Aberdeen’s voyage from an industrious, no frills, yet bustling city in the north east of Scotland to the sleek cosmopolitan oil capital of Europe has happened in little over three decades. Its restaurant journey, from those offering basic, predominantly British fare to an all-singing, all-dancing smorgasbord of tastes, happened even more quickly.
In the early days of the oil boom in the mid-to-late 1970s, stetsons and cowboy boots were the incongruous order of the day in Union Street and a shock of American diners emerged in the city. But if root beer then was considered exotic to the north east palate, the sheer range of restaurants available now is little more than remarkable.
Thai, Chinese, French, Italian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Mexican, Vietnamese – in Aberdeenshire you can sample all these and more. Italian restaurants have really made their mark in the city and you can choose your favourite from a wide and varied selection.
For sheer ‘chutzpah’ courtesy of the eponymous owner, the tiny Carmine’s in Union Terrace remains a standout and delights, amongst others, many visiting actors to the nearby HM Theatre. Moving out of the city, Borsalino in North Deeside Road, Peterculter, has many fans as do Casa Salvatore in Ellon and Via Roma in Inverurie.
Thai, Chinese, French, Italian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Mexican, Vietnamese – in Aberdeenshire you can sample all these and more
The arrival of international competition has resulted in Indian restaurants upping the ante and many of them now offer lighter, gourmet Indian nouvelle cuisine. But old favourites the Light of Bengal and Shahbaaz, both in Rose Street, retain their appeal. One of the newer Indian restaurants on the scene is Monsoona in the city’s Bridge Street, which advocates a ‘healthier’ approach to the cuisine. Among its specialities are tandoori sea bass, tiger prawn special and a range of meat and vegetarian thalis.
Chinese food has in many respects suffered from the arrival of a glut of ‘eat all you can’ buffet joints but popular eateries such as the Yangtze River on Bridge Street, dating from 1964, and Manchurian at Causewayend still have loyal customers, including many members of the local Chinese community, often an indicator of quality and authenticity, and offer good cuisine at competitive prices.
The Nargile has been a fixture on the city’s food scene for many years and, along with its sister restaurant Rendezvous at Nargile, continues to provide high quality Turkish cuisine. Meze-style – a large selection in small quantities – is the best way to enjoy Middle Eastern food and at both restaurants this is certainly the case. Try the vine leaves – Yaprak Dolmasi, Humus Kavurma (with pan fried fillet of lamb and pine nuts) – and the vegetarian Kizartma and sip on a Turkish Angora wine.
The Royal Thai, Aberdeen’s longest-established Thai restaurant, in Crown Terrace, was established in 1992 and it continues to combine top-notch food with a whimsical Oriental ambience. Starters featuring crab and prawns are typical of the strong seafood theme, continued with mains of monkfish, turbot, rock fish, squid and scallops. Or you can sample the banquet, the traditional and recommended way to enjoy Thai food.
The arrival of international competition has resulted in Indian restaurants upping the ante and many of them now offer lighter, gourmet Indian nouvelle cuisine
Fish, indeed, is synonymous with the north east of Scotland and although the number of boats landing catches has declined recently, fresh locally-caught fish is still a menu mainstay in many local restaurants and takeaway outlets. The Silver Darling, the Scottish nickname for herring, is located in Pocra Quay and appropriately provides panoramic views over Aberdeen harbour as you enjoy your fillet of halibut or black sea bream.
The restaurant opened in 1986 and has consistently been recommended in the Good Food Guide since then. It has also been ranked as one of the top 10 seafood restaurants in the UK. Equally renowned is the famed Ashvale in Great Western Road where, sit-in or take-away, you can still indulge in one of the best fish suppers in the country. If you are feeling exceptionally hungry you can attempt the Ashvale Whale – a 1lb haddock fillet – and if you finish it yourself you can eat a second ‘whale’ on the house!
South from Aberdeen to the heart of the Mearns and north, along the Buchan coast, there are also a number of fantastic pubs serving good wholesome food and the north east tradition of a Sunday drive followed by a bar supper at an accommodating inn remains strong. There are also a number of first-rate dining establishments.
