Eat Here Now: The Cobbles

by Keith Savage

The Cobbles Freehouse & Dining in Kelso

No matter where I travel in Scotland, I always seem to find a local pub that becomes my safety net if I run out of food options or I’m just too tired to search them out. This is no special skill of mine — Scotland is loaded with homey, cozy pubs providing top-notch beers and surprisingly good food. Whether you’re tramping across the northwest highlands or exploring the borderlands of the south you’ll find these places among the glens and hills.

Many years ago while I was in Edinburgh I happened upon a brewery by the name of Tempest. If my recollection serves, I was at the Bow Bar and ordered an Elemental Porter. Creamy, dark, rich, and expertly balanced, it was easily one of the best beers I had on that trip. I made a note to myself to one day visit Tempest Brewing Company down in the Borders town of Kelso. The opportunity presented itself last year when I planned a trip to the south of Scotland.

Tempest, at the time, was housed in The Cobbles in the pretty town of Kelso (it has since moved into its own purpose-built brewery in Tweedbank), so I booked a dinner there and arrived four hours early, because, well, I was thirsty. And excited.

Kelso is a beautiful Borders market town right in the heart of the region. The River Tweed bends around town and one of the great, ruined Border abbeys stands right in the center. After exploring the cobbled heart of Kelso I ducked into the lively interior of The Cobbles and ordered a pint of their Brave New World IPA. This is a beer with body and loads of resiny, piney hops floating atop the Golden Promise malt. I come from Wisconsin, one of the USA’s great beer states, and I found myself wondering why I don’t live in Kelso.

I didn’t have the opportunity to tour the Tempest brewing area, unfortunately, for at the time I think it was part of The Cobbles’s kitchen, but I do know a bit about its story. Tempest is the product of Gavin and Annika, a Scot and a Kiwi, who met in a brewpub on a third continent – North America. Down the road, in New Zealand, they began homebrewing and the quality was so good they believed it could succeed commercially. Back in Scotland, the success of The Cobbles gastropub throttled back Gavin’s large-scale beer baron designs, but he did begin brewing Tempest at a smaller scale for the restaurant and local area. After incrementally increasing the size of the brewing operation, Tempest moved into a much larger space in Tweedbank earlier this year where the brand now has room to grow.

Not only is The Cobbles the home of Tempest’s beers, it’s also a perennial winner of CAMRA awards like Pub of the Year, both regionally and nation-wide. Looking over the specials board and menu made it clear there was good food to be had here and that someone in the kitchen particularly liked steak. At The Cobbles you can choose your cut, cooking style, and accompaniments to make the perfect steak according to your tastes. Math isn’t my strong suit, but it looks like there are enough combinations to keep a steakavore trying new things for a lifetime.

After a few pints in the crowded bar, The Cobbles opened their dining room for dinner and I quickly found a table. Desperately in need of sustenance, I started off with a bowl of broccoli, celery, and Strandhill blue cheese soup accompanied by a seedy nugget of bread. The little bowl was rich, unctuous, salty, and oh so delicious. It would be very dangerous to have this around me on a regular basis.

I settled on a steak for my main course since it was the house specialty. Feeling adventurous, I chose the bavette cut which is typically eaten rare, and it was indeed rare. A bit too rare for my tastes, but then I should have known better. I hardly ever order steak and perhaps the pints had gone to my head. Still, the steak and its accompaniment were quite tasty and prepared correctly. By the end of the meal I was absolutely stuffed and the dining room was a throng of happy diners. So many more delicious things on the menu yet so little time. I shall return to rectify this longing.

The Cobbles prides itself on its locally sourced produce and meats and delivers a high-end pub dining experience. Add in Tempest’s universally excellent brews and you’ve got a surefire win for a night out in Scottish Borders. The food and drink were delicious and I only wish my stomach had been a bit bigger so I could have tried more of the menu.

Next time you’re ranging through the Scottish Borders, stop in Kelso and spend some time at The Cobbles.

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