When I started my journey on 1 January 2020 to cook 292 different evening meals in 365 days, I calculated that I'd need the remaining 73 days for overnights away with work, days when it just makes sense to eat leftovers and the odd occasion where we'd want to dine out. I had earmarked 14th February as a restaurant night early in January, booking a table well in advance to avoid disappointment.  

Although my husband and I pay little attention to Valentine's traditions we did in fact have our first date at a Valentine's night event (coincident rather than intentional) that coincided with the relaunch of the Hammersmith Palais as PoNaNa on Friday 9 Feb 2001. I have no idea why this Valentine's I decided to book a table at a restaurant - but 19 years on, a bell rang somewhere and I made a reservation. Maybe, it was just an excuse not to cook.

When I tracked my eating habits over 12 months between July 18 and July 19, it was a revelation to discover that for 10.4% of the year I'd eaten in restaurants with either my family or friends (not taking into account business trips). Compelled to benchmark this (largely in the hope of making myself feel better), a YouGov survey suggested that 56% of Brits eat out in restaurants once a fortnight, (so for roughly 7% of days of the year).

This didn't make me feel better. Probably because it doesn't feel like we eat out a lot, although we do when we're on holiday. Once I was over the shock of the probably cost of such extravagance, I planned to scale back our meals cooked by professional chefs to 4.4% (or 16 restaurant trips during the course of 2020). Tonight's meal was number 2 of 16.  

I always have high expectations when we eat out. Good service makes a big difference. Maya Angelou is credited with the quote

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Any service industry business is well advised to heed these sage words.

While below standard front of house service can have a devastating impact on visitor experience, the quality of food served by a restaurant is the critical factor. It was our first visit to Hunters Stables and the food was exceptional.

I indulged in all the things I wouldn't usually eat at home (bread and pasta); a combination of bruschetta to start followed by rigatoni with Nduja sausage (both from the specials board) were excellent. A call from the kids towards the end of our main course left me reticent to order my desert of choice (Tiramisu) and we cut things short and headed home.

I'm not sure if it was just because it was 14 February, but it was my first time eating out in the Scottish Borders where I was surprised to find myself one of the oldest diners in the room (I was born in 1971). Perhaps Hunters Stables just has a different customer profile. It was a diverse crowd in this busy bistro, with Centennial couples (yes they were on their mobiles) right through to the silent generation. With the majority of patrons Millennials and younger, there was something enjoyable about being amongst a young and diverse crowd eating out.