My mother, the renowned food critic that she is, claims that she has never dined well in St Andrews. Outside a memorable incident at the Old Course in 1997. I was four years old at the time, so I could sadly not bear witness to this memorable event and have had to put up with many disappointed looks when I have taken her for lunch on the occasions she has visited me.
Yet for a town of its size, and one must always remember the size of St Andrews when considering dining options, it is reasonably furnished with restaurants. Allow me to take you on a tour of culinary St Andrews, placing a restaurant by its suitability to a particular event; from a date to wanting to please your mother.
In the art of romance, quality food can go a long way to making a tremendous first impression on your date. (Along with a polo neck, liberal lashings of Old Spice & Brut and a Barry White album ready in your ghetto blaster should things go particularly well. Or maybe that’s just me.) Personally I would go with a cocktail beforehand at The Adamson on South Street or Number Forty at The Golf Hotel on The Scores. Tremendous cocktails, though I would make consumption of a Zombie part of your after-party, rather than before the main event. As for dining options to woo your beloved, you could go all out at the wonderful Seafood Restaurant on the Scores. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea, the name may give away that the fare on offer has indeed been procured from the ocean floor. Exquisite as it is, it is priced accordingly.
The Glass House on North Street, albeit cramped, provides more reasonably priced food than the Seafood Restaurant with an Italian twist, while its sister on Church Square, The Doll’s House, serves up a quite varied menu in darkly conspiratorial surroundings which are rather apt for matters of romance, complimented with one of the restaurant’s excellent and avant-garde steaks.
A word of advice; I doubt Dervish or Empire (although some of the finest late night kebabs I have ever had this side of Berlin and Istanbul have been witnessed in and around these hallowed halls) would impress greatly.
Dining with friends
People rave about the 2-4-1 burger deal at The Vic; the cash for lash ratio is pretty decent all things considered. Personally I find the burgers occasionally quite whishy washy and not always on top form but it is a solid starting point for a meal and some delicately refined cocktails served in jam jars before anarchy begins.
Yet if you require spice in your life with the presence of friends you cannot go wrong with visiting one of the many Indian curry houses dotted along the four streets. Having lived in Glasgow and being reared on the local cuisine (curries) I am fairly exacting when it comes to Indian food. You cannot go wrong with Maisha: the £6.99 takeaway deal will become the stuff of lore amongst you as your career in St Andrews progresses, though this should not stop you from sitting in to sample its delights. An honourable mention to Balaka which provides some soothing 80s power ballads while you break popadoms with chums before devouring the particularly fierce Chicken Bhoona.
A quick lunch or dinner
Despite your best intentions you will occasionally not be able to summon the energy to assemble a meal or stomach another serving of hall food. St Andrews does have a number of national chains – Pizza Express, Zizzi’s and Bella Italia – who could placate your desire to sit in a restaurant, but then you could visit any one of their branches across Britain and have the same experience as diners in Bristol, Bolton or Birmingham.
Mitchell’s on Market Street, owned by the same people as The Vic but advertised as a cafe and deli, can serve up traditional favourites from steak pie to a pretty superb eggs benedict. If you fancy a reasonably ceremonial meal before an afternoon tutorial as opposed to a Boots meal deal then this is the place for you. Bibi’s on North Street, although it has a more limited menu, is the best place in St Andrews for some excellent homemade cakes and pastries, topped with a particularly excellent hot chocolate or Viennese coffee.
If your pangs of hunger come later in the day then the Oak Rooms on North Street offer a pretty simple but extensive menu of steaks and burgers. This could lead you down the road to ruin (not that I would ever advocate that) as the Oak Rooms sits above The Lizard. One thing could lead to another if you have one G&T too many, putting that library trip in jeopardy. The One Under, located beneath the Russacks Hotel, is yet another variation on the gastro pub theme. The food is good, however the menu is somewhat limited and you often feel shoehorned into plumping for what is a very good burger.
There is a Greggs too should anyone desperately long for a steak bake.
To toast the 7 which will prolong your academic adventure, or indeed for any other momentous event which needs marking, then you could stride into Forgan’s on Market Street. The most recent addition to the culinary smorgasbord, it goes in for meat in a big way, which is a thoroughly laudable thing. After you and your dining companions enjoy the delights on offer with a few glasses from their wide selection of wines, you’ll be encouraged to take part in one of their regular Friday ceilidhs. A positively festive place which will have you dancing a Dashing White Sergeant of celebratory delight and a very much welcome newcomer to the social scene in St Andrews.
The Adamson, already mentioned as an excellent venue for cocktails, offers refined dining in an urban setting which would not seem out of place in such world cities as London, Berlin and Dundee. I was jesting about the latter, although the Dundee Peh at Dundee FC’s Dens Park ranks as some of the finest terrace cuisine on offer in Scotland. A family run affair staunchly advocating the use of local produce, it offers an evolving menu which offers a number of exquisite variations on all kinds of meat and fish; the moules frites and roasted cod with bok choi are two favourites of mine.
Nahm Jim, once venerated by professionally angry man and occasional cook Gordon Ramsay, is a good Thai restaurant but it does not justify the occasionally preposterous cost. I am sure it was once the exceptional restaurant that saw it generate such critical acclaim but I have regularly had a better meal in my local Thai restaurant. Saying that, it should be tried and the sushi that now features on the menu is top class.
I remain bemused that my mother has yet to flinch a smile in approval at St Andrews’ culinary wares. While it lacks a breadth of new venues popping up with monotonous rapidity, that is the nature of a beast with three streets. Eating out in St Andrews can leave you more than satisfied and with many places staying true to sourcing local produce, it can certainly be a truly local experience worth exploring.