is just how these things should be done - a big proper American-style portion that leaves no extra room on the extra-large plate. The meat is juicy, fresh and well-sourced, and the onion rings are those great big home-cooked ones, with a nice crispy batter. It could have been shared between two and there would still have been leftovers.
The restaurant gradually fills up with a mix of casual diners and golfers and by the time we reach dessert there are few empty tables. As the place gets busy the inn develops a real atmosphere with the hubbub of chatter and laughter.
For dessert, Jane has a chocolate delice which is slightly too rich and dry, but the ice cream is thick, creamy and delicious.
Rosie is a big apple crumble fan and when she sees it on the menu she cannot resist. Served with custard and ice cream, she loves it. The crumble is nice and chewy and the custard, smooth and creamy.
We order coffee and attempt to digest some of our feast before heading back on to the country roads.
I must remember not to take the car the next time - the only real downside is that it's now impossible for me to enjoy a drink. I bet Rab and his pal never had that problem.