Stirling is not short of good places to get dinner, it's not short of bad places to get dinner either come to that.
Cook's occupies a gorgeous building in a good location, one that the previous occupants did not exploit to it's full potential (and we shall leave it at that...) The menu has a decent gastro-pub style about it, served in a casual restaurant environment, great for everyday socialising and family gatherings. My best buddy and I booked on what I thought would be a quiet mid-week evening, but almost every table was full by the time we left, a good indication of Cook's reputation, gained in only a few months.
We came in the back way from the car park and came up the stairs to the restaurant, for those who can't manage the stairs a lift is also available. We were met at the top by our waiter for the evening. First impressions were mixed, the beaming smile was welcoming enough, but the size of the guy, coupled with the radio earpiece made me think of an American Secret Service Agent, think Gerard Butler in Olympus has Fallen.
We were sat quickly and offered menus and drinks, seems Gerard is a pretty competent waiter. We ordered a short time later and made the most of the view, which if you like a busy roundabout and Donny's Carpets is pretty picturesque. It's one of those places there's no benefit to a window seat!
The starters arrived a short time later and looked great. The menu has changed in the past month for the Autumn so you wont be able to get what we had, which again is another positive sign for Cook's. The Goats Cheese and Beetroot Salad looked great and cooked just enough to melt the surface of the centimetre thick round of cheese. The beetroot were not the sweet vinegary slices you get out of a jar, but fresh wedges still with a bit of a bite to them. A great combination with the cheese and the toasted pine nuts provides a little bit of crunch to each mouthful.
The garlic mushrooms were just that, the addition of spinach and Parmesan a good complement. The sough-dough was toasted enough to stop all of the sauce being absorbed so stayed bread-like, rather than becoming inedible garlic bread sauce as sometimes occurs. The sauce was creamy, but the excess oil was a little off putting and ruined the presentation a little, none-the-less a decent starter.
Gerard checked up on us and once our plates were empty had us cleared down promptly, he organised extra drinks and we waited for our main course. The wait was reasonable for what was by then a busy kitchen to prepare fresh meals, certainly I was no where near the point of thinking about looking at my watch to see how long it had been.
The Braised Steak & Ale Pie was a decent size, with a large number of big beef chunks, the sauce was rich and there was a subtle beer taste to it. It was also nice to see accompanying vegetables with a traditional dish, rather than the current habit of trying to charge for a side dish in many places. I still get a little upset when something is described as a pie and I am presented with a beef stew with a square of pastry popped on top. Is it really a pie...? Make no mistake it is very nicely presented pastry and it melted into the gravy beautifully and tasted great, but I ask again, is it a pie..? The only really disappointing element was the mash, which was either frozen or more likely dehydrated and had the taste and texture of extra thick wallpaper paste (probably, I've never actually tasted wallpaper paste.) That may be a touch extreme, but given the quality of everything else, it was quite noticeable how poor the mash was.
Luckily I had the option to skip the mash as I ordered a side order of Posh Fries, great big chunky chips covered with Parmesan and truffle oil. The chips were great, really crispy and light and fluffy inside, and the first ones tasted great. Tragically the truffle oil had been applied with a slightly heavy hand and the ones at the bottom of the pile were just too truffled to be eaten by either of us.
The Supreme of chicken was excellent and a good portion size, the neeps were great and in a bit of a Balmoral-esque twist, a cheeky haggis bonbon was perched on top. The crispy breadcrumb was a contrast to the soft peppery haggis inside and was unsurprisingly a great accompaniment to the neeps and chicken (who would have thought it.) If this wasn't enough there was a sizeable block of gratin potato which had a perfect crust and soft distinct layers. The pan juices were a beautiful finishing touch and complemented a pulled together all the flavours perfectly. That's where it should have ended, but for some reason the piping bag of wallpaper paste was dug out to go and spoil an otherwise perfect piece of culinary simplicity.
Gerard checked everything was OK with our meals and offered us more drinks, so we ordered some, he also offered a dessert menu, so we ordered some of them too...
I went for a cheese board, more out of curiosity than anything else and most people would have been quite happy with the quantity of cheese and biscuits. I think the choice of Fig chutney is outstanding and it was well executed allowing for a slightly sweeter flavour than you may normally experience from a chutney. This worked especially well with the stinky blue cheese the cheddar and the Brie. I am picky but I like my grapes attached to a stalk, if I find them loose in a ramekin I start thinking they have been found at the bottom of the dessert fridge, if not then spare the effort and present them how nature intended, on their own presentation stand. Its also a real shame that with the wealth of fine Scottish cheese-makers that the provenance of the cheese board is not advertised. The website is keen to promote locally sourced ingredients so if these cheeses are locally, lets tell people more about them... #ShopLocal
The Caramelised Banana Toffee Pudding looked and smelt great and was, I am told, delicious. I didn't get to try it.
Dinner was for the most part excellent and at £43 for three courses, with the side order, really quite reasonable; especially when compared with the competition in Stirling and Bridge of Allan. Service was very good, even when the restaurant filled up the standards were kept up. The menu is broad and varied and the kitchen seem to know what they are about, but there were a couple of weak points, especially the mash. Overall it's a thumbs up from me and I have no issues recommending Cook's as a decent casual dinner venue in Stirling.