I fell in love with many things at university. The East Neuk of Fife, medical history, the Brontes, Janetta’s ice cream, pints (!) of gin & tonic, vegetable pakoras, ceilidhs, yoga, men in kilts and Scotland in general. So much so that I married one of the kilted men (although I had to travel to Yorkshire to meet him) and made the country my home. This post however is about one of the other most enduring obsessions out of these new loves that has stood the test of time over the last twenty years; chips & pepper sauce.
In the first year at St. Andrews I was left in no doubt by my parents that my next priority after making my bed, finding some friends and matriculating was to get myself a part time job. It was the first year of student tuition fees and as an English student in Scotland I was going to have to fork out the full amount over four years to fund my academic (and social) development.
I set out on a mission during the first week of being there and walked into a little restaurant at the furthest end of the town away from my halls of residence and offered them the services of my extensive waitressing experience. I didn’t tell them about all the plates I had dropped whilst gaining it.
It was like walking into a family (albeit a slightly dysfunctional one). I was given a pink shirt and as many shifts a week as I could handle depending on the season. Sometimes the place was deserted (rainy, mid-week winter evenings in Fife at the wrong end of the town were not known for their hopping restaurant vibes back then). Other times it was packed full with tourists and families, especially during sunny weekends, bank holidays and golf tournaments. The place was mainly staffed with students like me; not quite posh enough to score a job in one of the fancy places, but hard-working, fun-loving and honest misfits. We had a blast.
The place was run by a lovely couple who loved their staff almost as much as they seemingly hated each other. We were all their surrogate children, they were our confidantes and they gave us shifts and meals when we needed them even if paying us was bringing them to ruins. In the end it did, the restaurant had closed before I graduated.
If you worked a weekend morning shift your reward for making it there despite your crippling hangover was a bacon sandwich. In the evenings you could take 15 minutes in the tiny office cupboard to take your turn at eating dinner. Sometimes I would be cheeky and chance my luck at one of the ‘fancier’ dishes on the menu or ask for a full portion of scampi, but my go-to favourite was a portion of chips with either some garlic mushrooms or some pepper sauce to dip them in. Delicious.
Whenever I have ordered or made a steak since, I have made sure there is some pepper sauce on the side. It rarely lives up to the high standard set by Number 33. I don’t know how they made it, but to me it was delicious. These days I make my own version. It’s pretty good, but it’s not quite there yet. One day…
The restaurant, the chips and many of the things I loved then are now distant memories, but pepper sauce will always taste of a heady mix of ambition, naivety, young love, lost friendships, fun times, late nights and may unwise shots of sambucca and drambuie stolen from behind the bar. Of dancing on tables and singing karaoke in cutting edge outfits from ‘New Look’ that we had changed into after our shifts in the tiny cupboard, smelling slightly of whatever had been on the menu that evening. Haddock Mornay is a difficult scent to pull boys with, yet somehow we often managed.
They were the best of times, the worst of times and everything in between.
If I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing, but I know what I would order off the menu.
My ‘Number 33’ Pepper Sauce
- Has to be made in the pan you’ve cooked your steaks in (preferably with some mushrooms for added yumminess). Once they’re ready remove from the pan and leave them to rest whilst you make the sauce.
- Deglaze the pan with a good slug of white wine, brandy or whisky. Bubble on high heat until it is reduced by at least half.
- Add 2 Tbsp of crushed peppercorns and 100ml of double cream.
- Drain in any juices that have beem released from the resting steaks and season to taste.
- Serve alongside a juicy steak and a very large portion of chips!