The Champany Inn stands outside of Linlithgow, conveniently close to the motorway for Edinburgh. The site includes a famous fine dining restaurant, some rooms and the informal, less expensive, Chop and Ale House.
Having lived nearby for much of my life, I've eaten here on many occasions, but visits are something of a rarity now that home is many hundreds of miles away. Unlike in the main restaurant, reservations are not accepted at the Chop and Ale house, so visiting can be something of a gamble if you're coming from Edinburgh or further afield. As we were recently passing early one evening, we pulled off the motorway to enquire about a table for dinner. As it happens, just before seven o'clock, we were escorted to one of the last two tables in the small room, although turnover seemed quite brisk, so I don't suppose you'd have to wait too long.
The menu has changed little in decades and is based around the steaks and burgers which it's famous for. Starters are all cold and include a selection of the usual suspects you'd expect to see at a traditional steakhouse. I enjoyed prawn cocktail while the husband tried the chicken tikka - a cold supreme of chicken, marinated and served with some tikka-style sauce and salad. A rather odd composition, but, I'm assured, tasty none the less.
We both ordered burgers for a main, with me opting for the blue cheese. It arrives on a plate bursting with salad and coleslaw, the "famous" chips are served in a separate bowl.
The chips were slightly undercooked and not up to the restaurant's standards of old, but the burger was, as expected, tasty, expertly cooked and formed of high-quality beef. The service is, as always, polite and efficient - the staff are clearly very well trained and would shame the majority of Scottish restaurants and most in London.
All that being said, I can't help thinking it might be time for Champany's to update a few things, even if these dishes have served them well for thirty years.
Firstly, either the plates have to grow or the portions should shrink. It's difficult to eat something from a plate that is this crowded - people come here for high-quality beef, it's not the all-you-can-eat buffet. The waiting staff offer a selection of relishes from a tray, but there's scarcely a spot on the plate for them - witness the sweetcorn pickle clinking on to the edge of my pate for grim death. The coleslaw recipe also needs work - there was far to much mayonnaise which, itself, had a cheap, industrial, flavour and consistency.
The longevity of the menu and recipes stands as a tribute to the vision of the proprietors, but standards and expectations have since evolved and the Chop and Ale house is going to have to tweak a few things if it's to remain relevant and regain its place ahead of the pack. There is nothing to stop "traditional" steakhouses providing dishes which combine the best of the past and present, in this regard, perhaps the good people at Champany's could take a few cues from Hawksmoor, or even Rae & Jerry's.