The British are coming! Actually, they’re already here. Despite a complete lack of perceptible demand, restaurants featuring the cuisine of Great Britain have landed in New York, and they keep on coming.
Highlands, which took over the space vacated by the dessert bar p*ong, is full whenever I walk by. On a Friday evening at 6:00 p.m., all the bar stools were already taken, and the tables soon followed. After just a year in business, the same team has opened a larger place, Mary Queen of Scotts, in the old Allen & Delancey space on the Lower East Side.
I’ve a great fondness for Scotland, born of a work assignment earlier this decade when I spent six months in the country, practically full-time. I have no great fondness for their best known dishes, such as haggis, finnan haddie, or cullen skink, though I don’t mind them either. But a love of single-malt scotch has been with me since my time there.
I was surprised that haggis, Scotland’s most famous recipe, was relegated to the role of a recited special—perhaps to give the server the pleasure of seeing patrons’ faces when they learn that it contains a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs. I might have ordered this, but we like to share, and my friend wouldn’t touch it.
The rest of the menu is more tame, though with its Shepherd’s pie and prawn cocktail, it doesn’t pander either. Entrées are mostly under $25 and appetizers mostly under $15, though I cannot call it inexpensive, as the space is basically a crowded pub—with bare wooden tables that wobble, and a noise level slightly louder than I’d like.
A cauliflower risotto ($10; above left) was a bit tame. We wondered if the veal cheek terrine ($10; above right) had other unmentionables. I didn’t mind it, but the taste was a bit rough.
The kitchen comped a mid-course (left) that we could not make out, even after the runner described it twice. [Update: A message board participant told me this was “Devils on Horseback.”] As far as we could make out, it was fish wrapped in bacon, topped in a sauce that could have been maple syrup—but probably wasn’t! It was slightly cloying, the kind of thing you wanted quickly to wash down with a gulp of beer.
As an entree, Pork Belly ($24; below left) seemed to us an error of conception. Most restaurants serve pork belly in smaller portions, either as an appetizer, or as part of a larger dish. A brick-sized hunk of it needs something else for textural contrast, or it needs much more of the fat to be rendered out.
Perhaps it was a cop-out to order Beef Wellington ($28; above right), but we were quite pleased with it. The puff pastry was thin, and not at all heavy. The menu doesn’t say which cut of beef was used, but it was tender and not over-cooked. This was the best dish of the evening.
The Times never reviewed Highlands, but it received one star apiece from Adam Platt in New York and Ryan Sutton in Bloomberg. Those assessments seem to me about right. There are some land mines on the menu, but also some very good cooking, and many of these dishes aren’t exactly commonplace in New York. I do think they’ll need to pick up their game, just a hair, in the larger Mary Queen of Scots space.
Highlands (150 W. 10th St. near Waverley Pl., West Village)