The refurbishment of Howden Park Centre has created a new space for the Muse Bistro,Â (a play on words from the days when this was the Mews Theatre â€“ or is it the Muse of the Arts world?). Last week, the butcherâ€™s son, the eco food warrior and the vegetarian gave chef Scott Kirkham (formerly of the Cramond Brig and Howie’s in Edinburgh) a try.
Apart from the restaurant itself, the cafÃ© bar offers very reasonable lunchtime snacks up till 5pm (soup and crusty bread for Â£1.95) and is a busy, bustling place where people have meetings, chat or relax and enjoy the views by day or evening.Â The menu is cheap and cheerful â€“ nothing over a fiver â€“ and you need to be quick to grab a table.
However,Â we turned up at the restaurant at 6.30 and were able to choose from the a la carte menu (5pm-9pm) or the Early Diner (no, thatâ€™s not a typo) menu (5pm-7pm). For those of you who grab a pre-theatre meal simply to stop your tummy rumbling during the performance, think again. Youâ€™re out for the night, you donâ€™t splash out that often, so why not make the most of it and get in the mood with a really nice meal and glass of something.
Assuming that the Early Diner menu would be cheaper and quicker (2 courses for Â£14.50)Â we settled on a main and sweet. In fact, both menus seemed rather similar (Pan fried breast of chicken with creamed savoy cabbage and smoky bacon, buttered potato mash at Â£9.50 on the early diner menu and Pan fried breast of chicken with creamed savoy cabbage and smoky bacon, buttered potato mash and crisp parmesan biscuit on the a la carte menu at Â£14.95).Â The fish was salmon on the early diner menu and sea bass on the a la carte, the vegetarian was again similar sounding on both menus. We found it hard to justify the additional Â£4-Â£5 although the portions are larger and the garnishes better, so we opted for one of each from the early diner menu.
Meanwhile the red wine came in a warm glass at room temperature, while the white wine was nicely chilled. The bar doesnâ€™t stretch to real ales but the butcher’s son survived!
The chicken came on a bed of mash with cabbage – the eco food warrior says this is good because we should be eating local food in season – but this combination isnâ€™t going to be to everyoneâ€™s taste. It was nevertheless nicely cooked and presented and not at all bland.
The risotto was a little on the sweet side but very acceptable. The portions were perfectly adequate, especially if you’re going for more than one course, so we were very happy with our choices.
As the restaurant is run by West Lothian Council, there is less direct contact with suppliers than in some restaurants but wherever possible, local, fresh suppliers are favoured. The salmon, naturally lacking the robust taste of wild salmon, was, for the price, a lovely option â€“ and there were no bones! The last time I had salmon I had to practically suck it to avoid all the bones. Our local fishmonger tells me this is the one thing that puts people off fish. They love the taste but are terrified of bones.
We stuck to the early diner menu for dessert and had no hesitation in opting for the crÃ¨me brulee cheesecake.Â While perfectly ok, there was nothing remarkable about it and the waitress confirmed that it came in a box to speed up service for people going to the theatre! However, our comment was duly noted and with coffee came a real treat – a taster of the white chocolate and rhubarb crÃ¨me brulee from the a la carte menu â€“ deliciously smooth and creamy and with the tang of rhubarb.Â Definitely would have been worth the extra 45 pence.
Overall, it was good to be able start a meal early enough to make it to the theatre without a rush.Â WhileÂ relatively secluded from the bustle, The Muse restaurant is open to the rest of the Centre on two sides, with views to the cafÃ©, the art gallery and the entrance to the theatre, so you are always aware that interesting things are going on around you. It’s very much part of the Arts Centre â€“ even the waitress described herself as a lapsed flautist â€“ and the passion everyone involved feels for this revived building is evident in the attention to detail and general ambiance.
It comes down to location location location. A huge plus is the lovely space and range of things going on. But Howden Park Centre is still very much a secret to residents and visitors alike. We’d seriously recommend letting the cat out of the bag, being adventurous and heading along there.