Among these is the Lairhillock Inn, a 200-year-old former coaching inn, at Netherley, near Stonehaven, which proudly and justifiably boasts it has been recommended in no less than 12 good food guides. Here you’ll find starters such as Cullen skink (smoked fish soup) and smoked haddock filo parcels and hearty main courses like roasted loin of pork, lamb two ways and haggis, neeps and tatties.
Fish, indeed, is synonymous with the north east of Scotland and although the number of boats landing catches has declined recently, fresh locally-caught fish is still a menu mainstay in many local restaurants and takeaway outlets
Eating out in Stonehaven
Moving slightly further south on the coast, the bonnie seaside town Stonehaven has quite a few restaurants and inns worth exploring. Among these are The Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant on the harbour which boasts excellent seafood, and a short walk away is the equally nautical Ship Inn where, on a nice sunny day, you can enjoy an excellent al fresco lunch as you look out to the harbour and listen to the impatient seagulls chattering overhead.
North of the city, the Eat on the Green restaurant at Udny Green sees award-winning chef Craig Wilson offer innovative lunch and dinner menus, creating an imaginative range of contemporary and classic dishes using fresh local produce. At the gateway to Royal Deeside The Cow Shed Restaurant in Banchory offers tempting seasonal creations from owner and widely-travelled chef Graham Buchan and has a relaxed, warm feel with fabulous views over the countryside. For those who feel adventurous it also runs a cookery school for individuals and teams and it is the home of the global phenomenon, venison ice cream!
There are a number of top bistro restaurants in the city such as Café 52 on The Green which offers inspirational avant-garde cooking and puddings ‘to die for’ in an ancient location just off Union Street. The Union Square shopping complex itself has more than 20 food outlets where you can happily indulge yourself at landmark names such as Nando’s, Frankie and Benny’s, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s and YO! Sushi.
The Food Story Café in Thistle Street is a unique concept in today’s hard-nosed commercial world – it is a people’s cafe, built by customers and investors who want less waste and more recycling and almost everything was made with recycled materials. The altruistic team is committed to giving its customers home-made, wholesome, healthy, organic, free range local food. It’s snack-bar food, catering for all dietary requirements, but it is simply delicious.
On a nice sunny day, you can enjoy an excellent al fresco lunch as you look out to the harbour and listen to the impatient seagulls chattering overhead
Modern British cusine
Moonfish Café, established in 2004, is located on the medieval streets of Aberdeen’s Merchant quarter with views of the 12th-century Kirk of St Nicholas. The kitchen’s constantly-changing innovative menu of modern British cuisine consists of a focused menu for lunch and dinner. Fusion in North Silver Street offers something a bit different again. The decor is bright and breezy and for a lunch or early supper you can select from a constantly-changing menu but normally included among the offerings are Jerusalem artichoke soup with confit of duck and wild mushrooms, pumpkin tortellini and duck egg and rhubarb tart.
In Aberdeen’s prime retail area of Queen’s Road, Malmaison sits proudly with a brasserie which seats 100 people. Scottish artwork adorns the walls and it has a commitment to ‘keep it local’ with dishes such as whisky-cured salmon, haggis cake, bubbly jock pie and various fish and meat dishes. It also offers diners innovations like The Chef’s Table, where a party of up to eight people can view the kitchen goings-on with only a plate glass wall separating them from the chef’s ire. The brasserie is cavernous with open kitchen, intimate booths and its own butchery.
The Marcliffe Hotel Spa and Restaurant is Aberdeen’s only five-star hotel and it is situated in 11 acres of wooded grounds in North Deeside Road. Its conservatory restaurant serves breakfast, lunch (outside in summer) and dinner and its team of chefs specialise in Grampian regional produce – Aberdeen Angus beef, game, and fish and shellfish from local rivers and ports. The wine cellar holds more than 400 wines, chosen from around the world, and the drawing room bar is stocked with more than 100 choice malt whiskies.
All in all, whether it’s foreign cuisine or the best from home, Aberdeen and the shire seem to have it all.
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