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Monday 22 August 2016

First review - new Sun Dancer restaurant and bar in Nairn

(Please see UPDATE at end)

The new Sun Dancer restaurant and bar in Nairn finally opened a week ago yesterday (i.e. Sunday 14th August); I do not think it has yet been advertised in any way, certainly it was not in last week's Nairnshire on Tuesday 16th, so it seems to have undertaken what is usually known as a "soft opening". Rumours locally are that it was originally scheduled to open in May, presumably in order to catch the late-Spring and early-Summer trade, but local rumours are that its opening was delayed for various reasons; I will not repeat any of the reasons I heard about though, as this is mere hearsay and the important point, as I see it, is that it has now opened.

I visited with my partner yesterday Sunday 21st August around lunchtime and we had ice cream milkshakes in the ground floor cafe - very nice they were too and the interior is bright, cheerful and modern in feel and the young lady serving us was pleasant and friendly. We asked if we could visit upstairs to see the bar/restaurant and being told "yes" went up to take a look.

It was much more spacious than I imagined it would be (I live close by so have followed its progress over the months). It is well laid out and the tables are not too crowded together. There is a bar area in one corner, with comfortable and quite smart furniture in that part of the floor. The tables and chairs of the main restaurant part are also quite smart and the balcony at the front has some tables and chairs, pleasant for a drink on a nice day or evening. We asked to book a table for the same evening and returned for our meal later with time for pre-dinner drinks.

The staff are friendly and pleasant, although still obviously learning their jobs and getting comfortable with their work environment, drinks and menus, etc. We had a very nice meal indeed, broadly comparable with the two other what I consider decent eateries in Nairn (The Classroom and The Bandstand) and the cost was broadly similar too; the Sunny Brae is lovely too of course, but is rather more refined in many ways than those three (including the Sun Dancer), only being a bit more expensive.

There was a Sunday menu on offer, 2 courses for £15.95, with 3 courses being a few pounds more; there was a small but sufficient range of options for starters, mains and puddings/desserts, although we understand there may be a more extensive menu in due course, but that they are trialling a slighlty more restricted menu, at least at the beginning, not to over-complicate matters. The food as mentioned was pretty good, so this represents good value I think, specially for an evening meal, with drinks (campari/soda, guinness [2 pints in all], a large glass of white and a small glass of red, for the cheese we had for dessert), the total bill was about £66-, rounded up to £71- (for 2 persons) with tip, a bit less than we would normally have added, for the reasons mentioned later in this review.

The table settings are nice (white quality table cloths, decent cutlery and crockery, high quality cloth-like paper napkins) and the dining table seats are quite comfortable and smart. It is obvious considerable care has been taken with designing a very pleasant venue to take full advantage of the lovely views out over the Firth; we had a corner window table just inside the outdoor balcony so the views were excellent, but most tables (even those not directly adjacent to the large windows) will have good views of the Firth.

The only criticism I would have is that the service was very slow and somewhat disjointed, but always pleasant and friendly, although it did require us on several occasions to try and attract the staff's attention after we had been waiting for lengthy periods, both to place our orders and to receive each course, requiring us to query the delays throughout the evening. For example we had to wait 15 minutes after finishing our main course before managing to attract the attention of someone to take our dessert order (the cheese board for both of us, which was excellent when it came, but obviously required no "cooking"), then after 25 minutes of waiting for it to be delivered, we managed to attract the attention of a waitress returning to the kitchen with used crockery from another table, when it was delivered rapidly; probably it had been waiting for delivery to us in the kitchen for some time, I suspect.

Getting the bill took another while, a pattern throughout the whole evening. However, I think this will become a great place to eat in Nairn, assuming they maintain their initial food standards (which are quite high in local terms I'd say), once they become rather slicker in the service area. I put the delays down to the staff still becoming familiar with their roles, so expect and hope this is merely a "teething" problem. I think they have been quite busy during their first week of operation, from what the lady who appeared to be in charge indicated to us, and it was certainly pretty busy on Sunday evening when we were there, so everyone there was flung into the deep end whilst still learning their jobs. We shall certainly visit again in a month or so (rotating it in with the other places already mentioned, which we will undoubtedly visit again in the intervening period), and hope we will have an equally enjoyable meal, but experience somewhat slicker service, once the staff have become more comfortable in their jobs. However, first impressions are that it is a very welcome addition to Nairn's dining scene.

NB/ This review is a slightly more detailed version of one I have already placed in the restaurant's own recently-created Facebook page here.

My aim here, as with all reviews of restaurants and hotels which I add in various places (my own blog or 'social media' or specialised review sites), is to be honest and completely fair. I do not think the Sun Dancer yet has a listing in Tripadvisor, but perhaps that will come in due course.

UPDATE (Sunday 19FEB17 16.50 RST [GMT+1]) A rather tardy comment, but my partner and I, together with a friend, visited the Sun Dancer for a second time on Tuesday 10th January 2017, this time for lunch. The lunch menu offered a reasonable range of choices and all three of us had enjoyable meals, nicely presented. The cost was again pretty reasonable too. Happily, the service on this second visit was much slicker than on our earlier visit, whilst still retaining a friendly atmosphere, without being "over familiar" in any way. The restaurant was fairly busy too, for a Tuesday in the middle of winter, with roughly two thirds of the tables being occupied in the main part of the restaurant (the smaller end part was screened off that day). We again occupied a very nice table by the windows at the front of the restaurant so had excellent views out over the Firth. In summary, I'd say we all three were quite happy with our meal and will certainly return in due course, rotating this newish restaurant with the two or three other pretty good eating places in Nairn.

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