Port Of Menteith

LANGOUSTINE then, split, pulled from the pizza oven, drowned in butter and herbs and travelling towards us in an ooh-aah perfume of just-roasted Scottish seafood to our polished pine table overlooking the garden.

Okay, it may be oak. Aha, eight of them, I say, as we dive in to sweet firm meat, or four halved to be accurate. For just eleven quid too.

A week or so ago I paid what now looks like a rip-off £19 for three ordinary, skinny ones at an ordinary, skinny place on the south side suburbs of Glasgow. And they weren’t cooked by Nick Nairn either.

Not that I’m 100 per cent guaranteeing that these were. Though there he was in the full chef rig-out, standing at his kitchen door, much, much much taller than he looks on the telly as we scuttled past ten minutes ago.

Us having been drenched, lost and confused over which Nick’s I’d actually booked, looking for a sign that doesn’t actually exist, a road that isn’t full of no-entry threats, and ultimately walking in wondering “is this it” at least 30 minutes late.


No problem, they’d breezily say every time we phoned to update them on the pilgrim’s progress but “the kitchen closes at six”.

Whether the big man is standing at that kitchen door to underline “the-kitchen-closes-at-six”, or whether he’s just out shooting the breeze with folks mooching round his Cook School shop, picking up glossy books by, uh, James Martin we’ll never actually know, because he doesn’t look our way. Phew.

On to salt and pepper chicken wings, tempura squid with Vietnamese dipping sauce, eyebrow-raising options that wouldn’t look out of place at every Brake Brothers' supplied pub and deep-fat-fryer restaurant menu in this fair land.

But…wow crikey, those chicken wings – moist, fresh, caramelised with the sticky stuff from the bottom of the pan, crusted with flavour and carefully hand-finished.

That squid: a large crisp, crunchy bowlful, the batter I’ll bet overseen by his Nickness himself, the squid tender, parting effortlessly, a gazillion miles away from the deep-frozen, deep-fried rubber bands that plague these parts. And a proper herby, nam pla infused, sweetly sour dipping sauce that I surreptitiously finish off with a tea-spoon, it’s that bloody good.

READ MORE RON: Cail Bruich, Glasgow. Restaurant review by Ron Mackenna

Is he doing this to give the people what they want, I wonder, or to say: this is how the kiss-me-quick stuff should actually taste when someone who can actually cook makes it?

Answers on a postcard to Nick’s, Port of Menteith, very near but without obvious access to Lake of Menteith: Stirlingshire.

From here on in? Things actually get even better. The butcher’s cut, the flank steak, un bavette, to give it its many, many names. Eight full ounces of beef, chargrilled to a candy-striped, chocolate brown perfection, juicy, tasty, a summery heap of finely chopped buttery, herby, garlicky sensations oozing seductively all over it and melting down its sides, skinny fries and a salad that’s prepared with as much care, and contains as much flavour as the showstopper. All for £16.50.

Nick clearly didn’t get the Covid price bump memo.

To a platter then, because that’s the best way to describe it, of a pounded, butterflied, marinated in lemon, infused with herbs, plain old chicken breast. Criss-crossed with sear lines from the grill, yet juicy too, piled atop new potatoes, sweet roast vegetables and it all smackingly underlined with chilli. Simple, yet somehow pretty great. And… £13.50.

We have, on the side, a pizza bianco. They have a pizza oven chef and Paul here can do you a thin, light, crisp yet doughy in a good way pizza with Parmesan, roasted to a crust with rosemary sprinkled like emeralds, for £6.50.

Now, lights out time on Sunday is clearly 6pm in the country, and we’re last to leave as the clock counts down. But we’re not complaining. We ate very well.


Port Of Menteith


01877 389900

Menu: Bavette steak in herbs and garlic butter, chicken paillard from the grill, langoustine in the pizza oven. Bistro-lunch handled with flair. 4/5

Atmosphere: They’re not big on signs, branding, internet info or detail for this comfortable spot in a garden room at Nick’s cook school. Light and relaxed. 4/5

Price: Knock-out cheffery at knock-out prices make this surely the runaway bargain of the post-Covid world. 5/5

Service: Pleasant young staff are very good. Lacks the feel that there is anyone supervising but maybe that’s the hey man, relaxed vibe they want. 4/5

Food: Simple stuff done very well. Probably the best chicken wings you’ll ever taste, definitely the best Steak frites. Proper cooking. 9/10