Udny Arms HotelMain Street,
0845 456 6399
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 19/04/2005 © Sunday Herald
Regular readers may have gathered that I am not a fan of sticky toffee pudding, although I liked it back in the mid Eighties when I first tasted it. It was much in vogue then, the seminal recipe with softened dates and wanton quantities of brown sugar, cream and butter, widely attributed to Francis Coulson, co-proprietor of the celebrated Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District.
Subsequently, I learned that there was a cross-border dispute about the origins of this dessert, a counter-claim that it first saw the light of day in its true home, the Udny Arms at Newburgh, just north of Aberdeen.
I have no difficulty in believing that it is indeed a Scottish recipe, since we Scots are notorious for our sweet tooth and fondness for wee treats like McGowan's Highland Toffee and corrosive tablet.
These days there is an industry full of dieticians, including the terrifying Gillian McKeith, who encourage us to ditch all the good things, like butter, red meat and cheese in favour of soya spread (whatever that may be), tofu and rice milk. They come over to me as neurotic types who really do not like eating very much, but on sticky toffee pudding, we find common ground. My palate has moved on. That sugar hit with its thirsty aftermath no longer pleases. I can feel the sugar gnawing at receding gums and can almost visualise my liver working away double time to process copious amounts of saturated fat.
But any restaurant critic in Scotland is positively stalked by sticky toffee pudding. There's no getting away from it, which only adds another reason - ubiquity - to the list of reasons to boycott it. Can't chefs think of something else to make? Naturally, at the Udny Arms, it would be churlish not to order sticky toffee pudding, so to get this out of the way first, it was a very respectable one, bound to delight its enthusiasts. It is not, however, a balanced dish with which to end a meal, not least at the Udny Arms which encapsulates solid virtues much prized in Scotland - large portions of filling, traditional food. So pace yourself, as your stomach is in for a workout.
The first pitfall here is the bread basket containing admirable home-baked breads; a gooey-centred apricot and walnut loaf with a terrific crunchy crust and addictively crisp, aerated ciabatta. This comes with excellent unsalted Beurre d'Isigny.
Inevitably, we ate too much and almost instantly realised that it was a mistake to have ordered the prawn timbale, a substantial pile of plump North Atlantic prawns in a pleasant mayonnaise.
Our other starter, fresh ravioli filled with goat's cheese and red pepper, coated in a creamy tomato sauce were agreeable too, though not shown off to their best by being cramped inside a workaday bowl better suited to breakfast cereal.
The Udny Arms is halfway between country pub and plush hotel. The dining room has a pleasant outlook, but some more thought might be given to the room itself which feels rather utilitarian. The glassware is very basic. We were served a full-bodied red wine in a white wine glass. There are no tablecloths. A touch more luxury and table style would not go amiss.
My lamb boulangère made a satisfying main course, the classic baked lamb with its crown of crusty potatoes. But although it read well on paper, a Desperate Dan-sized, rib-eye steak of grass-fed, local Aberdeen Angus made disappointing eating, tasting a bit watery, under-seasoned and under-seared as though the pan had not been hot enough.
It came on a plate cluttered with unappetising, greasy, battered onion rings, tokenistic vegetables that added nothing (blanched white cabbage, yellowing broccoli) and others that enhanced it (herb-crusted grilled tomatoes). A side order of Béarnaise sauce was perfectly executed.
Like the curate's egg, the Udny Arms tastes good in parts.
© Sunday Herald