THERE’S a surprising moment just as we are about to set off when I Google the Michelin Guide restaurant’s Provender address and suddenly a photo of bacon, egg and, crikey, are they Heinz beans… looms up.

Whoah, Nellie, have I strong-armed my son into joining me on a, say, 200-mile Sunday pilgrimage into the Borders just for a full Scottish? One phone call and two hours driving later we’ll be at that little table just inside the door watching a chef through the rectangular kitchen hatch when the very same full breakfast will go bobbing, actually smirking, past us towards one of the m’wah types at the upholstered booths at the side.

By now though Cal will be spreading spiced pear chutney onto that toasted Sunday morning sourdough already piled with free-range pork rillette whilst offering me one of his picture-perfect cornichons.

No thanks, I’ll say as I take another bite of this crispy, crunchy croustillant, a smattering of haggis oozing gently from the pan-seared pastry square, the salty, savoury sensations wrapping a meaty morsel of Tweed Valley Wood Pigeon, a cheeky little smear of some blackcurrant, fig, pear and chutney- goo rippling over the tongue as a bish-bosh follow up.

The Bib Gourmand then, because that’s what this place is classed as, sits below the single star restaurants in the Michelin guide and way, way, way above the unclassified, and in my experience anyway, generally entirely average, places which now populate the bottom.

It denotes restaurants where: 1) the cooking should be consistently good. 2) it shouldn’t be borderline rip-off prices and 3) it should not yet have entirely disappeared up its own backside and 4) you will actually be able to get a table.

Today Provender is banging out bavette steaks and chips, beer battered haddock, crispy haggis and poached eggs, while it’s also got that breakfast menu…and amongst all this we could apparently order half lobster and steak for £28. Phew.

And yet looking through the rectangular hatch into where kitchen staff live they seem to be gliding so calmly about their business. Okay the vibe out here with its concrete ceiling, slightly awkward layout, and darkish interior feels a bit like eating in a visitor centre, but on this Sunday lunchtime it has filled up and is bustling away happily nonetheless.

And anyway, further out there on main drag Melrose is all the lovely, vibey picture-postcard, market town atmosphere you could ever need, families filling that town centre-ish sports field (football not rugby), dog-walkers everywhere, hanging baskets filled with colour everywhere.

Later we’ll wander up towards that old abbey and get side-tracked into the amazingly bountiful Priorwood Orchard, laden with ancient apple trees, espaliered pear branches climbing the walls and I’ll think hmm: where were these local apples on Provender’s menu filled as it is with Michelin inspector pleasing sourcing? But then we did eat roasted Blackface Hebridean Mutton Sirloin and confit belly, veggies from the Bowland estate garden, Boulangere potatoes.

That mutton sirloin? Not nearly as lamby, or ahem, sheepy, as I expected it to be but rich and deep, could have been a bit longer seared though to completely counter that blub, but fab confit, and they do a lovely Boulangere spud in here.

Cal had the venison loin rolled and wrapped, served with local blackberries, gravy soaked and satisfyingly Sunday lunch-ish on its overflowing plate. They do a neat little trick too with the triple chocolate praline gateau we whistle up from the dessert menu, just in case customers are wondering where those cheffy tricks are.

It’s a chocolate coated square, that yields to reveal cakey, potentially ho-hum and super-dull gateau, which then cracks itself and oozes chilled butter-scotchy flavoured filling. Hurrah.

It’s a crowd pleasing sensation, that stops conversation, but doesn’t completely disguise the fact that it’s still a pretty easily pre-prepared dessert for a somewhat heady £9.

Anyway, we’ll do almost 200 miles for this lunch, which is way further than even Mr Michelin recommends. Worth the trip? I say: yes.


West End House,

High Street,

Melrose TD6 9RU

Tel: 01896-820319

Menu: Surprising range from brunches to fish n ‘chips to the blackberry and mutton mains, the locally sourced venison and all to Michelin Guide, Bib Gourmand standard. 4/5

Service; Big dining room to cover and staff have to be off their mark, which they were; pleasantly, occasionally chattily and efficiently. 5/5

Price: Bib Gourmand restaurants cant go mad with the pricing, we ate from the top end menu and at £25-ish for a carefully prepared and interesting main it’s reasonable value. 4/5

Atmosphere: Melrose on a Sunday afternoon is worth the trip on its own, but Provender somehow brings that border town bustle inside, pleasant place to be. 4/5

Food: That crunchy, crusty pigeon and haggis croustillant was almost worth the trip itself, the mutton certainly something different, careful and skilled cooking. 8/10

Total: 25/30