Wilawan Thai restaurant: Now that's what I called service.
If you have read the limited number of other tips on my Stirling page, you will know that my friend and I literally spent a few hours in that wonderful town which is a situation I fully intend to rectify at the earliest opportunity.
We were here early week, off-season and were staying in the equally impressive Dunfermline which is a bit of a drive away and we knew that dining opportunities were limited there at that time so eating first and travelling later seemed the sensible option. Regular readers of my pages here on Virtual Toruist know that I am a technical dinosaur. My mate is not so constrained and deployed the full range of the modern technological arsenal (some sort of really flash phone) whilst I was relaxing by the fire enjoying a drink in the wonderful Settle Inn (see seperate tip on this page). I was asked if I fancied eating Thai that night. Well, what a redundant question. I have been visiting Thailand since 1991 and adore the place, the people and especially the food. I was a happy and hungry man when we went to the Wilawan.
Firstly, I should mention that you cannot park outside, if you are driving you need to park in a nearby carpark but it is only a couple of minutes walk away. Travellers with mobility problems may have a problem with this as the road from the carpark is not the best, so please check first. There may be concessions.
On entering the pleasant and spotless restaurant my first thought was that it was completely enpty, never a good sign in my book. However, as I said, it was early week and off-season in a regional Scottish town so I was not overly worried. We were greeted and seated by a traditionally dressed young lady who kindly responed to my undoubtedly mispronounced Thai greeting with typical smiling Thai good humour, served drinks and left to peruse the menu.
The menu was extensive and certainly contained all the "standards" that we are becoming more accustomed to in the UK. However, and for reasons I have outlined in various other tips on Thai restaurarants in the UK, it was lacking in one dish. My favourite part of Thailand is the North and East and I love the cuisine of that area. One staple there is what is known variously as Issan curry or Jungle curry which differs from what many people may understand Thai cuisine to be. Westerners appreciate the Thai kitchen with coconut milk, Holy Basil, lemongrass etc. and this is a large part of it but generally associated with the South of the country. Jungle curry, as I call it, is basically whatever meat is available served in a soup consistency with chilli. Lots of chilli. I mean we are talking about nuclear and / or volcanic amounts of chilli here if it is a proper one. None to be seen on the menu here.
I always allow my friend to order when we dine together as we do frequently. Consequently, the starters were duly called for but I thought, and very possibly due to a very relaxing and interesting time in the elsewhere mentioned Settle Inn, that I might try my luck. Now, ordering "off the menu" anywhere and in any cuisine, is always a bit of a minefield. I asked the young lady (obviously of Southern Thai heritage) if it would be possible to have a jungle curry (Northern Thai) and she never batted an eyelid, saying she would go and ask chef. That was a start, she could just have told me to order from what was offered on the menu.
When she re-appeared very quickly, she informed me that chef would certainly prepare me a jungle curry. I then went through my usual performance of telling her that I could take hot food. Thai chefs in UK, I believe, do not want to make jungle curry too hot as they think they will offend the Western palate and they do not want to hurt the "farang" as they call us. Smiling as always, off she went to tell chef.
The starters appeared, a failrly standard selection but very well done, tasty and offered with an interesting and a slightly unusual selection of accompaniments. Duly polished off, we waited for the main course and this was going to be the test. Firstly, did the wiatress understand my pretty impenetrable accent? Secondly, had she conveyed my request to chef? Thirdly, had chef the necessaries to create my dish and fourthly would they actually serve it? The answers are yes, yes, yes and yes. What was served to me was an absolutey excellent and (to my amatuer palate) a perfectly rendered and autehntic dish. It was in the soup style (I have had it it Thailand as a drier curry as well) and it was simply superb. The image may convey an impression of a fairly ordinary bowl of "thick soup with chilli" but it was really so much more than that.
Two spoonfuls in, I started to sweat (this is Scotland in Spring so heat was not an issue!) and my eyes started to water after a few more mouthsful. My friend enquired as to my well-being and I stated that I was so very, very happy. I really was. I cannot remember ever ordering a dish off the menu before in a UK restaurant and it was exactly what I had hoped for. My companion did make constant reeference to my physical appearance but I was loving every moment of it. Certainly I was sweating (sorry for the indelicacy), sneezing occasionally and having to blow my nose on a regular basis but don't let that put you off. I ordered it and who would have thought? A proper Thai jungle curry in a Scottish market town. For the record, my friend delared the less lunatic option they had chosen to be excellent as well as I hope one of the inages indicates (noodle dish).
Despite the day of the week, time of night, off-season visit and everything else we were not pressured to leave at all although declined the coffee offered as we had to drive.
I am not quite sure what I was expecting from this place but whatever my expectations were on entering, they were hugely exceeded by the time I left. I really do recommend it very highly.
Favorite Dish: As described in the main body of the text, the Jungle Curry that the chef made for me, although not even on the menu, was absolutely superb. This is a proper restaurant.
