Last weekend, in order to see and stay with a friend of my mothers, and to meet a long-lost friend who looked after me as a 2-year old, we went on a road trip to the remote countryside surrounding Dumfries. We arrived, starving, and rushed into Wigtown for lunch.
To no-one's surprise, the only vegan item on the menu was watery tomato soup and bread. I bolted it down, far too hungry to care about the lack of taste. My sister could only bring herself to eat the bread.
Out host then left to walk her dog, leaving us to explore "Scotland's Book Town," a title which would have delighted and intrigued me had I not been busy lamenting the pitiful lunch. Wandering aimlessly into one old dog-eared bookshop after another, I figured I should have brought more snacks than I did. After all, being vegan in Edinburgh can be an issue, so I was hardly likely to get by easily in a tiny rural town in the middle of nowhere.
We were gobsmacked to find this place.
ReadingLasses is a bookshop/cafe in a tiny rural town in the middle of nowhere that specializes in catering to individual diets such as vegan or gluten-free. A godsend? I think so.
We felt at home at once - the cafe was modern yet quaint, cosy, quiet (until we came in, that is) with friendly, highly attentive staff. The layout was wonderfully old-fashioned and higgledy-piggledy, with the serving area and till smack in the centre of the shop, and several hidden rooms filled with books, tables, or both to be found if you ventured past the cafe's kitchen. It was like a rabbit hole in the mind of Beatrix Potter. Nikita wandered off to find the toilet and came rushing back in a fit of the giggles, having apparently walked into what appeared to be someone's bedroom. (I found out later that the building boasts a small self-catering type accommodation upstairs, which explains this particular oddity.)
We supplemented our lunch with the best tofu salad I've ever eaten, and on Nikita's part, at least 2 or 3 Empire biscuits, the local speciality, made vegan with Pure spread.
Sated after a happy hour of delicious food, browsing books and drinking coffee, we arranged to meet my old nanny there the next day, when it finally occurred to me that this unexpected find was absolutely worth blogging about.
Nikita went for the full-course version of the salad I'd had the previous day, whilst I dithered between a hummus toastie with salad, and a bean chilli. Eventually I went for the chilli.
I should have gone for the toastie (though since Nikita and I ate what we wanted then swapped dishes, it worked out perfectly.) This wasn't bad as a meal, just not a great choice for me personally. The veganized version simply omitted the cheese and cream in the original, and whilst this chilli was perfectly good, well-balanced with just the right amount of spice, it would have benefitted from some vegan replacement for the cheese, such crushed roasted almonds and/or seeds. I wasn't keen on the grilled bread, probably just because I'm not much of a bread person (my mum loved it, and it was nice that it was served hot) or the nachos, which were a bit bland (but my mum and sister seemed to like those also.)
The dish I had the previous day, however, was flawless, and Nikita's full-course version was even better:
The only difference between my salad and hers was the omission of the coleslaw (which had been delicious) and the addition of bread, peppers and onions, and the two condiments, the chilli jam and olives respectively.
The tofu is hands-down the best I've ever tasted - and tofu can be very hit-and-miss. If done badly, its awful, and its easy to do it badly. Not so here. This grilled tofu is salty, full of texture and bursting with flavour. The salad is fresh (the actual content locally sourced and varying dependent on what's available) and dead simple - no dressings or seasonings whatsoever (we were given vinegar and olive oil on the side) which I love. There's nothing worse than being presented with a salad coated in more oil than a drowning seabird.
I also loved that all the condiments (which, like the salad itself, vary depending on what's available) were served separately, so you could help yourself to as little or as much as you wished (or none at all, in my fusspot sister's case.) They were all delicious, unique little pots of yum.
We had a fantastic time meeting my nanny and her clan. As there were seven of us in total, we were seated separately in a room that was still very much part of the bookshop, which meant that every now and then a customer would come in, give us a funny look and attempt to browse discreetly while we nattered away. This just added to the quirkiness of the whole experience. We came away with the chilli jam pictured above, a spicy tomato pickle, and several books - for me, the a small collection of Roald Dahl shorts. I thought I'd read them all, but I didn't even know this particular book existed:D
I almost forgot the desserts! Sadly I didn't photograph any of them, but there were a fair number of vegan options, the two I tried being an absolutely delicious almond sponge that almost had the texture of marzipan, and a chocolate-banana cake, which could have been more chocoate-y, but was decent. Nikita on the other hand ate nothing but Empire biscuits and clearly adored them.
Overall I cannot praise ReadingLasses enough. It has everything you could possibly want in a cafe - wonderful staff, locally sourced, great-tasting food, excellent catering to dietary requirements, and all the books you could ask for. Honestly, this cafe wouldn't be out of place in Brighton. Its a diamond-encrusted needle in (almost literally) a haystack.
If you do happen to be passing through that area (its lovely, if you're into fields and mountains and that kind of thing) do make sure to pay this place a visit.