I usually have reservations about visiting a restaurant soon after opening, but Heather and I decided to give The Larder a go just a week after it first opened it’s doors to the good people of Bearsden. The Larder is the latest venture of The R Group, who also own the lovely Garvie and Co. in Milngavie, and so I had high hopes for food, surroundings and staff.
When we arrived at The Larder it was relatively quiet, probably due to it being a weekday lunchtime, and we were seated quickly by an eager young waitress (it’s really rather sad when all the staff are younger than you!). Clearly keen to take an order of some sort, we were asked about drinks and appetisers within seconds of sitting down – having not yet looked at the menu we asked for some water and a couple of minutes to see what was on offer.
The menu, which offers a variety of small plates, is divided into section such as “The Sea” and “The Garden” indicating the origin of the main ingredient of the dish. Heather and I decided to choose one dish from each section, making it a little bit easier to narrow down our choices. The decisions were still a little difficult however, given the lack of information provided about each dish. Our first choice, for example, was billed (no pun intended) as Pulled Duck, Mango, Coriander. A nice sounding dish which we ordered unaware that we would be served a steamed bao bun filled with tender duck alongside a coriander, mint and cucumber salad with some sort of mango puree. I was thrilled when I saw the dish (bao buns are one of my favourites, deserving of the current trend which has seen them pop up everywhere) but it seemed odd to me that this part of the dish was not mentioned on the menu. Without saying too much more on the subject, I’ll simply tell you that this meant that all of the dishes featured their own little unexpected surprise.
The duck itself was nice and tender, and very tasty in the soft, fluffy bun. For me the salad was a little disappointing – I’m not a big fan of mint and it’s definitely an ingredient that imparts it’s flavour throughout.
Everything in “The Field” section of the menu sounded lovely, with some of my favourite cuts of meat featuring. Despite stiff competition from lamb shoulder and pork belly, we settled on the Pork Cheek, Black Pudding, Pear dish. This dish featured two pork cheeks which were relatively well cooked – I’ve had better, but they were tender and flavourful enough – sitting on what tasted and looked like pureed black pudding. The puree was actually really quite nice, as were the slices of pear which I thought might have been lightly pickled, going by their pinkish colour.
Our next choice was a little disappointing, with both of us ranking it as our least favourite. The Hot Smoked Salmon, Avocado, Samphire sounded great, but just failed to hit the spot for a few reasons. As a massive fan of smoked fish, I was disappointed that the smoked flavour was very subtle – I like my smoked fish to have a strong, deep flavour. The dish was also adorned with little blobs of clear gel (unidentifiable to both of us) which had a sour, spicy taste which neither of us liked. Personal taste meant that we didn’t love this dish, but I am sure that others would enjoy the more subtle smoke or the spicy gel.
Our two favourite dishes, somewhat ironically, were also the two simplest on the table. The Carrot Veloute, Labnah, Dukkah was a beautifully presented dish that benefitted hugely from is simplicity. The carrot puree was smooth and creamy with a definite, yet not overpowering, carrot flavour. The garnish of baby carrots and carrot chips were also very nice and while the dukkah was probably unnecessary, the labnah provided a cool creaminess to the dish. Both of us actually admitted that we could have eaten a bowl of the veloute on its own, especially if we had a portion of the delicious Fries and Chicken Salt to dip in it! The crispy fries had a great savoury, umami taste provided by the chicken salt – very tasty with the creamy carrot veloute.
The dessert menu is equally cryptic, with Heather choosing Cereal Panna Cotta, Strawberry, Mint and me going for Chocolate Delice, Popcorn, Milk. At first glance Heather’s dessert looked like a simple panna cotta topped with crushed cereal, but as soon as she tasted it, it became clear that this was no ordinary panna cotta. In fact, the panna cotta itself – creamy and light in texture – tasted of cornflakes! I was intrigued the minute I tasted it – I have no idea how you make a panna cotta taste of cereal, but I was well impressed! Heather liked the dish, but found it a little weird and said she probably wouldn’t order it again, although she was glad she had tried it. My dessert, however, was definitely a winner – a thick, rich delice was topped with caramel popcorn, and accompanied by a scoop of (what looked like) ice cream. The caramel popcorn wasn’t your typical out-of-the-bag stuff – the chewy yet crunchy popcorn was coated in fresh, sweet caramel. And the ice cream? Well, it turns out that was the milk part of the dish – whether it was ice cream or not is beyond me, but the little scoop tasted of pure milk! The final aspect of my dessert was some little blobs of gel, these ones a lot nicer than the spicy stuff on the salmon. I couldn’t place the flavour of the gel, again, but it definitely reminded me of something and was a lovely little added extra.
I have to highlight a couple of things about the food at The Larder, starting with the flavours. Someone in the kitchen there definitely knows their stuff, cleverly matching flavours which compliment and enhance each other without ever fighting for top spot. There’s also some very clever work going on, with cereal flavoured panna cotta and frozen milk really impressing me as innovative creations. Finally, I must also mention the beautiful presentation which was evident in all the dishes. It is clear that some real care and attention was going into the plating of the food and, as we eat with our eyes first, I hope this is something The Larder retain as they become more comfortable in their new surroundings.
I would happily return to The Larder, although I would probably wait a while before a return visit. The staff on our visit were very fresh and eager, but this also meant they were a little green and their eagerness to serve was sometimes a little OTT. However, I am almost certain that after a couple of months of working in the restaurant all the staff will have relaxed and will be better able to judge when to approach a table, and when to hold back. My only other comment would relate to prices – for small plates it is at the more expensive end, although the portions are larger than you may expect. A pretty good experience only a week after opening fills me with confidence for The Larder, and I wish them well in the future.