- Beer Tasting
- Food and Dining
- Wine Tasting
City Walls: City Walls
This cavernous pub serves pretty standard pub grub in a nice location right in the centre of the city, at the base of the city walls. Good food at reasonable prices, great if you are on a budget. They had offers on too, which made it even more reasonable.
Favorite Dish: I like my pub grub - scampi and chips followed by chocolate fudge cake!
Jimmy Changs: Jimmy Changs
This is part of a chain that has restaurants in a few locations in Scotland. I had previously been to the one in Edinburgh so expected to get a good meal here. Its a Chinese/Asian buffet restaurant so of course there is a wide choice of starters, main dishes & accompaniements to choose from.
Favorite Dish: I love their honeyed chicken especially, yum! The squid dish was lovely for something different to try.
Unicorn Cafe: atmospheric
We had a late lunch/snack here before tackling the Castle etc.
I had beef stew, and my better half had vegetable broth. Both were served with crusty bread. My stew was excellent - didn't try the broth, but it seemed to hit the spot on a cold, wet & windy mid winter afternoon.
It's self service, so quick. It cost me over £13 however, so I have my doubts about the value for money.
The place is lovely - so maybe that makes up for the prices.
It has a rooftop terrace which must be fun in nice weather.
Favorite Dish: Beef stew - really stuck to my ribs.
- Family Travel
- Museum Visits
- Castles and Palaces
Old Town Coffee House: Scottish breakfast
This is just a basic tearoom/cafe but we had a really yummy cooked Scottish breakfast here both days of my most recent trip. They have a variety of options from a simple filled roll or omellette, up to a full cooked breakfast. Prices are very reasonable, portions generous and service was quick and friendly. Only down side maybe is that it doesn't open until 9am so if you want an earlier start it wouldn't be an option.
Of course they also do lunch - usual stuff like toasties, baked potatoes etc
Favorite Dish: There were two full breakfast options - the "small" breakfast was £3.90 [thereby cheaper than the £4 continental breakfast at our accomodation] including tea or coffee and got you a choice of 6 items from the list. The "big" breakfast was 8 items for slightly more. I had bacon, 2 sliced sausage, toast, baked beans and scrambled egg and could also have chosen mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding or to have eggs poached or fried etc. They really didn't skimp on portions and we actually didn't eat lunch either day other than a bar of chocolate or something as we were so full from breakfast! More time to sightsee!!
La Ciociara: Excellent - even better Thursday and Friday
I've always liked this fish and chip / Italian restaurant in the centre of Stirling, but got a pleasant surprise when my wife and I went there last Thursday to discover they do a buffet lunch on Thursdays and Fridays. Downstairs is the Fish tea section: bread, butter, battered fish, chips, and a pot of tea. Upstairs is the a la carte Italian and the buffet. There were a number of cold starters, soup, pasta, 2 casseroles, pizza, pasta and pastries and fresh fruit salad for desert.The cost? £5.99! Good value, tasty food, friendly staff, and close to all the sights of Stirling.
And don't be surprised at the combination of chip shop and Italian - Fish and chip shops in Scotland have traditionally been run by Italian families for many years.
- Budget Travel
Nº2 Baker Street: Eat & Drink
I bring this pub for two reasons:
- First: I had lunch there
- Second: It's just an example about having meals in pubs (or drinks or meals + drinks)
As many of you know, pubs are something very typical in the United Kingdom, and many (or maybe all of them), serve meals.
Favorite Dish: The website offers a list of Pubs & Bars in Stirling.
Cisco's Cafe: Good Strong Coffee
This is a very small independent take away and cafe which does a wide variety of sandwiches but the reason I keep goign back is for the very good strong coffee - something that's it hard to find particularly in the chain coffee houses. They've recently started making weaker one shot coffees so make sure you specify if you want the teeth rattling 2 shot variety.
They don't have tables, apart from 2 outside, but a bar with stools.
Favorite Dish: Coffee, coffee, coffee - oh, and the cakes are respectable too.
Mhor Bread: Black Bun
This shop is a family run bakery/tearoom and shop. After our walk to the Callander Crags we really wanted a cup of coffee so we went there. The coffee was good and we had a currant slice with it that was fresh and tatsy. For those of you that do not know what a currant slice is - it is two layers of sweet pastry with a layer of currants between. They are in fact known in my family by the not so tasty name of fly graveyards because of the currants looking like little black flies.
After our coffee we bought a freshly made sandwich in the shop - it was good. Koos does not like butter so we always have to make sure there is none on sandwiches we buy. This sandwich was freshly made for us. We also got a piece of "black bun" a very rich heavy fruit cake between two layers of sweet pastry. It is traditionally eaten at New Year. We brought it home with us and are eating it now.
Favorite Dish: The restaurant is not fancy - an old fashioned village tearoom but the coffee was good, and everyone was very friendly.
