This modern venue is inside a private house built in 1808 and Tam Cowan visited on the run-up to Christmas to give it the once over.
A Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons tribute act is appearing on March 23 next year at The Tontine Hotel in Greenock.
They’re called The Jersey Notes. Not a very funny name, but I guarantee you’ll have a smile on your face if you decide to eat before the show at the hotel’s Eighteen 08 cocktail bar.
Yes, cocktails in Greenock. In a town that should have its very own tribute band called Always Wet Wet Wet, I bet every drink has a wee umbrella.
I’m always wary of cocktail bars after visiting one a few years back in downtown Airdrie.
After asking for a vodka and Coke, the barman said: “Is Pepsi ok?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I replied. And he gave me a Pepsi & Coke…
However, I enjoyed a much better experience at Eighteen 08.
Built as a private house in 1808 (hence the name of its trendy bar), The Tontine Hotel looked at first glance like one of those old, foosty hotels occupied by OAPs on Day Three of a Scottish bus tour. You know, the sort of gaff that’s so damp, all the cockroaches have got rheumatism.
But the minute I stepped inside the front doors, I was blown away by the smart, gleaming interior which has benefitted from a very recent refurbishment.
Walking past the rather grand Georgian Restaurant (how many Greenock families have enjoyed a wedding reception in that room?) we went downstairs to the smart, contemporary Eighteen 08.
If I can start with a minor quibble, it was maybe a bit too bright. In fairness, though, let’s not forget we were in Greenock — I guess the staff like to keep an eye on who’s in…
The young duo behind the bar was brilliant and, yep, cheery and chatty Bethany mixed a lovely cocktail.
(I once asked a lassie from Greenock if she liked cocktails and she replied: “I dunno… tell me wan.”)
To be honest, I was a wee bit out of my depth — ask for a cocktail in Motherwell and you’ll get a lager & lime — and my only cocktail connection is that I’m often mistaken for Tom Cruise.
So I went with Bethany’s recommendation: an Espresso Martini. It was absolutely delicious, and I’d describe it as, well, a chocolate milkshake laced with vodka. Perfect, I’d imagine, for getting the weans to sleep at night…
The food at Eighteen 08 was also very impressive and, after grabbing a big horseshoe-shaped booth (it was like having a shot on The Waltzers) with my mate Graeme, we tucked into a memorable feast.
Just one complaint about the grub (and I bet the management agree when I point it out). I think Eighteen 08 is doing itself a huge disservice by putting those cheap and nasty plastic sachets of sauce and vinegar on the tables. Come on, is it a pub chain or a classy cocktail lounge? Make your mind up.
The bar menu was bursting with lots of mouthwatering goodies and, boy, the sheet of Weekly Specials certainly lived up to its name with highlights including black pudding bonbons, lamb biryani and (not for the faint-hearted) what about the Eighteen 08 burger topped with Stornoway black pudding, smoked bacon and Applewood cheddar?
Oh, and how could I possibly forget the ham hough croquette?
You know how much I love ANY type of croquette and, after nipping in first to order one as his starter, my mate Graeme (the b*****d) insisted it would easily slot into my Best of 2018 as revealed in last week’s Scoff The Ball. And, having cleverly ordered one as a side order with my main course (how could I possibly resist?), yep, I’d have to agree 100 per cent.
In-fact, take a bow, chef. I think this ham hough croquette — fluffy potato and sweet, smoky, shredded meat in a deliciously crunchy crumb — might be the best one I’ve EVER tasted.
Staying with the Weekly Specials, my dining companion opted for the Dumfries shin of beef as his main course. Served with creamy mash, carrots and really nice onion gravy, I thought it was an absolute steal at £12.95. The generous serving of beef was incredibly tender — no need for Graeme’s knife — and I’ve often paid twice that amount for a far inferior steak.
To complete a memorable hat-trick, he somehow found room for a platter of Arran Blue and white smoked Cheddar which was very reasonably priced at £3.95.
It was so cheap, I’ll ALMOST forgive the kitchen for serving it on supermarket oatcakes (aka cork coasters) and foil-wrapped butter pats which ought to go the same way as the plastic sachets of sauce & vinegar (i.e. straight into the bin).
Across the table, only one complaint about my starter of haggis, neeps and tatties — the cold plate. Yikes! That’s unforgivable when any sauce (in this case a spicy peppercorn) is involved. Easily fixed, though.
My main course — The Tontine’s beef chilli — was absolutely faultless.
Hot ’n’ spicy as promised on the menu (yep, it did induce a proper head sweat), the fiery minced beef served with crunchy tortilla chips, a fresh dollop of sour cream (“How can sour cream be fresh?” — Ed) and a pile of crispy French fries which I’d substituted for rice.
And let’s not forget that very special side order — a ham hough croquette.
After such a happy finish, anything else was going to be an anti-climax, but I still enjoyed a trio of ice-creams (vanilla, strawberry and mint) which, if not homemade, must have been sourced from a very decent Italian cafe.
Overall, a cracking feed which (minus the cocktails, kindly purchased by my pal Graeme) cost £73 for the full works with a bottle of wine.
Good value for great grub and I’ll definitely be back.
Maybe not for The Jersey Notes tribute act next March, but I might return to Eighteen 08 for another event I saw advertised — the Wednesday quiz night.
Just to see if there’s any truth in the rumour that, in Greenock, the first question is ALWAYS: “Who are you looking at…?”