Tom finds much to savour as he travels to Northeast Scotland for a waterside lunch.
The Silver Darling is an old description for the herring, a glittering, endlessly versatile beauty that can be fried, pickled or smoked into kippers and bloaters. Stuffed full with the sort of oil that puts a lusty spring in your step, they were once so lavishly abundant that in 1913 alone, an estimated 10,000 boats from across Europe came to Scottish waters to harvest the seething seas. On their slender backs, vast fortunes were built.
Aberdeen, by the mid-19th century, had a good-sized herring fishery, and the boats would leave the harbour, passing the old Customs House, where we now sit in the restaurant named after the herring, gazing out over grey (granite, sky, sea), punctuated by a flash of green golf course. Occasionally, a ship glides past, through the harbour’s neck and off into the North Sea.
But despite the dour colour, it’s a bonny view, and the dining room, one floor up and framed with vast glass windows, is a civilised place in which to spend an early summer’s afternoon. Local lobsters are off today, as are scallops, which is a bore as they’re part of the reason we’re here. But if you are going to buy local, you just have to accept the ebb and flow of the catch.
Irish and Scottish oysters are available, in all manner of ways. But following a recent brush with a bad batch, I give them a reluctant miss. There’s a fine Cullen skink, thick as a Moray burr, with great chunks of undyed smoked haddock. And succulent curls of pil pil prawns, wallowing in what tastes like chorizo oil. Although call me a moaning English bawbag and all that, but I’d prefer them whole. A slight mix-up with mains is quickly and sweetly sorted, a good bottle of Picpoul sunk, and then the sun peeks out, transforming dull to delight, as the sea begins to sparkle, and the sky turns azure.
Another bottle of wine is ordered, and we share mussels, sweet, plump and fresh, in a mildly spicy tomato sauce. And pick at monkfish scampi, artfully fried, and dunked into a wild garlic mayonnaise.
This far north, and the season is still in full bloom. Some good cheese, and more idle chat. We’ve an hour until our plane, and we’re in no hurry. Another glass is poured, and another ship glides by.
About £25 a head. The Silver Darling, Pocra Quay, Aberdeen; thesilverdarling.co.uk.
DRINKS: Olly’s Greek treats
Splash a few extra pounds for these top-level wines that make you feel as though you’re on a luxurious Greek island. The grape names may be unfamiliar and production levels boutique, yet the regional range is massive. The headline is simple: these Greek treats taste like iconic wines from other countries that cost double the price. And my wine of the week is an utter steal – like a liquid holiday.
WINE OF THE WEEK: FOUND MOSCHOFILERO RODITIS 2020 (12%), £8.50, Marks & Spencer. Great value, scrumptious and lightly scented. Buy a case – it’s beyond brilliant.
PSARADES DAFNI DOMAINE LYRARAKIS 2020 (12%), £9.50, The Wine Society. Scented as bay leaves and thrilling as a lemon on a high wire.
DOMAINE FOIVOS NAUTILUS AGED UNDER WATER (12.5%), £14.06, greatwinesdirect.co.uk. Exotic as orange blossom, pristine and fruity as iced melon.
REMATIES 2020 IOS WINERY (13%), £17.49, strictlywine.co.uk. Minerally and fresh as a sea breeze, this gem is terrific with all shellfish.
GEROVASSILIOU MALAGOUSIA 2020 (13.5%), £17.95, thewhiskyexchange.com. I buy this jasmine tangerine star-bright white every year. Delicious.