Bounty from a basket

Bounty from a basket

Review published on 01/07/2013 © Sunday Herald

In the small town of Dunbar – population 3500 – there’s a food revolution under way. A new “transition” initiative, Sustaining Dunbar, has developed a Local Resilience Action Plan. The transition concept, which has spawned thousands of exciting initiatives throughout the UK and Europe, is that we need to reduce our carbon footprint by using less fossil fuel. That means, among other things, relocalising our food supply.

So now in Dunbar there’s a community bakery making real artisan bread, supported by 500 local shareholders who have committed £50 or more to the project for three years. A new community kitchen provides a training centre for cooks, while developing into a “food hub”, linking farmers and producers, and a community garden is growing in the grounds of the local cottage hospital.

It’s all quite inspiring, and it’s not as if Dunbar didn’t already have food strengths to draw on. The Creel is one such asset. These days, many restaurants brag (often fraudulently) about their commitment to local food. The Creel’s chef-proprietor Logan Thorburn offers detail to demonstrate authentic adherence to the idea, listing all his Lothian and Berwickshire suppliers.

“I wholeheartedly try to maintain all the pleasures that lift us when we indulge in our food sources from both land and sea,” he says. “We support our suppliers and we enjoy as much of East Lothian’s native produce that warrants possible.”

As a result, you get a very decent, nicely cooked lunch at the Creel that highlights local produce, and for a relatively modest price. At lunch, that’s £14.50 or £17.50 for two-and three-courses respectively. In the evening, that stretches to a still reasonable £22.50 and £25.75. Home-baked bread and complimentary micro-courses are thrown in too.

To offer such attractive deals, a chef has to be focused. So at the Creel, the menu isn’t wildly exciting or hugely innovative, and is fairly short: five starters/mains in the evening. However, what we had was very sound. I left smiling and feeling better about the meal in retrospect than I had at the outset.

You start off with home-baked bread – always a good sign – and a Virgin Mary, a little shot of piquant chilled tomato juice. My starter of herring fillet, fried in oatmeal, showcased both the sparkling freshness of the Eyemouth-landed fish and the pleasures of this traditional recipe. Crunchy pickled peppers, fennel and onion and a squeeze of lime provided the perfect foil. Three whole crab claws and eight shell-on prawns yielded an ample serving of fantastically sweet and succulent meat.

Truly flavoursome prawns are a real rarity; these were first rate. A glorious greenish-yellow homemade mayonnaise was a different animal entirely from the standard ready-made equivalent.

A graceful lemon sole, baked on the bone in wine, its juices then thickened with butter, was yet more evidence of a scrupulous fish supplier who gets first call on the finest catch.

Fish and chips made with smoked haddock was an interesting novelty but I prefer the classic: the smokiness vied too much with the essential appeal of this dish. However, its accompanying tartare sauce was stunningly good. Sauces and emulsions are obviously a big strength at the Creel. The chips are glorious.

Almond-moist orange cake, napped with dark chocolate sauce and bedecked with translucent candied kumquats, made a sophisticated, classy dessert. The panna cotta with its crown of perfumed Fife strawberries and raspberries was well executed, but the inclusion of Baileys Irish Cream (so cloyingly sweet) spoiled it for me. I just don’t get the whole appeal of Baileys.

A stone’s throw from the harbour, the Creel has some of the character of a cosy fisherman’s inn. On a winter’s day you’d be able to hear the waves crashing on the harbour breakwater. Service isn’t speedy, so don’t be in a rush. A small kitchen can only turn out so many dishes at a time. But, just when you start to get restless, someone arrives with another delicious little mouthful to keep you happy, so you won’t be complaining.

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