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Restaurant review: Lunch didn’t float at Apex Hotel at Dundee’s quayside

Some of the dishes at the Apex Hotel.
Some of the dishes at the Apex Hotel.

Lunch with a friend on a bright late January Wednesday – what could be nicer?

I was so looking forward to seeing my friend Hue Nguyen. Not only did we have a lot to catch up on but also next week Hue will be tattooing me again and we needed to discuss what she’ll be doing to add to the ambulatory art gallery my flesh has become.

Hue is a fellow foodie and she’s also vegetarian, so the choice of venue was very important. She’s also incredibly stylish, so our options had to include places that looked and felt good.

It was then that the problem with eating out in Dundee struck me all over again. Put harshly, Scotland’s fourth biggest city currently punches well below its weight in terms of interesting restaurant options, a situation I sadly can’t see changing any time soon.

As other aspects of the city seem to be accelerating into the future, Dundee’s culinary offerings are often lamentable – not moribund, exactly, but certainly not bursting with good health.

While even smaller Scottish cities boast a wealth of great places to eat, Dundee still seems to struggle with offering even the tiniest smorgasbord of crumbs to anyone hoping to savour examples from the wealth of food cultures and innovations so celebrated elsewhere.

Culinarily speaking, it sometimes feels like much of Dundee is still stuck in the 1970s, the decade Heston Blumenthal claimed good food forgot – except haggis bonbons have now replaced spam fritters and black forest gateau as the dishes du jour.

In 1976 I was walking up London’s South Molton Street when I spotted Dave Vanian of the Damned, sitting on a bench looking as Gothic and unhappy as you can be when your band is poised to make history by releasing the first single by a UK punk group.

With typical punk nonchalance I sauntered up to the white-faced ghoul and asked for his autograph and he wrote; “If you’re trying to find somewhere to eat out in London on a Sunday, don’t bother!”

Dundee feels a bit like that right now, a time when every day truly can feel like Sunday when you’re simply trying to find somewhere good to eat.

The problems of Brexit and Covid for the hospitality industry have been well documented, not least in this column, and are sadly ongoing.

But even before the pandemic there was a problem with food in Dundee, although admittedly some of the issues are national and even international.

For instance, it’s a huge bugbear of mine that there is not a single pub serving great food in Dundee. By that I mean somewhere that has a small menu of great food cooked on the premises from scratch – a selection that reflects seasonality and the wealth of great produce around us.

That most pubs are owned by one of two major players in the hospitality industry has meant their offering is homogenous and geared more towards the uniformity and reliability of numbers on a spreadsheet, rather than customer satisfaction. Even some places which give every indication of being independent are often owned or run by these massive organisations.

My sister used to cook in such a pub in London. When she took on the chef’s role the pub was fiercely independent and when they were subsequently bought by one of the big guns my sister was told to expect major changes in the kitchen and that much of the menu and buying would come from central office.

The person who decided this of course knew nothing about food.

Needless to say, my sister left. I still see posts from her former establishment trumpeting their independent spirit, but independence isn’t about taking a photo of bearded staff wearing an apron while serving Moving Mountain burgers and dirty fries – it’s something imbued at the core of a business.

A recent list of the 100 best gastropubs in the UK featured three in the whole of Scotland, and two of them are in or near Edinburgh and owned/run by Tom Kitchin (his Scran and Scallie is completely overrated, in my opinion).

The closest gastropub on the list for we Taysiders is the Ship Inn at Elie.

This is a pitiful state of affairs for a country and region with such a wealth of good produce on our doorstep but much of the food served to us in Dundee (and elsewhere) is sourced from one massive food service company who also supply dishes that are “ready to microwave” to many pubs and restaurants.

This explains the omnipresence of certain dishes and the homogeneous nature of much of what we are offered to eat. It’s such a sorry state of affairs.

The Apex Hotel

After discounting local pubs, Hue suggested we eat in the restaurant of the Apex Hotel in Dundee, somewhere I’d reviewed somewhat unfavourably in 2019.

I have been back since then but didn’t feel it had improved enough to write about it again, based on the premise that one bad review is a statement and two might be seen as a grudge.

But a lot has happened since July 2019 and it now seemed fair to give the Apex another chance.

I’m afraid to say it didn’t go well.

The Apex Hotel.

First, the positives. The Apex is a nice hotel and has to be commended for being the first to bring a sense of modernity to Dundee hotels (it predates the Malmaison and Hotel Indigo, and still has the best positioning and feel of the three).

