When my neighbour David excitedly said he’d discovered an Australian restaurant in Montrose I thought he’d really found a case of Jacob’s Creek on special offer in Tesco and quaffed the lot.
An Australian restaurant? In Montrose? He had to be kidding, or drunk, or both.
However, a swift, sobering Google search showed that David was right and that a place called Roo’s Leap was indeed the nearest we’d get to Australia by Saturday. We had to go.
Montrose is somewhere I love to visit anyway as it so naturally encapsulates the constant friction between history and progress.
On a sunny day, parts of the town seem to be stuck in a 1930s picture postcard, which is obviously a good thing – on a dreich day, some areas of Montrose conjure up the feeling of being happy-sad as well as the Smiths did at their peak.
There’s a great vinyl store – Mo’Fidelity – and a lovely little museum, and you can also visit sculptor William Lamb’s studio before tracking down some wonderful examples of his work around town.
Lamb is still criminally underrated outside Scotland and a re-evaluation of his work is long overdue. A visit to Montrose and the neighbouring village of Ferryden can’t fail to inspire a visceral response to this singular artistic talent.
All this plus a leaping kangaroo and the thought of a chilled glass of Australian chardonnay with lunch! What more do you need?
The approach from Dundee and Arbroath is mesmerising – that first glimpse of the magnificent Montrose Basin never fails to delight.
And the street names! Ferry Street, Commerce Street and River Street lead the way to America Street and California Street – not so much street names as routes to a brighter world.
In the 14th Century, Montrose was judged to be the seventh wealthiest burgh in Scotland, according to the fascinating study The Port of Montrose – a history of its harbour, trade and shipping, published in 1993, from which I quote here.
An analysis of trade from the harbour showed several vessels arriving every week in the 16th and 17th Centuries, when trading with Scandinavia, the Baltic, Holland and England dominated – with the latter offering access to North American colonial products.
By the 18th and 19th Centuries, trading partners from the port of Montrose included North America and the West Indies. Port books show that grain trading was the mainstay, with Montrose itself boasting at least six distilleries and
five breweries by the 1830s.
And so to lunch.
It turns out that Roo’s Leap is a concept that’s probably as Australian as you want it to be, which is perhaps the most Australian concept of all.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t find any tangible link to Australia in this place, despite a few visual touches – the worst of which were the toilet signs labelled Blokes and Sheilas, with predictably obvious illustrations of both.
Suddenly it felt like I was watching 1970s comedian Benny Hill chasing scantily clad women round the outback with Sir Les Patterson as his tour guide but, hey, who am I as a dour, right-on Scotsman to question such stuff?
I really enjoyed Roo’s Leap, in the way that I really enjoy the occasional Kentucky Fried Chicken. That’s not meant to sound snooty or elitist – there’s nothing I like more than a KFC consumed at the bus stop after a night on the lash – but rather to say I couldn’t eat this kind of food often, but when I do I really enjoy it.
Really, you have to just embrace this good-time cuisine – and we did.
Roo’s Leap is hugely popular and I wouldn’t come here on a first date unless you were sure you weren’t hoping for a second.
Luckily David and I have known each other since 1990 so we feel quite at home sitting like an old married couple, either bickering about Brexit or talking about when we can retire, hernia operations or Carrie Johnson wearing Zara.
Noise levels are high and the place was filled with kids and people celebrating birthdays.
This is a place to come to feel good about life and to have fun.
The decor is bright chairs, brighter artworks and balloons.
The best tables are at the front, overlooking the golf course.
We were at the back but, in all honesty, it didn’t really matter. It’s all pretty relaxed. Service is very good. What I really want from a restaurant on arrival is a smile, a seat and a drink – and these simple hopes were all fulfilled within minutes. The staff are young, friendly and engaging.
The menu is really about what you want to eat when you don’t want to think about food too much.
In truth, I’m not really in that mood too often as I do like to think about food a lot and only really like the idea of food as ballast when intensely hungover.
