Livingston’s Secret Restaurant

The refurbishment of Howden Park Centre has created a new space for the Muse Bistro,  (a play on words from the days when this was the Mews Theatre – or is it the Muse of the Arts world?). Last week, the butcher’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 café bar offers very reasonable lunchtime snacks up till 5pm (soup and crusty bread for £1.95) and is a busy, bustling place where people have meetings, chat or relax and enjoy the views by day or evening.  The menu is cheap and cheerful – nothing over a fiver – and you need to be quick to grab a table.

HPC bistro insideHowever,  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, that’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. You’re out for the night, you don’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 £14.50)  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 £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 £14.95).  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 £4-£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 doesn’t stretch to real ales but the butcher’s son survived!

Muse chickenThe 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 isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. It was nevertheless nicely cooked and presented and not at all bland.

Muse risottoThe 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.Muse salmon

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 – 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 crème brulee cheesecake.  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 crème brulee from the a la carte menu – deliciously smooth and creamy and with the tang of rhubarb.  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.  While  relatively secluded from the bustle, The Muse restaurant is open to the rest of the Centre on two sides, with views to the café, 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 – even the waitress described herself as a lapsed flautist – 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.

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

2 thoughts on “Livingston’s Secret Restaurant”

  1. I have been to his bistro on a few occasions, both during day and in evening, and I would say my only complaint is that the service is sometimes a bit slow. It is a lovely setting and I feel the bistro is not well publicised and so can be very quiet for meals. This is such a shame as the food is always excellent so well done the chef(s)!
    My only other comment is that the house red is a Merlot, which I don’t do! I’m sure there are adequate ( and reasonably priced) reds out there as an alternative.
    All in all a lovely venue, something which Livingston is crying out for.

  2. Lovely surroundings for our meal last night. Had reserved a table but two more joined us and it was not a problem to staff to accomodate us. Had the £12.50 two course pre theatre meal and the starters were perfectly acceptable but nothing special. The main course, 6 chose pork, 1 chose salmon and this was totally inadequate. Basically we each had 4 baby potatoes with a cheesy sauce, a sliver of lettuce and three small pieces of pork on top with a few drops of balsamic vinegar surrounding it. we waited for a side order of veg but the waitress assured us everything was on the plate. we had a competition to see who could make it last the longest. I won with 5 forkfuls my husband only managed 3. OUr main course was eaten in less than 2 mins. If it had been lunch and we were charged about 35 it would have been ok. Four of us unfortunately were going into the theatre, The 3 lucky once were able to go straight home and ut a pizza in the oven. I cant remember the last time i left a restaurant after a 2 course dinnere still hungry.
    So a very average tasting meal at ridiculously high price for minimal quantity. Considering the wide variety of restaurants in livingston now i cant see any reason why we would repeat this experience.

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