There are many reasons to visit Dunfermline, a town that was conferred city status in October 2022 by King Charles III — part of the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
The city, which was the capital of Scotland until 1452, has much to offer locals and visitors, alike. There’s Dunfermline Abbey, which was built on the site of a Benedictine Priory in the 11th-century; the Abbot House, overlooking the grounds of the abbey is well worth a visit and the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie — the city’s most famous son — is a popular museum.
But, whilst there are many historic venues where you can drink in the city’s history, there is only one place where you will ever want to eat: Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s, a bar and restaurant adjacent to the gates of Pittencrieff Park — the 76-acre landscaped parkland, locally referred to as “The Glen” — that was purchased for the people of Dunfermline by Andrew Carnegie.
Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s opened in 2018 by Bryan and Michelle Coghill — originally from Brechin — following their return from Madeira, where over a 20-year period they had launched a successful chain of restaurants.
Bryan’s intention with his new venue was to create dishes that celebrate all that Scotland has to offer, combined with his passion for Spanish and Portuguese cuisine and the inspiration from Middle and Far Eastern cooking traditions.
The restaurant has attracted a loyal following and now, five years on, Jack — Michelle and Bryan’s son — and his fiancée, Sarah, have picked up the baton and are now at the helm of this 40-cover restaurant.
Bryan is still involved with Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s, but is very much relishing his recent challenge — taking care of his two-and-half-year-old granddaughter. Michelle, who also enjoys time with her granddaughter, continues to lead the front-of-house team, which frequently involves working 10 hours a day.
At just 23, Jack is one of the youngest chefs in the business, yet he embraces the responsibility calmly and confidently, with the same passion for creating outstanding dishes that he has clearly inherited from his father.
Jack has been working in the hospitality sector since he was 14 and his desire to work in a kitchen has never faltered; he thrives on the day-to-day challenges and remains excited when it comes to creating new and unique dishes.
During our recent visit, we were presented with a selection of dishes, which puts Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s at the top of my list of favourite restaurants, which produced some of the best — if not the best — dishes I have ever been served.
We both started with their special cocktail, a refreshing Watermelon Sours (£12), which set the mood for evening. As we enjoyed our drinks we perused the menu (ticking yet another box) that didn’t run to more than one page per course.
For her starter my wife chose the Soft Shell Crab Tempura, served with beetroot hummus, Asian and grape slaw, with kombu seaweed seasoning (£10). I opted for the Steak Tartare, hand-chopped steak, with pickled shallots, ginger and soy, served with chive aioli and straw fries (£12).
The soft crab tempura was formed in the shape of a crab, which we were both talking about days later. The batter was light and crispy, which gave way to a rich crab meat filling, which was perfectly complemented by the beetroot hummus, slaw and seaweed seasoning.
My steak tartare was prepared to perfection and rivalled the dish that I last sampled in a restaurant in Burgundy, then chosen as a main course.
I preferred the smaller portion of the steak tartare from Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s, which was the ideal size for this dish. Served with the Asian-influenced flavours of ginger and soy, it produced a unique flavour profile, which left me wanting more.
Michelle, Jack’s mother, who continues to lead the front-of-house team insisted that we also sampled their signature starter: Iberian Black Pig Char Sui, served with Chinese spice, honey, sesame, ginger, spring onions and crackling (£12).
The pork was succulent, whose complex flavours — animated by spices, ginger and spring onions — produced sensations on the taste buds that were beyond superlatives. The dish was incredibly good and we would both be happy to order this every time.
My choice for the main course was one of the daily specials, the Picanha Churrasco with fresh black summer truffles (£38), served with hand-cut, skin-on fries and a generous side portion of mushrooms. Michelle asked if I wanted an accompanying sauce — pepper or blue cheese — and decided that I really ought to try both.
The blue cheese was smooth and creamy, and the pepper sauce has plenty of heat. The mushrooms, along with the hand-cut fries — both amply portioned — were the perfect accompaniment to a very satisfying dish.
The steak was cooked exactly how I like it —medium rare — and every mouthful was an adventure in taste and texture, and with two sauces to try I don’t think I spoke until the plate was clean. As for the preferred sauce, I couldn’t call it, they were both simply excellent.
Michelle also ordered a portion of corn ribs for us to share, which looked visually appealing when they arrived — literally small ‘ribs’ of corn on the cob — and the taste was sensational.
My wife opted for the other daily special, Monkfish & Langoustines (£38), served with sautéed potatoes and a chive sauce. The monkfish was meaty and perfectly cooked and the langoustines were succulent.
For dessert, my wife made her choice almost immediately: Sticky Toffee, which was Jack’s take on the classic sticky toffee pudding — a sticky toffee pudding choux bun, date and treacle cream, Scottish tablet, clotted cream ice cream, candied pecans and toffee sauce (£9).
This dessert is created with the various element assembled vertically, so it makes quite an entrance when presented at the table, which was more than equalled by the textures, flavours and overall satisfaction, evidenced by a third clean plate.
The portion of my main course steak was very generous leaving little room for dessert, but I couldn’t leave without sampling the option that caught my eye, Burnt Basque Cheesecake, served with Scottish strawberries, shortbread, water mint and strawberry sorbet (£9).
With so many interpretations of cheese cake available, I really enjoyed the simplicity of this dessert, which was complemented with the sweetness of the strawberries, mint and sorbet — again, demonstrating the chef’s attention to detail and understanding of how to best to combine flavours and textures.
To accompany our meals, rather than choosing bottles of wine we opted to have wine by the glass. I prefer reds and my wife prefers white.
My choice included Man Meets Mountain, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (250ml £9.75); Ignacio Marin, Magnifico Tempranillo, Cariñena, Spain (250ml £9.75) and Bojador, Touriga Nacional, Baixo Alentejo, Portugal (250ml £10.75).
My wife ordered glasses of the Zephyr Sauvignon Blanc (250ml £10.75) a light and refreshing wine from New Zealand and the Italian Pinot Grigio (250ml £ 9.75).
Not only is Jack now head chef, he remains committed to producing his range of hand-made chocolates. A labour of love that requires at least three separate processes, taking up to 36 hours per batch, before each chocolate is ready to be enjoyed.
It is clear from the quality of the food that is served at Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s that Jack has learned much from his father, but he is also an accomplished pastry chef and chocolatier — skills that he developed under the guidance of Mark Tilling, an award-winning chocolatier and pastry chef.
The relationship that Jack developed whilst training with Mark remains to this day and Mark is a regular visitor to Dunfermline from his base in Winchester. He is also godfather to Jack’s daughter.
Looking to the future of the business, Bryan is currently writing a cook book and Jack has been in early discussions for possible TV appearances.
It is a bold statement to say that this is perhaps the best restaurant I have visited, but on too many occasions I leave establishments feeling disappointed.
At Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s, the service was faultless and the food was exceptional.
There’s not a lot more to be said.
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Portrait of Jack & Bryan and the restaurant’s interior: copyright Jim Payne