I confess from the get-go this is not an unbiased review – not that I have an undeclared interest in the Dakota Bar and Grill, just a long-time relationship based on never being let down whenever I’ve set foot across the threshold.
From an overnight stay in the hotel to a special dinner, from mid-morning tea to evening cocktails in the bar, I love how the swish of the door hushes out the sound of rushing traffic on the adjoining motorway and makes the rest of the world disappear.
And the staff are faultless – poised, professional and polished. I’m always greeted with such a relaxed and friendly welcome that I’m sure that were I to say I was stressed to the hilt, there would be a reassuring smile, a comforting word and the serving equivalent of a shoulder rub.
The industrially-styled interior, with exposed brickwork and dimmed light, might not be to everyone’s taste – though it has been named Scotland’s most stylish hotel – and is a perfect complement to the mysterious black cube-like exterior.
Everyone I know has seen it on the south side of the Forth Bridge but few seem to have ventured inside and I’ve always been in two minds about whether to spread the word or keep it a secret.
As you’d expect of a place that has won Scottish Restaurant of the Year and Seafood Restaurant of the Year, food is not simply a bolt-on to the running of the hotel but makes it a destination in its own right.
On this occasion it was lunch in the bar and I was introducing a teenager daughter to the delights of the Dakota, which is situated just a stone’s throw from some of the better known fast-food joints she would usually drop into but a million miles away in terms of offerings.
We might have been eating in the bar but the menu reflects the pedigree of the Dakota – the cooking provides a serious foodie twist on relatively simple fare created from fabulous raw ingredients.
Daughter plumped for the haddock fishcakes, a dish I’d had before so I couldn’t wait to see her surprise at the presentation. Crisp on the outside, moist and bursting with flavour on the inside, this duo of thick fishcakes, accompanied by a muslin-wrapped half lemon, comes nestled atop a bed of dark green spinach with a buttery hollandaise served up in a separate mini copper saucepan. Her face was a joy, both at the look and the taste.
I was in a quandary with the choices but couldn’t go by the fish and chips, complete with mushy peas and tartar sauce. With chips in their own zinc pot, this was a luxurious slab of the freshest haddock centre stage, with the softly flaking fish captured inside a crisp almost tempura-like batter. The tartar sauce, bursting with plump juicy capers, was an equal match to the star of the show.
The Dakota once again served up a fabulous experience and I left happy to have – at least this time – shared the secret.