For me, Sundays have always been a day of rest.
Whether that involves lazing around in my favourite loungewear or binge-watching the latest Netflix series, they are perfect for recharging your batteries after a hectic week – and spending quality time with loved ones, too.
But with restrictions easing, I have made a conscious effort to head out and about as much as possible in recent weeks. Yes, even on Sundays.
I’m sure many of you can agree that we’ve spent far too long in our slippers and oversized jumpers over the course of the past year, so I’m aiming to take advantage of the reopening of hospitality.
And to be honest, I am more than happy to sacrifice my “day of rest” to support local businesses and producers and enjoy some delicious food and drinks – who wouldn’t be?
Luckily for me, my boyfriend shares this mindset. So after little to no persuasion, he agreed to join me on an outing to Simpsons at Happy Plant, based in Mintlaw, last Sunday.
My boyfriend lives a mere 10-minute drive from Simpsons at Happy Plant, which boasts an extensive garden centre and restaurant.
The site was taken over by new owners at the tail end of last year, resulting in an upgrade of the restaurant – along with other areas of the venue. Neither of us had the chance to see it before our recent visit, and we were very impressed.
It’s bright, welcoming and offers breakfast, lunch and afternoon teas. And having heard that the chefs use only the freshest seasonal produce from local suppliers in their dishes, we knew we were in for a treat.
On entering the centre, the pair of us followed a short pathway to the restaurant and were instantly greeted by a welcoming member of staff, who asked me to check us both in.
We were then informed of the coronavirus safety measures in place and taken to our table. But with guests having to make their way to the food counter to place an order, we had barely touched our seats before heading over to see what was on offer.
There are traybakes and daily specials to an extensive line-up of freshly made sandwiches, baked potatoes, toasties and paninis. Although you’d think the decision would have been challenging, I knew exactly what I was after as soon as I spotted it – one of the specials, macaroni cheese.
My boyfriend’s decision was also snappy, so in little to no time, we were back in our seats.
My macaroni came in a piping-hot bowl and was topped with a crispy, golden coating of cheese – it was a feast for the eyes. You could see the steam escaping from the dish, so I let it cool for a few moments and sampled my sides.
There were garden peas and a mixed salad comprising cucumber, tomato, red onion and rocket lettuce, as well as homemade chips and a slice of garlic bread. A dollop of coleslaw was also in the mix, but I left this for my boyfriend to enjoy (I’ve never been the biggest fan).
The homemade chips were chunky, to say the least, and came in a hefty portion. I was delighted to see the skin of the potato had been left on as I adore the texture it brings. And although they were slightly on the hard side, I knew this would contrast nicely with the consistency of my macaroni.
The garlic bread was aromatic and crisped to perfection with an amazing crunch. I dipped it into my cheesy pasta dish, breaking through the first layer to a cluster of creamy sauce and melt-in-the-mouth pasta chunks.
In the end, I had almost every component – the peas, bread and chips – swimming in my bowl of gooey goodness.
As for my lunch partner, he fancied one of the sandwich options – the prawn Marie Rose.
His brown bread was soft, fluffy and oozing with a thick filling of prawns that had been smothered in a thick Marie Rose sauce. Requesting a bite, it was creamy and full of flavour. The sauce boasted just the right amount of tanginess so it didn’t overwhelm the palate, while the prawns themselves were cooked to perfection.
My boyfriend was also given a side salad, which he placed inside some of his sandwich segments for some added crunch.
Taking a breather before tucking into our home bakes, the pair of us sampled the restaurant’s red berry tea – an unusual drinks order for us, but we were keen to try out something new.
It came in a quirky, miniature teapot and, having let it sit for some time while we enjoyed our dishes, had cooled down to a lukewarm temperature. We were thankful for this as we were really feeling the heat.
Both of us took a sip simultaneously. It was punchy and had a lovely, rich and fruity flavour. It’s definitely something I’d order again when out for breakfast, brunch or a light lunch, as well as at home.
Moving swiftly on to our sweet options, I cut our empire biscuit and lemon meringue slice in half so we could both enjoy each treat.
Inside the empire biscuit, which boasted a crumbly, buttery consistency, was a thin layer of strawberry jam. This added a lovely flavour to the treat that balanced superbly with the white water icing coated on top.
As for the lemon meringue slice, this too had a lovely texture and comprised two layers. We absolutely loved the burst of flavour from the lemons on the top layer, which had a marshmallow texture. And as for the bottom, it was crumbly and more subtle in taste. The slice had the perfect balance of sweet and tart.
It would be an impossible task to pick a winner between the two, but one thing is for certain, sweet prevailed this time around.
It’s been a while since I stopped by Happy Plant (now known as Simpsons at Happy Plant), but what I will say to the new owners is, bravo.
Although I never had a bad experience there in the past – in fact, I always adored the dishes I tucked into – they really have made the venue their own and emphasised that they mean business.
The restaurant had a lovely feel to it and, as for the food, it was filling and flavoursome.
All in all, I’ll certainly be stopping by again in future – and next time around, the visit will involve browsing the extensive garden centre too.