IT started with smoked venison with a Strathdon blue cheese dressing and poached red wine pear, washed down with a glass of Pinot Grigio.

It ended a few hours later with humble pie.

Joan McAlpine, one of Alex Salmond's closest aides, was forced to apologise to the Scottish Parliament after failing to appear to ask a question she had tabled because she was having lunch with the First Minister in Holyrood's exclusive members' restaurant.

Ms McAlpine, who is Mr Salmond's parliamentary liaison officer, has repeatedly failed to be in Parliament when scheduled to ask questions of ministers.

This time, she was still in the restaurant when called to ask a question about cases of osteo- arthritis and their impact on the health service. When her turn came, Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick said: "I note that the member is not in the chamber to ask the question.

"This is not the first, nor is it the second time that Ms McAlpine has acted in this way, and I will expect an explanation from Ms McAlpine and an apology for the discourtesy to this chamber by the end of the day."

Ms McAlpine, who was with Mr Salmond and another aide, ordered smoked venison with Strathdon blue cheese dressing and poached red wine pear, followed by breast of Scottish chicken with grilled asparagus chorizo, olives and parma ham.

The heavily subsidised meal cost £2.65 for the starter and £9.85 for the main course. The First Minister had asparagus soup. The meal was washed down with a bottle of Pinot Grigio priced at just over £15.

The Presiding Officer's irritation level was raised because of the number of times Ms McAlpine has failed to ask questions of ministers after being selected to do so in the weekly ballot.

When columnist and former newspaper executive Ms McAlpine returned to the chamber, she said she wished to "apologise sincerely" for her absence.

She said: "I am afraid I completely lost track of time. I realise I have no excuse for not being present in the chamber when required. I apologise for showing such disrespect not only to yourself, Presiding Officer, but also to Parliament and my fellow MSPs."

Mrs Marwick said: "I welcome the fact that Ms McAlpine has come personally to the chamber to apologise, and I note the member's explanation. Let me make it clear – I, as Presiding Officer, will not tolerate discourtesy in this chamber or to this chamber. I am absolutely determined that all members will respect each other and the Scottish Parliament."

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "Joan McAlpine shows as much respect for Parliament as the First Minister. His excuse is Leveson, hers is lunch."

Labour's Claudia Beamish said: "She should be doing the job she is paid to do and standing up for the people she is supposed to represent."

Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Ms McAlpine decided "having a lunch date is more important than parliamentary business".

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "Joan McAlpine offered a full and fair apology to Parliament, which was accepted by the Presiding Officer and that draws a line under the matter.

"She will of course continue in her role as one of the First Minister's parliamentary liaison officers, in which she does an excellent job."

Ms McAlpine caused controversy in March when she said the UK was like an English "domineering man" threatening a "talented, well-educated (Scottish) girl with good prospects".

She was accused of "political racism" in January when she said politicians who criticised SNP policies were "anti-Scottish".