Entries in Brian McGrory (2)


Mary Queen of Scots

Note: Mary Queen of Scots closed in April 2012 after an 18-month run.


Mary Queen of Scots opened a year ago in the former Allen & Delancey space. It’s the second Scottish-themed restaurant from the Highlands team. Early reports weren’t encouraging, and most of the pro critics didn’t review it.

Lauren Shockey in the Village Voice gave it a “meh.” Sam Sifton filed a “brief,” as he much prefers reviewing club joints and restaurants that peaked in the 1980s.

The concept, I have to admit, was unwise: French cuisine through a Scottish lens, or something like that, inspired by the fact that the historic Mary was a queen of both France and Scotland.

The original idea has quietly been pushed to the side. Uninspired dishes like pasta carbonara, steak frites, moules frites, and beet salad, no longer appear on the menu. Prices are moderate, with most appetizers below $15 and most entrées below $25. (The most expensive item is a Venison Wellington, $27.)

The décor is East Village chic with a cold splash of Scotland in the form of tartan plaid banquettes. The bar, in the back of the restaurant, is worth exploring. Cocktails are $11–13 a pop, and they transfer the tab to the table. I can vouch for the Respect Your Elders ($12), with Plymouth Gin, Rosemary Syrup, Lemon Juice, Angostura and Lavender Bitters.

There is nothing complicated about Chilled Asparagus ($11; above left) with thyme-parmesan crumbs and hollandaise sauce, but it’s the ideal summer appetizer. Seared Tuna ($20; above right) with haricots verts, a quail egg, and worcestershire-red onion dressing, was quite good, and clearly a step above the less ambitious salads offered on earlier menus.

Roast Lamb Sirloin ($26; above left) with heirloom carrot salad, coconut yoghurt, and mint jelly, was less impressive. There wasn’t much of the lamb, and although tender, it was a shade over-cooked. We don’t usually order a side dish, but when we saw the Chips & Curry Sauce come out of the kitchen ($5; above right), we had to have some. Crisp and tangy, they’re a treat.

The wine list of about 30 bottles is a shade more expensive than it ought to be, in relation to the food. It could use a few more options under $50. The 2008 Francoise & Denis Clair Cote-de-Beaune, decent but not spectacular, was priced at $48, or about 228 percent of retail, which is a bit dear. There is, as you’d expect, an abundant selection of whiskies, though we didn’t have any.

Typical of many Lower East Side places, other than the most popular ones, the restaurant was nearly empty at 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening, although the front room had filled up by 9:00 p.m. (I didn’t check the back). Service was attentive and thorough. On this showing, Mary Queen of Scots is a more comfortable and polished restaurant than Highlands, though your mileage may vary.

Mary Queen of Scots (115 Allen Street near Delancey Street, Lower East Side)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½



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)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *