As the lazy susan of foodie trends keeps on turning, we have already cheered the welcome return of dishes such as chicken kiev and prawn cocktail. The rise of all things kitsch is another encouraging comeback – Bake-Off bunting is flying high and all the trendiest tables are once again adorned with gingham and pastel-shaded enamel.
I am thoroughly enjoying the rise of the retro so this week I decided to visit a place that has been a solid part of our landscape for decades. And you don’t get much more established than having your own brown tourist sign. The Horn at Errol has been standing its ground by the side of the A90 between Dundee and Perth for so long that it might even have become fashionable again. Well, Vogue magazine used it as a backdrop for a photoshoot last year and if it’s good enough for them…
I had heard mixed reports about The Horn – it seems to have a Marmite effect on most people – but I secretly hoped I would fall in love with the vintage decor and a proper fry-up so off we motored to see for ourselves. It was lunchtime on a Saturday when we arrived and I was pleased to find the place busy. Despite the lovely big windows though, the dining room with self-service counter was actually quite dingy inside and the wooden walls and dark, crumb-covered floor didn’t do much to lift the spirits.
We took our turn at the counter while we weighed up our lunch choices and although we could have chosen a freshly prepared salad, it was the promise of guilty pleasure that had drawn us there so we both left all ideas of healthy eating at the door.
Orders placed, we chose our drinks. The machine-syphoned Vimto caught my eye but I resisted. Mr Kerry didn’t hesitate over his tea though and was rewarded with a proper builders’ brew in an individual steel teapot, the kind found in the BHS cafe circa 1975. A wannabe tea connoisseur, he pronounced it a cracking cuppa and we sat by a window with our brown sauce-smeared laminated order number while we waited in eager anticipation for our food.
The award-winning bacon roll is the stuff of legend and ours arrived so loaded with rashers that the bright and bubbly waitress had to keep her thumb firmly pressed down on the top of the bap to stop it sliding off the plate. The floury roll was jam-packed full of bacon but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The pork meat was incredibly fatty and not at all crispy, which would have been fine if it was back bacon but this was streaky and stringy with thick yellow congealed stripes. The meat meanwhile had blistered with the heat and I confess I left Mr Kerry in sole charge of tasting this one ….and I speak as a woman who likes a bacon roll.
Luckily I had ordered bridie, chips and beans and I have to say I was pretty excited about it. The pastry was crumbly and lovely and gave way to a hefty filling of compacted mince. The filling in a bridie always looks fairly anaemic and this was no exception but there were good chunks of onion present and it was an OK choice. The chips were the standard cash and carry variety, fried in oil that had been shared with a fair few other dishes by the taste of them, but they were hot and, iced with salt and Sarson’s, they went down a treat. No sauce for me though. I don’t consider myself to be a food snob but ketchup really does have to be Heinz and the sachets of generic red stuff here could ruin even the most high-class chip.
For the purposes of research – and not sheer gluttony – we also ordered the chicken curry which showed the most promise on the plate. As soon as I spied the accompanying pineapple ring I was sure we were on to a winner. The curry itself was tasty with thickly sliced onions in the sauce and small chunks of chicken. I’m still not sure if the sauce was homemade from scratch or if it had benefited from a bit of help from a jar but it was eaten with glee. The rice was definitely the pre-cooked sachet type, which does not by any means mean it wasn’t tasty, but it was sadly still in clump form.
As I looked around, I could see two divisions of customers. Some had clearly made a pit-stop on the way down the road while others looked like loyal and regular diners. Me? I didn’t quite get it. I’ve been to some cracking greasy spoons in my time but on the strength of this visit I just couldn’t quite see the appeal to this one. If the meals had been incredible value I might have understood but with bridie, chips and beans costing £7, this is not outstandingly cheap.
As we were leaving, however, we stopped in the kiosk-type area and bought an ice cream and a biscuit for the marathon 5m journey to the car and at this point our experience improved dramatically. Mr Kerry spotted his all time favourite flavour of ice-cream – coconut – and I chose what looked like a simple Empire biscuit but was actually a crumbly rich cinnamon delight, sandwiched with jam. The ice cream was divine – decadently creamy with a not too overpowering coconut flavour – and when we asked about the brand we were told the owner of the Horn makes it himself. This authentic artisan delight was in such extraordinary contrast to the bought-in, deep fried fare served inside the diner that it seemed like it should belong to an entirely separate establishment.
I wanted so much to love The Horn Milk Bar. I was not expecting tongue-in-cheek retro chic by any means but I had hoped for a proper transport cafe lunch and a place where I could come to satisfy my carb cravings. As we’ve reported in The Courier, The Horn is to be relocated – a whole 100 metres away from its current location – and I look froward to visiting again to see if an upgraded building will usher in more improvements. Until then, I probably won’t be venturing further than the ice cream kiosk.
Price: Soup £3.20 to a main meal for £8.50
Info: The Horn
Address: 4 Horn Farm Cottage, A90, Erroll, Perth, PH2 7SR
Tel: 01821 670237