A recent investment of £1.5 million into the Dundee hotel is obvious when you walk into the light, bright reception area and then through the public areas to the bar and restaurant.

The feeling is a sort of 1950s redux and it really works. It looks contemporary and inviting.

Inside the Apex Hotel’s restaurant.

I’d been told when booking that we didn’t really need to book for lunch and on arrival I realised why. No one else was eating and yet the harried server who greeted me asked me to wait while he made coffees for some guests – meanwhile other staff seemed to be wandering aimlessly inside the empty restaurant.

It’s not the best thing to be kept waiting for five minutes on the edge of an empty open-plan restaurant when you can see staff joking around inside but – lest we forget – we’re emerging from a pandemic and we all need to learn to breathe a little slower.

Eventually, I was directed to a table unadorned by any glasses, napkins or any signs that eating might happen there. It was next to the fire exit. This, apparently, is where lunch is served.

The restaurant interior.

At least I could see into the very attractive restaurant, even if we couldn’t sit in it.

Hue arrived and immediately asked why I was sitting in Siberia. Glammed up to the nines, she’s not a woman who appreciates sitting next to a fire exit when nice tables can be seen yards away. But – lest we forget – we’re emerging from a pandemic and…

The food

The menu is short, but not the kind of short that promises intense joy.

This brevity wasn’t to highlight a few very special dishes, sadly – this was more like a K-tel greatest hits of stuff you could get anywhere, and often for less money.

There were 13 options on this menu but if I tell you four of them were sandwiches, two of them were chips and two of them highlighted gochujang (Nigella, what did you start when you popularised this Korean paste?) then you will probably get the picture.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a local free-range egg mayo and cress sandwich on a choice of white, brown or gluten-free bread, served with French fries (£6.50).

I’m not denying that you might want to eat battered fish and chips, tartare sauce and crushed peas (£15) in a hotel or that three bar snacks for £15 might be what floats your boat so near to Dundee’s waterfront.

What I’m saying is, it’s all so boring.

I mean, if I want an egg mayo sandwich I get it from the nearby supermarket or I order it on room service when I eventually roll back to my hotel room at 3am and need to mop up the booze. I don’t necessarily want it in a hotel at lunchtime.

The truffle and parmesan fries (back) and the Korean cauliflower (front).

Hue had the truffle and parmesan fries (£5), the Korean cauliflower (£5) and the hummus flatbread (£5). She said the chips were nothing special, the cauliflower needed more spice anointment and the hummus should have been advertised as having Moroccan flavours.

I enjoyed the spiced hummus more than she did.

Hummus flatbread.

My short rib burger was almost inedible, but I was very British and ate it because I was enjoying catching up with Hue and couldn’t bear a fuss. The meat was incinerated so decisively it had an imbued acridity that was deeply unpleasant, like chewing bits of a book spine after a fire in the library.

The green salad I’d asked for, off menu but apparently available, was a chopped morass of nothingness, the peppers reminiscent of things my mum would present when she got one of those mad spherical vegetable choppers in the 70s.

Service was charming.

Short rib burger.

The verdict

So, there you have it. A lovely hotel, a very attractive restaurant sat empty, great service and a menu that made me wish I’d cooked for Hue at home. I’m sorry to be so harsh but it’s true.

In the interests of fairness, I did ask to look at the dinner menu and it did look more appealing, given that there were many more options that might give the chef a chance to show their cooking skills.

The lunch menu is smaller with 13 items.

When I first saw the limited nature of the lunch menu I did think I should also return for dinner that night but, having had such a desultory lunch, the truth is I just couldn’t face going back so soon.

I mean, how hard is it to get a burger right?

I’m truly sorry to give a second negative review to the Apex because the potential is definitely there. But, even given that we’re all in such a state of flux and
many hotels have experienced such a massive loss in revenue during the pandemic, they really need to rethink their lunch offering.

That hugely attractive restaurant space could and should be filled with the buzz of people having the kind of transformative dining experience a great hotel can provide.

What we got was a long, long way from that.


Address: Quayside Bar and Grill, Apex Hotel, 1 West Victoria Dock Road, Dundee DD1 3JP

T: 01382 309309

Price: Lunch dishes from £5, three snacks for £15. Dinner – two courses £19, three courses £25


  • Food: 2/5
  • Service: 5/5
  • Surrounding: 5/5

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