With the rise of trendy and hipster places to eat where bare pipes and industrial lighting are a fashion accessory rather than a necessity, one could be forgiven for thinking that all examples of rustic chic are now contrived as they create the desired ‘look’. Recently, though, I visited a place where these creative features were organic, original and all the more cool because of it.
The Steak Barn at Balgove has been improving year on year, yet has not lost its basic, rustic charm.The barn itself is made from potato boxes, creating shelter from the elements but still giving a feeling of being out in the open air on the pretty farm near St Andrews.
The lighting is low and industrial, the floor covering is, well, au naturel, being a fine gravel dust, and the communal tables are beautifully rugged yet smooth wooden pieces with blanket-covered benches for comfort. The whole feel of the place is just as it should be: a barn on a farm, the smell of the BBQ billowing from the wood.
We were seated and given both the specials and the main menu. The main menu consists of the standard signature dishes of the Barn: steaks, burgers and sausages, yet the specials menu is extensive enough to provide a lot more flair, including starters and desserts.
I started with the Shetland mussels. In some restaurants, even a starter portion of mussels means a mountain of steaming shells, and in comparison, Balgove’s portion was on the small side, especially for the £9.95 price tag. However, they were fresh and plump and the broth was clean and light and great for dunking hunks of bread into.
Mr Kerry chose the crab cocktail, which was a real triumph. The crab was both brown meat paste and chunks of white meat in a classic sauce which, pleasingly, it was not drowning in. The slate it was served on was smeared with a fairly bland tartare which didn’t actually add anything as the consistency was too similar and, as the cocktail was served only with salad leaves and no bread or oatcakes, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to add it to anything. Something to spread the cocktail on would really have completed the dish in my opinion. Still it was utterly delicious regardless of this.
Our main course choice from the specials menu was the deep fried halloumi and, in contrast to the mussels, nobody could even think of calling this portion size stingy. I think if Mr Kerry had eaten all the halloumi on his plate he would have had nightmares for weeks. The chunks of squeaky cheese had a delicate coating which had soaked up the frying grease – but no more so than battered fish. The julienned strips of accompanying Balgove pickled vegetables really lifted the salty cheese and cut through both the oil and creaminess.
I couldn’t have visited The Steak Barn without having their signature dish and I opted for the 10 oz rump which was juicy, well seasoned, cooked exactly how I wanted it, and tender. I chose to add bearnaise sauce which, to my disappointment, was served (intentionally) stone cold. Balgove isn’t the only place that does this and it may just be my taste but I love a warm, buttery bearnaise – heavy on the tarragon – and it just wasn’t the same cold.
The wonderful part both our main courses had in common were the double cooked chips. Sure Tom Kerridge might cook his three times but there is no way his would beat these. I can only describe them as the best chip shop chips you’ve ever had but with even more crispy bits and even fluffier on the inside. As usual, I added far too much salt to mine and just couldn’t place my knife and fork together until every last one was gone.
The service during our evening was honestly hit and miss. Some of the staff were incredibly friendly and warm and some didn’t raise a smile for the duration of our meal. Still, it was swift and informed at the least.
There are several quirky details adding to the character of the barn. The bottled soft drinks for example are served in the bottles with red and white striped drinking straws, which I loved. The meals are served on slates and boards, the practice of which seems to divide the nation but in the barn it just feels right, as seeing white plates would somehow look odd.
The Steak Barn is casual, rugged and social. No bookings, no structured flooring and not a linen napkin in sight, and all the better for it. On a lovely bright summer’s evening I can’t think of a nicer way to spend time with friends than grazing on good food in a place so stripped of formality. Yet I don’t even think spirits would be dampened if the good old Scottish weather decided to turn sour. I really enjoyed my date night at The Steak Barn and although I am a confirmed advocate of people knowing where their food comes from, I tried to conveniently forget what I had just eaten when I gazed adoringly at the cute highland coos in the field as we left.
Price: Starters: £8.95 – £14.95; main courses: £8.95 – £24.95; desserts: £5.95
Info: The Steak Barn
Address: Balgove Larder, Strathtyrum, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9SF
Tel: 01334 898145