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Black Bull Inn (Midlothian)

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Address: Market Street / EH53 0AA / Mid Calder

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      11.06.2013 19:19
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      The Black Bull, Mid Calder

      The Black Bull on Market St, Mid Calder.
      With a name like that, and an address like that, what could possibly be the origins of this pub? Taking a wild guess, I reckon this was possibly at some time in the past a watering hole for people dealing in cattle. Either that, or a den of iniquity which was prone to people of an African descent inclined to be economical with the truth. I guess we'll never know.

      Mid Calder is, or used to be, a charming little conservation village that dates its history to when it was an important crossroads way back in the 11th century. Its importance lay in the fact that it was situated on the main turnpike between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the cattle drove route from Falkirk to England. At its peak, in 1840, around 150,000 cattle passed through in a three month period. This enabled the village to boast the grand total of 9 public houses. These days there are only three. Nowadays, the village has become a sprawling dormitory town which is indistinguishable from its larger neighbour, Livingston.

      As I said, there are three pubs in the original part of the village and one of them, probably the most prominent, is THE BLACK BULL.

      It's a very traditional Scottish pub which dates back to 1747 although the present building was built around 1860. There's a small, atmospheric public bar with a coal fire and a claustrophobically low ceiling. I vividly remember visiting here pre-smoking ban days when the fug was so thick, you could hardly see from one end to the other. Sophisticated it's not - warm and friendly it is.

      There's also a large function room to the back which is where I had my 40th birthday party...long, long ago! Why there's even a beer garden out back which, although I've used this pub fairly regularly over many, many years, I've never even seen.

      The public bar is in an older part of the building while the function room and lounge are in a more 'modern' part. Gone are the low, wood paneled ceilings and 'olde worlde' charm and in are high corniced ceilings, large sash windows and the best of what Victorianna had to offer.

      Although food is served in the bar, the lounge is generally where you'd go for a meal. It's not exclusively for dining mind you. There are always plenty of people just having a pint and in fact there's often entertainment after 9pm but I'm usually tucked up in bed by then.

      There's always a good choice of beers on offer with all the fizzy stuff and a good selection of real ales. Even though the management have changed hands many times over the years, I've always found the beers to be kept well and of good quality. There's a large choice of malt whiskies behind the gantry too, plus all the usual suspects of the spirit world. I imagine they sell soft drinks as well, but I can't be certain about that.

      As for food, epicurean extravagance it's not. It's a good, old-fashioned pub and the menu matches this. No fancy-pancy Anjou pigeon à la broche, new potatoes gently carressed in beurre blanc and a pistacio jus. Well, not the last time I was there anyway. No sirree Bob. Plain and simple pub grub is the order of the day. Fish and chips, steak pie, roast lamb, all day breakfast, lasagne, curry etc. The menu is a little more extensive than that with maybe half a dozen starters (soup, mushrooms, pate and the like) and around a dozen mains including vegetarian options. There's also a specials board where you might find something a little more adventurous. One thing I like is the fact that they have a cheeseboard on the dessert menu. I like cheese, me.

      Prices are around £3.95-£4.95 for starters and desserts with most mains around £7-8.95 (steaks are more expensive).

      I'm generally the sort of person who likes to try different foods but I have to say when I go to the Bull, I almost always opt for the fish and chips. It's not something I tend to go for usually in other pubs, but the fish and chips here are just so flippin' good. So it should come as no great shock that that's exactly what I had the last time I ate here.

      The fish (haddock) was so fresh, I'm sure it wasn't delivered, but swam here. Plump and moist, the crunchy batter complimented it beautifully. As for the chips, home made and chunky and a reasonable portion - just enough. They usually serve a large portion of fish and it's nice to have the most expensive item on the plate make so grand an appearance. I hate it when some places think if they load you up on cheap chips you'll think that because you're stuffed, you've had value for money. Incidentally, They will cook the fish in breadcrumbs instead of batter if you prefer. Instead of the mandatory peas (mushy or not) the meal is served with a fresh, crispy salad with lots of variety - lettuce, peppers, cucumber, tomato and onion. A small pot of tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon complete the dish. It was so good, I nearly ate the pattern off the plate.
      Mrs p plumped (no pun intended) for the steak pie. It comes with boiled new potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas. The veg wasn't boiled to mush which is always a good thing and the tatties were fine. The pie was absolutely scrumptious. Huge chunks of melt-in-the-mouth steak in a rich, beefy gravy topped by flaky wisps of crispy pastry with that white mushy underside that seals the deal. No filling out this pie with cheap carrots or mushrooms etc., just mouth-watering tender beefiness that almost disolves in your mouth. Obviously, I had a taste.

      Service is quick and efficient but if I had one quibble it would be that we were asked three times if everything was alright - this gets a bit wearing. Food is ordered and pre-paid at the bar which I like as it means you can make a quick getaway, if you need to.

      In conclusion, the Black Bull is a good pub whether you're looking for a traditional pint in the bar, a more relaxed and comfortable evening in the lounge, or a decent bit of grub at a decent price. It's always busy and it's advisable to book a table at the weekend so they must be doing something right.

      ©proxam2013

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