Stirling’s Hollybank ticks all the boxes

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Are you like me, where there always seem to be those eating places you’ve driven past so often, heard so many good things about, and yet, somehow, you’ve never managed to visit?

The Hollybank was one of those for me.

The number of times I’ve driven past this imposing white structure on my way in or out of Stirling must run into the thousands.

And it wasn’t as if it didn’t come with a barrel-load of enthusiastic recommendations

Years ago, it was the haunt of a red-headed Daily Record reporter – and this wasn’t yesterday – who would regularly drop its name into the conversation.

In more recent times, it was a place my mother-in-law liked to be taken for a treat after a visit to the shops by her grandchildren.

However, its interior remained a mystery to me.

Until last week, that is!

A lunchtime business meeting needed a venue and The Hollybank, not far from my guest’s place of work, fitted the bill exactly.

I don’t know why, but I had expected something a little swankier. But that moment’s hesitation was soon forgotten, thanks to the friendly welcome and helpful assistance on offer.

There’s something awfully reassuring about watching a restuarant that you’ve never eaten in before fill up.

And though there had been plenty of tables to choose from when I arrived, it wasn’t long before new arrivals were having to search for a seat.

Fortunately, unlike me, they all looked as if they had been here before, and it wasn’t long before they were seated and poring over the menu.

Speaking of the menu – well-rounded only half does it justice. If you can’t find something to tickle your tastebuds on this selection of dishes, there’s something far wrong.

There are no great surprises, just an amazing mixture of firm favourites. And if the mains prove too much, there are sandwiches, paninis, ciabattas and wraps.

Our meal on the day? Well, there was something fishy about the starters. My companion went for smoked salmon and prawns, me for sweet herring, both fair-sized portions, and both acknowledged as delicious.

My main course haddock flaked apart at the touch of the fork and came in a crispy and tasty beer batter and a sizeable pile of perfectly-cooked chips; my companion’s baked potato and chilli con carne was equally well received.

The Hollybank is one of those places that knows what it wants to do, and does it well.

There’s a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, with plenty of willing staff on hand to look after you.

It’s a recipe that clearly works and, I’m sure, will mean that

people will keep going back for a long time to come.