There’s nothing really Australian about this menu, a fact that the restaurant does allude to on their website when they advise that they don’t eat kangaroo
and they wouldn’t expect us to either.
The nearest thing I could find to Australia on the extensive menu (the online menu is a bit irritating in the way it’s listed) was Aussie fish and chips (£14.95) and I have no idea what makes it Australian unless a lightly-spiced beer batter counts as a Pacific Rim influence around these parts.
There is also a Panko Fish “Sanger” for £14.50. As my nickname among all my Australian friends is Muzza I’m only sorry I didn’t spot this on the menu as I could have messaged the Sheilas Down Under saying that Muzza’s Sanger was, indeed, a Banger.
You could choose to be annoyed at this cultural appropriation or you could choose to just go with it and embrace what seems to be an ethos rather than a righteous attempt to introduce another cuisine to Tayside.
Apart from anything else, what really IS Australian cuisine?
As someone who has only visited that country once – for the grand total of
four days – I’m hardly an expert but, just as the cuisine of the UK is informed by many cultures, I believe that is true of Australia too.
My friend Sarah lived in Melbourne for a few years and said that the food scene was the product of different cultures, assimilated and juxtaposed.
She remembered the ubiquity of the Australian barbecue – very different to the American version – and a nod to barbie culture is, I suppose, something that is reflected here at Roo’s Leap.
We started with an Onion Blossom for £9.50; for those fellow onion blossom virgins I must explain that this is a segmented onion, coated in seasoned batter and deep fried to golden brown, served with a thousand island dressing. Get in!
How have I reached the age of 62 without discovering this delight?
The menu helpfully states that this dish serves two or more and that you can make it ‘dirty’ with added cheddar, mozzarella, nduja sausage, crispy bacon and spring onions.
Making it dirty costs another £3.45 but I have to confess the thought of all those extra calories had me thinking thoughts that weren’t especially unpure; in reality I wondered how long it would take to get a defibrillator to me.
The regular onion flower proved quite dirty enough for this wan Scotsman.
Do you remember when Labour’s Peter Mandelson was ridiculed for going in a chip shop and asking for some of that delicious looking guacamole, which turned out to be mushy peas?
Well, I had my own Mandy moment in Montrose when I gazed admiringly at this thing of beauty called an onion flower and likened eating it to eating an artichoke with melted butter.
I think I even excitedly went online to order a gadget to segment the humble onion, thinking it might impress at my next dinner party.
Such is the power of discovering that floral beauty need not end with scented roses.
Who knew onions could be made such things of aesthetic joy?
Drink full fat Coke (£2.50) with this dish for maximum indulgence, pleasure and entry to the trash palace.
My main course was buttermilk chicken with truffle and parmesan fries (£15.45), which I had substituted for the regular fries on offer, for £1.50 less.
The buttermilk chicken was delicious – tender, succulent and coated in a spicy sauce which had quite a kick.
Good also to see chicken thighs used for this dish, which was served in a toasted brioche bun, with the usual accompaniments.
This dish is listed alongside burgers like the Monster Bob Burger, Mr Piggy, the Aussie Burger and the Dirty Spaniard, about which I make no comment. As you might expect, the steaks sound very good.
David’s vegetarian satay (£13.75) was equally delicious; crispy vegetable tempura served in a satay sauce, along with rice, chillies and crispy kale. It’s worth stating that there is a very good selection of vegetarian and vegan options here.
We couldn’t manage dessert.
I can see why Roo’s Leap is popular. They have a theme, it’s fun, the service is great and they offer something a little different.
What sets it apart is that these dishes are made with well-sourced ingredients and they’re done well; although we chose from the heavier end of the menu, lighter/fresher options are available.
I still prefer the style of food at the Pavilion Cafe in Montrose but their opening hours are less and it’s a very different offering from Roo’s Leap.
As for how Australian it all is, best to just suspend such thoughts and enjoy.
Address: Roo’s Leap, 2 Traill Drive, Montrose, Angus, DD10 8SW
T: 01674 672157
Price: Starters from £6, mains from £6, dessert from £4
- Food: 4/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 3/5