Looks can be deceiving as Murray Chalmers finds out at this long-lasting Broughty-Ferry restaurant.
Collinsons in Broughty Ferry was a bit of a revelation – all the more pleasing because I didn’t actually think I’d like it at all.
More fool me, and how great to be proved wrong in life by something other than the Scottish Greens, Indian summers, English ‘champagne’ and deep-fried pizzas.
I don’t know why I had the idea that Collinsons might be dreary but I now fully respect the refreshing lack of hype and attitude about this place, something that’s so welcome as we all seek solace, healing and a disco partner for the remainder of 2021 – the year I got over my dislike of Sting’s voice enough to embrace “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” as a personal anthem or, mobilising peak Police shrillness, a shield against this cruel world.
After 40 years in London, where the choice of dinner venue can often reveal as much about you as your postcode, your perfume or your Prada handbag, I’d grown somewhat spoiled by having an expense account and a nose for a new culinary experience.
The week before going to Collinsons I’d dined in London with the two best food critics in the country – the legendary Fay Maschler and the equally brilliant Marina O’Loughlin and, because I’d been away from the capital for so long, I wisely left the choice of restaurant to the professionals.
As I walked through Shoreditch to go to the Laughing Heart on Hackney Road, I felt that old thrill of the chase, that excitement you get when you’re in for a new experience and you don’t really know what to expect.
It’s something that is hard to shake off after so long in a metropolis where restaurants can go from the hottest thing ever to the equivalent of a ride on Boris Johnson’s £60m cable car – you know it exists, you might be curious enough to want to try it but you just don’t fancy the shame of being that fifth regular commuter to wonder why the money was spaffed up the wall when there’s perfectly serviceable and classic bridges and tunnels nearby.
Collinsons is the opposite of all that and is now one of four restaurants I’d recommend to friends wanting to dine within Dundee’s city ramparts, and I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long to appreciate that (for the record, the others are The Tayberry, Franks and Jute at the DCA – and yes, two are in Broughty Ferry).
Four notable restaurants isn’t a huge number for a city of Dundee’s size and sometimes the lack of choice here is frustrating.
Equally, restaurants can achieve glory quickly but struggle to maintain a high level of food and service, especially right now with the combined problems of Covid and Brexit.
A recent couple of visits to Franks showed just how important it is to keep a level of consistency if you’re to maintain a stellar reputation; those visits also showed how rigorous staff training is paramount.
At Collinsons I had lunch with Gillian Lord, the features editor of this newspaper, and Mary-Jane Duncan, fellow columnist and owner of the Kitschnbake in Newport-on-Tay.
I’d been looking forward to this lunch for ages, anticipating a fine meal with company the Dundee equivalent of Dorothy Parker’s quick-witted clan from the Blue Room in New York’s Algonquin hotel – but sadly fate had other plans.
It pains me to say that I arrived in tears – and not just because finding a parking space in Broughty Ferry is so tiresome.
I’m a bit ashamed of myself – arriving in tears in a restaurant is distinctly not cool whilst leaving in tears is one for Hollywood movies, teenage break-ups and drunk dialling four hours and five vodkas later.
The fact that Collinsons soothed my fevered brow (in fairness, just before arriving I’d been on the phone bringing forward a vet’s appointment to have my sick cat euthanised) is testament to the fact that this is a place operating with an almost zen-like efficiency.
You’re in safe hands here and everything is done with that reassuring sense of order that almost hums with precision.
This isn’t a statement restaurant in that it looks pleasing and inoffensive and nothing jars. At more youthful times in my life I would have responded badly to this relentlessly polite tastefulness, but not now.
In fact, looking back, I realise that all the restaurants I frequented the most have been the simplest: Sally Clarke’s eponymous restaurant in Kensington; St John; the River Cafe in Hammersmith; the Quality Chop House in Farringdon, where you’d sit on hard wooden benches and eat shepherd’s pie next to the staff of The Guardian; Kinneuchar Inn in Fife; Timberyard in Edinburgh – the way these places looked wasn’t what defined them, and nor is it here in Collinsons.
The food was excellent and great value for cooking of this calibre.
Two courses here are a bargain £21 for lunch, whilst three courses are £26. Dinner is £33 for two courses and £39 for three.
From a short menu of four starters and four mains we chose a selection that was wholly delicious; I could have eaten anything here and departed happy.
For her starter Gillian chose the salt-baked beetroots with pickled purple carrots, goats cheese, parmesan crisps and aged balsamic vinegar. It looked pretty as a picture and tasted wonderful with Gillian commenting how the pickling added an unusual dimension to the dish whilst also preserving the unique flavour of each component.
Mary-Jane was equally happy with her choice of chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche and a port and redcurrant reduction.
My own starter of glazed slow-cooked pork belly with Stornoway black pudding and spiced apple puree was perfect – light enough to be a great starter but so intensely flavoured that it brought a heartier, autumnal feel to the plate. Great stuff.
Service here is unobtrusive and welcoming with none of that enforced matiness you get from less well-trained staff. In an increasingly manic world (just the other night we reeled from the experience of a waitress whose voice could have stripped paint and whose boorish manner was that of a stand-up comedian), the staff at Collinsons were exemplary.
Main courses were ace and it’s worth noting that the vegetarian option of leek, potato and artichoke pithivier sounded imaginative and delicious.
Gillian and I both had the pan-roasted sea trout with creamed leeks, petit pois, broad beans, buttered baby potatoes, samphire and dill oil. It was truly delicious – summer on a plate. If sea trout is available I often choose it in preference to salmon, and this fillet was perfectly cooked and served on the most deliciously creamy vegetable base. Really fantastic.
Mary-Jane loved her choice of breast of chicken with haggis, creamy mash, tenderstem broccoli and a whisky and wholegrain mustard sauce. A steak dish of peppered flat iron, gratin potatoes, French beans and a peppercorn sauce would have been an equally great choice, all the better because there is no tiresome supplement for the steak.
We declined dessert because we were all quite full.
For me I have to say that the desserts sounded delicious but were all a bit heavy to end a summer meal – sticky date and ginger pudding, pavlova with local raspberries and whipped cream and a white chocolate cheesecake with passion fruit salsa all seemed a bit much. I’d prefer something lighter and I think the balance of the menu would be improved by at least one less weighty option.
Even without choosing dessert we were still the last customers to leave, which is testament to the welcoming ambiance here. Nothing is hurried, nothing is frenetic – it’s all about a relaxing experience for the diner.
It was so lovely to have my preconceptions about this fine restaurant turned around, and I got to thinking about how I’d formed such an opinion in the first place.
Is it that Collinsons seems posh? We all agreed that it isn’t – it’s warm and friendly and great value. Is it a restaurant producing great food? For sure – and also it’s somewhere that does so quietly, without relying on novelty and a PR angle.
As such I think Collinsons is probably unfairly overlooked by a lot of people, which is a real shame because there is too little of this standard of cooking in our local area. That it has existed for almost 10 years with the stated simple aim of offering quality dining using fresh seasonal produce, served in a nice room, is notable and worthy of praise.
There used to be a joke in the music industry that Supergrass were everyone’s second or third favourite band, largely because the group just got on with producing quality music without the fanfare and hype of their contemporaries.
Collinsons has probably suffered from that syndrome too as they are sometimes overlooked in favour of their brasher rivals.
I myself have been guilty of delaying going there because there was always somewhere newer to try. This was a mistake and I’m only glad I’ve seen the error of my ways.
That being said, I do feel that the Collinsons website could do with a revamp and that they would benefit from an online booking system.
Whilst their understated approach is admirable it’s perhaps important for them to shout a little now, to remind people of their existence. After all, even the good guys have to shout to be heard sometimes. I look forward to returning here again and again.
Address: Collinsons. 122-124 Brown Street, Broughty Ferry, Dundee, DD5 1EN.
T: 01382 776000
Price: Lunch £21 for 2 courses. Dinner £33 for 2 courses.
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 4/5