- Hiking and Walking
- Family Travel
Rana's: Taste of the Punjab
We walked past, the first time, without noticing it. How could we? Purple and Red! What a daring combination! The restaurant looked brand new. The staff was friendly, swift and attentive. We ordered Tandoori special and Tandoori Salmon. With rice and maan. It was both wonderful. Very balanced taste, large portions.
From Sunday to Thursday 10% off the lunch menu and 20% discount on the a la carte.
PS: do not order an espresso. Their equipment is impressive, but the result very poor.
Favorite Dish: Tandoori special and Tandoori Salmon. The salmon was barbecued and spiced, very tasty.
The Unicorn Cafe: When Hunger Strikes
The Unicorn Cafe is a relaxing place to stop for some lunch. The room is bright and airy with nice touches in the nooks and crannies. All cold food is self service - just select what you like and pay at the till. Hot food is also on offer here with a good choice of light meals along with beer and wine. Service is friendly and efficient the staff go out of their way to make this a pleasant place to eat. One other thing they offer is a computer aided virtual tour of the Castle for visitors with walking difficulties this facility is offered free of charge = I thought this was a brilliant idea.
Favorite Dish: We both had a large mug of coffee I choose a hot meal of baked potato smothered with baked beans - hubby chose chicken and mayo sandwich all very enjoyable for a quick lunch break
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
- Road Trip
Pivo/Cambio: Style Bar Corner
Stylish bars with food. Cambio (on the left) is situated in a former bank. Pivo is a Czech beer hall theme bar (admittedly, not a beer hall Czechs would recognise). Both offer food a bit more adventurous than standard bar fare. Pivo food 12:00 to 20:00 (not sure about Cambio).
Pivo also offer Pilner Urquell/ Staropramen on draught and various bottled Czech beers. Also two for one on cocktails Friday and Sunday 17:00-21:00.
Cambio also claim to have the largest screen for sports in Stirling. May be true, though when I went to see a game they had commentary only in the bar (which has smaller flat screens) and music in the big screen room. You will also find it 'bangin' on weekends.
Spice Of Life: Indian, Indian!
Last count 6 Indian restaurants in Stirling, not counting the numerous takeaways - I think Spice Garden is the best. Definitely not cheapest but more defined cooking than the others. Having said that with such competition a duff Indian meal in Stirling is unlikely. Recently been some changes with Cafe India closing: the longest standing, Qismat, changing name and going big on buffets, and two new takeaways opening next to each other by the Post Office (check out Papa's for some great prices at lunchtime, food is pretty good, too).
- Food and Dining
East India Company: Curry in Stirling
There are quite a few decent Indian restaurants in Stirling, enough to ensure that the quality is high almost anywhere you could choose: Planet India, for one, is also good. The one exception to that in my view is the Qismat on Friars Street, if it's still there, which was decidedly below average when I went there. Though to be fair, that was almost 6 years ago now. East India Company is the antithesis to the Qismat.
The main restaurant is housed in a basement, with a smaller pakora-selling snack bar type place upstairs. I'd ring ahead if you want to get in at weekends - you'll probably find it hard if it's as popular as it used to be. It can be fairly cramped in my experience. The walls are wood-clad, which makes a nice change from the tacky faux-indian decor you often see in Indian restaurants.
At one point, two of my flatmates were working as waitresses in the restaurant. At the end of each night they'd be given a curry for free. Frequently, they wouldn't feel like eating them when they got home. Fortunately, I was usually on hand to help them out. It was hard, but, you know, it would have been a shame to let the food go to waste, so somebody had to eat it. I got to try out a large number of the curries they had to offer, and was never disappointed.
In truth, I rarely ate there as a paying customer - it wasn't particularly within my means to eat out a lot at the time, being a student. However, like many places in Stirling they offered an all-you-can-eat buffet once a week for around ?10. The downside of going for one of those is that you're limited to whatever curries they provide, which aren't necessarily the best that they do. However, they're still tasty and good value.
The restaurant was once described as "probably the finest restaurant of its kind north of the border" by the Glasgow Herald; whether that was said prior to its change of ownership, I'm not sure. While it's certainly very good, I'm not convinced that it's quite in that class.
Favorite Dish: I love any curry which doesn't involve lots of yoghurt and cream and lack a bit of chili kick. So no kormas for me. Something more madras strength suits me better. Their jalfrezis are mild compared to those I've had in other places. There's an excellent dish that uses brandy in the sauce, but since I only tried it when it was brought home by one of my flatmates, I can't remember its name. The all-you-can-eat buffet is good value, if a little constricting - I didn't need a second serving.
Tolbooth: They have strawberry juice!
Kind of a higher class restaurant than I'm used to eating while I travel. No huge portions here. They were just about the right size and beautifully displayed. Tasty too.
Favorite Dish: Strawberry juice! (I missed it after I left Brasil.)
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