The first time I came to St. Andrews was on a visiting day shortly after I had received my acceptance to the university. I remember being taken around town by several student ambassadors happily ready to tell me all about all the things St. Andrews had to offer. Eager to try a taste of the local cuisine, at the end of each tour I asked: “for a person who’s never been to St. Andrews before, where’s the first place you’d recommend to eat?” Every single time, the answer was the same: Forgan’s.
Opened seven years ago, Forgans is located in the middle of the bustling Market Street. It now inhabits the previous space of its namesake, Forgans Golf Club Factory, the oldest cleek club factory in the world (the official name for a golf club, which I actually never knew). In fact, upon immediately entering the pub one can see some of the original golf heads hanging in a case on the left hand side. The interior, designed by Glasgow-based Jim Hamilton, is cozy and rustic, with exposed wooden beams lining the walls and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Famous for its ceilidhs and Sunday roasts, Forgans is full of quintessential Scottish charm.
So what is it that makes Forgans such a prominent institution in the St. Andrews dining scene? What is it that gives it such instant name recognition? According to Holly, one of the assistant managers that I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with over a delicious cup of coffee, there are several things that make Forgans unique.
“We truly believe in the importance of sourcing local and sustainable food from farms around Scotland,” she says. All meat comes from Scottish butchers, ice cream is sourced from Arran, baked is baked fresh daily and alcohol comes from local distilleries such as Kingsbarn, Eden Mill, and Darnley’s. Whatever your order may be, dining at Forgans comes with a guarantee of sourcing the freshest British ingredients possible.
Another aspect particular to Forgans is the customers’ ability to curate their own dining experience. While many choose to be seated in the main portion of the dining area, groups and families have the opportunity to dine in a more intimate “bothy,” a separate room of the restaurant. The four bothies have separate themes corresponding to various traditional rooms of the home – lounge, living room, pantry, and the snug – with each having its own unique menu. Customers can reserve the bothies based on which corresponding menu they’d prefer, thus customising the menu to their tastes while enjoying the decor and atmosphere of a traditional family home. Holly’s top tip, however, is to ask for one of the two tables near the entrance. “Because we have open kitchens, people that sit here often can see the chefs cook their meals right in front of them. It’s like dinner and a show.”
As for the need-to-try dishes for a first time Forgan’s diner? For sea-food lovers, the calamari never fails to win, and for dessert lovers, the sticky toffee pudding is an instant crowd pleaser (plus, a must try British dessert for anyone visiting Scotland). My personal favorite is the rich and creamy lobster mac and cheese. For those craving a meal that’s a bit more substantial, the confit duck shepherd’s pie with lentils and bacon is an instant classic; in fact, the recipe is so well loved it’s featured in the Edinburgh and East Coast Cook Book released just last year. While these classic menu items never change, Holly says the sampling lunch menu is switched up weekly, with the head chef, Scott, constantly thinking of new and innovative items based off of what products are in season. “Our sandwiches are all delicious but they’re constantly changing. We make them until Scott thinks up a new combination. In fact, I think he’s thinking of some new ones right now,” Holly says looking over my shoulder into the kitchen. For those craving something to drink with their meal, order a whisky, wine, or gin flight and choose three different variations to try.
When asked about what her favourite part of working at Forgans is, Holly says it’s the atmosphere. “Everyone just works so well together; the front of house, the chefs, everyone. It’s just such a lovely time. And it wouldn’t be possible without Michelle [head manager]. All of our success and our experience is because of her.” And one thing is clear. The satisfaction of the staff is directly translated into the customers’ experience, creating a night out filled not only with delicious food, but a sense of local, St Andrews community.