I am on a train. As I look out of the window, I see a golf course, somewhere outside Barrhead, and I briefly wonder if I’ve picked the wrong hobby. I shouldn’t be on a train to the English/Scottish border, where I will have approximately three hours with which to check out the town, eat an apparently award winning kebab, have a couple of beers then head up the road again: I should be playing golf. For reference, it is a crisp autumn day as I write this; a little bit of cloud cover but the threatened rain doesn’t look like it’ll drop for a few hours yet, and besides, how long does it take to whack a ball with a stick into some holes in the ground? I reckon I could probably do it in about 10 minutes. Plus I have a great collection of ill-fitting polo shirts and stupid trousers. This fleeting thought stayed with me until just after Stewarton, where I saw a cow and thought that perhaps being a cow might be a better hobby.
So, to Dumfries. Normally, there are two ways to get there, a smart way, and a stupid way. You can get an Avanti West Coast or TransPennine Express to Carlisle in about an hour, change, and get the branch line back up via Gretna, which takes about half an hour. This is quick, and crucially for the first leg of the journey, you are allowed “train cans”. The direct service from Glasgow is a slower, circuitous line which runs through and stops at most settlements in Central Ayrshire. They’ve also banned train cans – ostensibly due to Covid, fair enough, but I don’t imagine they’ll be too quick to revert to business as usual. Anyway, thanks to flooding, I’m on the slow train. That being said, whilst there is a ban on train cans, it doesn’t look like it’s being enforced, judging by the cans of Camden Pale on the table over from mine. Wish I’d known – would have got a load of M&S Raspberry Mojitos, the train can of choice for Diane Abbott!
The 9th British Kebab Awards were held this week in London, which is in Greater London. The whole thing was a little bit bizarre from a kebab enthusiasts point of view, in that there was a lot of buzz about the awards themselves, but very little information about the winners themselves. Lots of buzz on Twitter about it, with the great and good all tweeting to say there were there, a few people bemoaning that they weren’t there, and a whole load of selfies of LBC presenters letting their hair down, but no apparent thought given for the creme de la creme of kebab shops who, you’d have thought, would be the focus of such an event. As I type, the British Kebab Awards still haven’t published the list of winners, and the press have remained fairly silent on the matter. Still, thank fuck for Ladbible. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but fair play to them, they seem to be the only media outlet that have reported the winners – so well done to the reporter for staying off the pop sufficiently to record the results!
I will admit to have initially being a little bit sceptical about this whole affair; I have absolutely no idea how the shortlisting works with the British Kebab Awards. What I’ve noticed is that the great British public nominate some absolutely cracking places, celebrity judges get involved, a shortlist which generally underwhelms me turns up, and the winner is (presumably) chosen on a most votes basis and announced at a glitzy event. Given that Dante’s have been given the nod, are they very good, or is this the most popular shortlisted venue?
Well, much to my cynical surprise, the answer is very good. Very VERY good. Dante’s I suppose are a takeaway that shouldn’t be judged by their cover – from the outside, they look like any other small town chippie, and their name reminds me of Dante’s Inferno, which led me to speculate precisely which level of hell I’d end up in.
My initial reservations were heightened when I saw the preparation of my food. The mixed wrap, consisting of chicken and lamb shish and doner meat, came in a tortilla wrap. A bold move, a wrap style that I’ve not had since Cafe Sono way back when. The chicken shish was introduced to the grill from a tub that formerly container a caterers portion of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, the lamb from a generic blue tub. The takeaway seemed to be mainly promoting its pizza range, and there were a couple of battered sausages and king ribs keeping warm behind the glass screen. Kebab award winners? Seemed unlikely. The proof, however, is in the pudding.
And this, frankly, was a huge pudding. Consider the fact that this is covered in a tortilla wrap, so very thin. Also, use your maths knowledge to consider that kebab minus bread equals filling. The ratio of bread to filling, therefore, was off the charts, and as you will see shortly, its mainly meat.
Any worries I initially had regarding the storage method for the shish was quickly dispelled – both the chicken and lamb took about 10 minutes to cook through properly on the grill, and were perfect. The chicken especially so – I’m happy to say that the chicken shish I had here was probably the best I ever had, anywhere, ever. And I say that entirely sincerely (Istanbul in Glasgow previously held my high score on that front)
I believe the Americans have some kind of slogan or saying, something like “You got yourself a sandwich, Sir!” which can be used in conversation whenever you order a particularly large bread based meal. I, very much so, had myself a sandwich. It was larger than a toy cat! (I can say this as I’m writing this in a pub that has a toy cat, which was smaller, do you see)
But it’s not gonna get full marks from me. The tortilla wrap was thin and the wrap kinda fell apart towards the end, and the doner was alright, but I’ve had better. Overall, though, I can see why this place was nominated, and I can see why it won – the food was (overall) very very good. And cheap. I never mentioned the price. It was £6.50, which is the going rate for things way way way worse than this. I’ve also not mentioned the garlic sauce: on the train down, I read an article saying that their homemade sauce is the stuff of local legend, so much so that the locals go in, apparently, to buy tubs of the stuff. The locals are not wrong, as it was amazing.
All in all, a worthy winner of Scotland’s Restaurant of the Year!
Dante’s, 97 English Street, Dumfries.
Mixed Wrap, £6.50