Green Gates

2 Queen Street, Stirling

01786473766

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Lunch/Dinner: £18-£30

Food rating: 4/10

THE reason Stirling hardly ever features in these reviews is that I can’t find anywhere good to eat there. Before complaints to the editor flow in a bloody Bannockburn-style surge against the enemy, let me make clear that it’s not for want of trying. Whenever I meet someone from Stirling, or someone who goes to Stirling, I quiz them about where they eat, but no luck. Quickly they’ll start blurring the geography, talking about Cromlix House outside Dunblane, or heading further north to the Mhor establishments around Callander.

Perhaps the city of Stirling is top-heavy with students, not a demographic that nurtures a good food culture, and then of course, there are all the tourists who contribute to a Venice or Barcelona effect: inflated prices, inferior food.

But at least in these two notoriously touristy cities there are great places to eat if you know where to look off the beaten track. I’m not convinced that Stirling has hidden gems, but I’d love you to prove me wrong.

So when trusted friends recommended Green Gates as a properly high-standard Indian outfit in Stirling, I was jubilant; they lived in Delhi, so they know what they’re on about. On paper the menu looked a little average – it wasn’t pushing the boat out – but done well, it could be fine. According to its website, the talented kitchen crew is headed by chefs who worked at the well-respected restaurants, Mother India and the Wee Curry Shop. But has there been a change of chef?

The front door stays open throughout our long, sluggish meal. It’s 13C outside and there’s no obvious heating. We become colder and colder. The laccha paratha arrives first. It has more buttery layers than your standard paratha we’re told, but its too elastic, not really that buttery, and chills in seconds. Alarm bells ring with the complimentary mushroom soup. Salty, mouth-filling, indeterminately milky, if it’s not from a packet I’m surprised that anyone can make a soup from scratch that tastes so fake.

A tough dosa follows, rolled round an under-spiced filling of puzzlingly sweet, slippery potatoes. It cools instantly on the stone-cold plate. Where’s the customary coconut sambal? At Green Gates the dosa comes with a hot red chilli sauce as subtle as a cavalry charge. All you can taste is chilli powder; the other constituents of this sauce are obscure, a mystery.

On Tripadvisor people rave about the fish pakora. These are the least bad things we eat; almost anything deep-fried has its charms. The batter is crunchy, but the fish is a formless mush, past peak freshness. Its side "salad"– a gruelling combo of iceberg lettuce, sweet corn, those cheap pitted olives that taste of cardboard, and chopped pepper – looks as tired and cold as I am beginning to feel. There’s more of the bolt-on, multipurpose chilli sauce. A separate starter of spiced haddock baked in foil confirms my feeling that the slack, toneless fish has entered that stage of life where it should be retired.

We wait and wait; we become colder and colder, then experience a surge of hope as warmish plates are set before us for the main courses, which are massive. Maybe this generous quantity helps blind people to inferior quality. Goan fish curry tastes like a thicker version of the paste on the fish in foil. Hot, tomatoey, tainted by a stale garlic taste, I can’t get it down even with a load of the rice, which lacks basmati perfume and looks like standard long-grain.

An ox-blood red mutton masala fry belies its description: "cooked with coconut cream, mustard, and curry leaf". The firm meat cubes taste as though they’ve been plunked in their vinegary-sweet dragon’s breath sauce at the last minute. What’s this got to do with Goa? The spinach in the creamy sag paneer tastes tinned, the cheese is of the plastic sort. Yet again that rank, old garlic presence pollutes the palate.

We eat very little. Would we like our leftovers wrapped to take away? No thanks. It’s bad enough eating building block food reassembled in different configurations once. I’m not anxious to repeat the experience.