Anna Burnside Restaurant Review: Real Food Cafe, Tyndrum – Anna Burnside-DR
Imagine an American couple on vacation in Scotland. Let’s call them Elmer and Nancy.
They drive to Oban.
After about an hour on the road, they’re craving a cup of cawfee. They are on the A82 in Tyndrum and since this is an area without Dunkin ‘Donuts they stop at the Real Food Cafe.
As they have not brought a dog, whether they are driven there in an electric car or have come by bicycle, the parking arrangements do not interest them. Still, they note which thoughtful and environmentally conscious country they have chosen to visit, where pets and cyclists are taken care of before they even walk through the door.
They approach the menu – a flyer they need the help of an Eastern European waitress to locate – with some trepidation. Stories of haggis, black pudding and our tendency to eat Bambi burgers have crossed the Atlantic. Trip Advisor has cautioned against inhospitable hotels that stop serving microwave lunch at 1:59 PM.
What, they wonder, was all this noise? Burgers are made with chicken, beef, vegetables, and other substances that Walt Disney ignores. There’s everything from sausage soups and free-range egg rolls to gluten-free chocolate fudge cake.
Vegan Nancy can have vegetable and chickpea curry. Since she also follows a low-carb diet, there are sweet potato chips as well as the regular variety.
Many of the dishes that made Scotland famous – Stornoway’s black pudding, chicken curry with fries – are pictured here.
Elmer can’t decide between the haggis supper and the cheese crisps.
So, should we congratulate Elmer and Nancy on finding one of the best roadside restaurants in Scotland? One of the few places where these classics are made with great love and care, from the ingredients of crack cocaine? Or advise them to eat everything on the menu because the next time they stop it will probably be a cup of Nescafe and a Thai green curry from cash and carry?
That’s the thing with the Real Food Cafe. It spoils you for just about anywhere else.
Conveniently located on the West Highland Way, just before the A82 turns left for Oban, or continues north for Fort William, this is a natural stop, a comfort break and a saddlebag stopover.
When this luxury chippie first opened in 2005, worrying about where food came from was a niche business. Few people wondered where the bacon in their bun came from, or if the fish they were eating was about to run out. Undeterred, the Real Food Cafe refused to serve haddock or cod, poured in fair trade coffee, and ticked as many green boxes as a new business in rural Perthshire could handle.
Unlike many of their competition, Real Food Cafe has given some thought to what customers want and need, which is why Fish Dinners come in three sizes. The snack, at £ 5.95, is big enough for a kid or at lunchtime. The big one, at £ 9.50, would back anyone on a yomp on the hills.
I opted for cod, which is not on the endangered species list, so back on the menu. It was white and pearly-sweet, falling apart into distinctive chunks that show it to be both fresh and well done. The dough was crisp while the crisps had a good crunch / fluff ratio.
The assistant who took my order offered me mashed peas and tartar sauce with my snack portion, not to mention the additional cost which was a bit cheeky. However, they were a delicious addition to the meal.
The sauce, which won an award last year, had the bite that fries demand. Sprinkled with the malt vinegar that appears on every table – beware Elmer, it’s not maple syrup – the peas were a sharper-textured soup leaf on the plate.
My travel companion showed me by asking for a hot smoked salmon salad. At £ 11.95, it’s one of the more expensive items on the menu. But the salmon, from Uig Lodge on North Uist, is an expensive commodity and there are three large chunks on the cheerful leaves.
If it was a hot dish, it wouldn’t look very expensive, so it seems nasty to discriminate against it just because it’s cold. The red coleslaw had a slight refrigerator taste.
While this was preferable to the puddle of runny mayonnaise that often floods a pre-made coleslaw, it was a bad mark on the plate. A spicy lentil concoction was initially disappointing. But with a squeeze of one of the three lemon wedges provided, it was a cheerful addition to the dish.
Stupidly, we didn’t leave any room for the fruit crumble and custard or any of the cakes. Available with or without gluten, they looked really good. The Real Food Cafe cronut – a hybrid croissant-donut invented in New York City – was prominent.
Hopefully Elmer and Nancy took a full box to keep them going for the rest of their trip.
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