I could blame the owner for creating expectations; dark wainscoting with light walls, Scottish memorablia, Scotch beers - ales on tap, with modern takes on traditional cuisine. The word pub brings to mind clusters of places to sit with the bar in one corner but dominant. A game device of some type usually sits on the corner. On the wall is a dartboard and sometimes there is a pool table or maybe a shuffleboard game. Some food is served - mostly comfort food. The main focus is the comraderie and the beer or scotch. In a modern take, I would expect to see delicately plated foods with wit and damn good bites of food. Scottish speaks of using humble local ingredients cooked well but being mostly veg and meat, more emphasis on the veg than meat.
Some of those implicit promises were met at McGugan's. Wainscoting, pictures of Scotland, some televisions and a big bar. A small menu was handed to us by kilt printed costumes after we had been lead past the bar into a room that is divided from the front bar by a brick archway. Most of the back of the menu is filled with a list of Scotch. The extent of the Scottish theme almost ends there. There is one Scottish beer on tap when we are there. In the Innis and Gunn, you can taste the vanilla notes from the oak barrels used to age the beer. I sometimes wonder if they just add oak chips to the brew when aging it in the barrels but for now I will take them at their word. It is excellent on tap.
On the menu, the fare is pretty standard with two dishes that stood out as being reworked Scottish dishes; Scotch eggs and haggis balls. Yeah, I know, Scotch eggs aren't even Scottish but... they were good served with dipping sauce. The hamburger was almost spoiled by the threat of too many fixings in order to justify its price and name of gourmet. I think that places like Burger's Priest have proven that less can be more. Fries were served in these weird basket cone things that I believe I had seen on one of Gordon Ramsay's (hey, he's Scottish) restaurant makeover shows a few years ago. They are to bring the romance of the fish and chips shop back but end up being a pain in the arse (Sc. for ass) when you get to the bottom few fries. Do you tip it upside down to spill out the fries or what?
Okay, enough about my personal disappointment but a few possible things that could have gone a long way to easing it. Simple touches like making beet, turnip and parsnip chips or having a local Scotch ale or even a larger Scottish beer selection on tap may have helped. In terms of adjusting my perspective, I spoke to the woman at the Cookbook shop about a related matter before buying a magazine. I was worried about Britishisms in the magazine and her response was that a lot of the trends such as Blumenthal's and Ferguson's are now so popular to be world renowned. In short, there is no there anymore, all is local. I have a lot to say about that at a later date.
So, this restaurant, whether trying to be a modern gastropub, a take on a traditional cuisine or a local restaurant feels like a kid playing dressup. This feels like a restaurant mimicking a big box atmosphere. For instance, in the service you could see the strings. The server handed us the dessert menu without asking whether we wanted anything else in an effort to upsell, the whiskey menu was one of the first things shown to us and the specials of the day weren't mentioned to us.
The food is good, executed well. The dressup isn't needed. The kid is a cute kid. It is not quite my speed but I can see this place maintaining a good client base of 40 and 50 somethings wanting to go out to a bar for a bite. There are some people who I would recommend this restaurant. Some older friends wanting to catch up in a Kelsey's like environment but local and better food would be one of the best targets. I wish it well.
Changed the name from McGuigan's to McGugan's. I checked it several times but still missed that typo. Sorry...