The Boudingait in Cupar is definitely my kind of pub and it seems others agree, because last week it was voted best licensed premises in Fife for the fourth time. Well done them!
News of this latest accolade from Scotland’s Business Awards came in just as I was writing this review, which is based on my two most recent visits there.
This is either good or bad timing depending on how you look at it, because I’d been going to this little gem quite often pre-pandemic and always thought I could recommend it wholeheartedly.
But the second of my two most recent visits revealed a few issues that took the shine off its allure for me, although it’s still a place that offers many more positives than negatives.
I do appreciate it’s entirely possible that the problems during our second visit were just unfortunate blips – which would make it incredibly bad luck for them – but problems have to be written about just as much as plaudits, and it wouldn’t be fair to gloss over them for fear of raining on their awards parade.
Housed in an attractive 1871 building on Bonnygate, just down the road from the beautiful, listed Preston Lodge (1623), The Boudingait is the best spot for lunch in this fascinating old market town (I’ve yet to try the more classic Ostlers Close, which anyway is only open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday).
What makes a nice, low-key jaunt is a visit to the great charity shops in the area, an upmarket booze run from the excellent Luvians and then lunch at The Boudingait, knowing that your intellect will shortly be stimulated by Cupar’s various architectural gems.
A walk through the rich architectural history of this town must now culminate in the unexpectedly moving vision of the modernist 1964 St Columba’s Church, like a mini version of Liverpool’s wonderful Metropolitan Cathedral. I kid you not! Well worth seeking out, especially on a day when you can look inside the church.
After exploring such delights I’d probably stop for cake in Fisher and Donaldson.
Skip dessert at lunch in The Boudingait and save yourself for the sugar rush of a lemon swish or a fudge doughnut from F&D – you’ll be in good company as I note that fudge doughnuts are now even listed on the St Andrews University website, presumably as some form of study aid.
The Boudingait looks so welcoming – the kind of place you’d want to spend time in.
It’s quite small but totally charming, with fairly standard wooden pub furniture, a nice bar at the far end and a mixture of ephemeral bric-a-brac dotted on the walls. It’s a bit like a country pub but in the middle of a town.
I could probably live without the enamel sign pointing inwards towards the bar, directing you closer to friends (15km), beer (20km) and girls (25km).
Underneath this side-splitter is an arrow pointing out the door, this one labelled WIFE (99km).
Is this Les Dawson-type stuff funny? Maybe you had to be there – there being a 1970s sitcom but, hey ho, it’s all meant to be a bit of a laugh and what’s a bit of casual sexism to us all when the world’s falling apart around our ears?
Let’s just eat before the dreaded mother-in-law barges round to drag us home for our tea, right?
I’ve been so impressed by the food in The Boudingait every time I’ve eaten here and this first review visit was no exception.
A fish stew, listed as a starter on the specials board, was £6.50 and thus an absolute bargain.
I ordered this starter to have as my main course only because I thought it could be a better illustration of the chef’s skills than the scampi and chips, which was the only main course special listed on the board.
The stew was delicious – a rich, unctuous delight featuring large flakes of smoked haddock and cod, served in an intense tomato and paprika sauce.
The portion was large, so much so that I thought they’d maybe sussed I was reviewing and given me a bigger portion (this has never happened before, in case you’re wondering).
However, I asked the excellent waiter and he maintained this was a regular starter size portion, which made it such a very good deal.
I did have to send it back because it was tepid but, at the time, I thought nothing of it and the ebullient waiter was so cheery that it didn’t matter.
It’s worth noting that both waiting staff were brilliant – chatty, friendly and so professional they made the service look effortless.
David’s macaroni cheese (£9.95) was a good version of this pub classic, served with chips and the ubiquitous side salad, it was creamy carbs at their fattening best.
Neither of us could manage dessert, even in the line of duty. The waiter threw in a free coffee to make up for the slight delay in reheating the fish stew – this was both unexpected and lovely.
We left happy.
Our next visit proved just what a difference a day makes because this time the service wasn’t great and this marred the whole experience.
The pub was pretty empty. There were two waiting staff.
One of them chose to stand behind the bar and have a drink while we tried in vain to catch her attention. It’s a small pub and short of taking my vest off and waving it above my head I actually don’t think we could have looked any more like we wanted to order.
Eventually she started walking towards us and… walked right out the door. This left one waitress.
Having returned after about five minutes the first waitress continued not to serve anyone, like a sullen actress in Act Two of a particularly bad play.
Look, I know what a horrible job waiting tables can be.
I like to think I’m a good customer who doesn’t expect Claridges when going for a pub lunch in Cupar, but is it too much to expect someone to stop chatting and drinking behind the bar and come and ask what you’d like to eat?
Is it too much to hope that when you go out for a meal it won’t turn into a battle of wills between you and the staff?
I don’t think so and the staggering thing about this experience was it was so different from the week before, when the service had been irreproachable.
Earlier, I’d looked at the specials board and seen that there was just a soup on there, so we ordered from the regular menu. This time I had chilli con carne which, like a few dishes on the menu, was prefaced by the words “chef’s own”.
I’m assuming this means that it’s made on the premises but then, if so, what does that say about the sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry (£9.95) which isn’t described as “chef’s own”?
My chilli (£11.50) had a good flavour but the truth is there just wasn’t enough of it – and the portion of rice was miniscule. Again, it wasn’t hot and £11.50 for this suddenly seemed very expensive.
By now I couldn’t be bothered with any more faff so I just ate it. I thought about how I would have vastly preferred to have the special which had now suddenly appeared on the board, and which the waitress was now effusively describing to the next table – minutes after taking our order.
No one had told us this dish was available.
This Moroccan lamb burger would have been quite the thing had we been told about it or had it been chalked on the board at the start of service.
I know these are little things and that waiting tables can be a bore but really, it was just annoying that I could have chosen something else to order – something much nicer than my chilli – if only we’d known. This desultory experience fizzled to a halt with a bill for £22.95, exactly £1 more than the previous time but light years behind as an experience.
If The Boudingait is to continue to thrive I think they need to find a level of consistency in what they offer because this wasn’t good enough.
The Bank Bar
As a contrast, we went for lunch one day to the Bank Bar in Dundee, an unreconstructed, traditional pub where I had home-made mince and tatties (£7.95) and
David had egg and chips (£7.95 with ham – the vegetarian version is just double eggs).
The food was delicious. The mince and tatties came with peas and carrots and was as good as my mum used to make and you can’t get higher praise than that.
The egg and chips was ace too. Never knock a great egg and chips! These eggs were cooked to perfection.
A special deal meant that we got both meals for £11.99, which is nearly £4 saving on the regular menu prices. I’m told that the macaroni cheese here is the thing to have, and it too is part of the special price deal.
Service is amiable – we sat in the back by shelves of interesting books, which would make this a nice place to come on your own for a pint and a good,
The Bank Bar also sits reliably close to Thirteen Records so you can have both gustatory and musical nourishment within yards of each other on Union Street.
The Boudingait and The Bank are two very different experiences, each offering their own version of pub grub.
The former aims higher and veers more towards a gastropub while The Bank is a simpler, reliable place to eat in the
centre of Dundee.
Both have their merits but if the Boudingait is to keep winning awards it must reach a level of consistency concomitant with its higher
aspirations. Nevertheless, I remain a fan.
The Boudingait, 43 Bonnygate, Cupar, KY15 4BU
T: 01334 208310
Price: Starters from £4.95, mains from £9.95, dessert from £4.75
- Food: 3/5
- Service: 5/5 (good day) and 2/5 (bad day)
- Surroundings: 4/5