I once wrote about a seafood restaurant telling readers I didn’t think it could be bettered – well read on, because Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill in Edinburgh has just stolen the crown!
The restaurant, located in the old fish market at Newhaven Harbour in Leith has just undergone a complete refurbishment from the flooring to the ceiling. And, boy does it look good now.
I’ve no idea who the designer is but, like me, he or she has obviously done some travelling down the coast of Maine in the USA. The pastoral greens and blues, the light wood accents on the floors and in the tables/chairs, the large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the harbour – are all very reminiscent of the many lobster and crab shacks all along the eastern seaboard.
Be aware there is limited parking available at the restaurant which has no private car parking on site. There is both off and on-street parking, but, if you’re local to the area then I suggest you simply use public transport for convenience.
The restaurant has ramped disabled access from the street and the main door is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
The restaurant and dining area is all on one level and is an open plan design allowing for easy manoeuvrability.
Upon arrival, we were met by the Maître d’, Andrew who provided a very warm welcome and escorted us to the table. We were then introduced to our waitress, Ela, an extremely friendly, competent and knowledgeable member of staff. And that’s one of the things that struck me throughout the evening – just how relaxed and friendly all the staff were?
As we passed the open kitchen en-route to the table, the smell of grilled seafood, butter and garlic had my tastebuds salivating in anticipation of what was to come.
From the moment we were seated, Ela swung into action with an attention to detail second to none. Slick and polished are just two of the terms that come to mind. Menus were provided – and I mean menus – all three of them! There’s one for oysters alone, detailing the seven varieties normally available and the intricate flavours between oysters harvested from different areas around Scotland and the islands.
Then there was the main menu. A large A3 sheet which changes three times annually to maintain seasonality and includes, fish, seafood, a small choice of steaks and vegetarian options.
And, just when you thought you’d managed to make a choice – out pops the specials blackboard menu. On the evening of our visit, this included four new dishes – two starters and mains.
Drinks orders duly taken, we were then offered a complimentary oyster, of course, it had to be the Loch Fyne variety. Next up was a platter of warmed home-made sourdough bread to nibble on while we perused the menus.
The oysters, as they should be, were served on ice to keep them chilled, with lemon slices and a mignonette of red wine vinegar and shallots in addition to the Tabasco sauce that was offered. They were delightfully sweet yet with a sea salt tang, almost to the point of being creamy with no bitter aftertaste. The first went down with a squeeze of lemon while the second had a teaspoon of the mignonette poured over, which, and it is only my opinion, provided an explosion of flavours which were simply sublime. I never really understand people who simply swallow an oyster over without chewing it. You’re missing so much of the intricacies in the flavourings!
While the bread, a sourdough in two versions, white and wholemeal is not cooked on site, it is provided by a small Artisan bread baker locally. Along with it, there was a dish of butter and more traditionally perhaps, one of oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicious it was. Soft and chewy with a crisp crust, the sourness of the bread wasn’t overpowering as it can be when the fermentation is allowed to continue too long and the lactobacilli increases.
Despite the fact there were approximately 60 covers seated, service was both prompt and efficient and no table was kept waiting.
And here’s something. Some restaurants I’ve reviewed in the past have provided excellent food but were absolutely soulless – not so at Loch Fyne. There’s an ambience, a buzz if you like about the place – evident the minute you walk in the door and was difficult to pinpoint but provided a definite feel-good vibe. The piped music is modern but not to the point of being overly intrusive and conversation was still easily achieved.
Everything is cooked fresh to order don’t expect the food to be delivered to your table within minutes of ordering. The wait you’ll have is well worth it.
The restaurant prides itself on using sustainably produced and caught, fish and seafood from around the UK and strictly adheres to that policy as much as is possible.
So with both bread and oyster plates cleared, the starters arrived.
My charcoal tortellini with white crabmeat, topped with brown crabmeat and dressed in a lemon oil was priced at £12.25.
The pasta used by the restaurant is supplied by a family run business La Tua in Borough Market, London. Having tasted it, I realise why they don’t make their own. The dark coloured pasta sheets had a slightly smoky flavour – enough to give it a hint of flavour which enhanced the overall dish – raising it from a very good starter to an exceptional one.
The lemon oil dressing was very subtle, but it did its job of wrapping the whole dish together. My concern when ordering this dish was that it might be rather bland, but the addition of the brown crabmeat ensured this was not the case.
My dining partner had opted for the grilled Scottish scallops with Rosso king prawns in a smoked paprika and rosemary butter, also priced at £12.25.
This was another well put together starter dish by the kitchen team. The scallops were large although the menu didn’t elaborate where they were sourced from. The cooking of them was spot on. They were caramelised on both sides which had sealed in the flavour and gave them an amazing chargrilled flavour.
They were sweet and succulent and with the addition of the smoked paprika and rosemary butter, it raised this dish up onto a pedestal all on their own. The Rosso prawn is a Sicilian red prawn, and while not a ‘local’ product, they were full of flavour. When overcooked, prawns can become like rubber bullets – but the chef had got it right with these.
And a nice touch, their heads were provided on the plate. Some diners are squeamish about this, but not me. You need to taste the flavour by sucking on the head and then follow-up with a piece of the paprika butter dipped scallop. There’s nothing else like the flavour that can be had from a grilled king prawn or langoustine head.
It was very quickly established that the Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill have a very professional kitchen brigade working for them. The only thing missing on this starter was the coral – I think adding this into any scallop dish provides both extra flavour, taste and texture. But you can have too much of a good thing, can’t you?
This is both modern and stylish cooking, it’s edgy and sharp but not to the point of silliness. On the night I visited, the kitchen had a team of four working. Ela, the waitress who I mentioned earlier, was her usual professional self, checking regularly if all was well but not to the point where it became intrusive.
So onto the mains. I opted for one of the specials, a pan-fried halibut supreme in the garlic and white wine sauce with buttered new potatoes, priced at £31.95.
This dish, like everything else thus far, was cooked perfectly. Just past translucent to opaque but not to the point of being overdone. It flaked beautifully and held its shape well. The skin side also had a slight colour from the frying. It’s a firm fish but needs gentle and careful handling all the same. I’d have liked a little more garlic in the sauce, which is actually more of a jus than a coating sauce. There’s always a trade-off when using garlic with fish and I’m sure in this case the chef had erred on the side of caution so as not to have the whole dish overpowered by the pungency of garlic.
The buttered new potatoes arrived in a small side dish. They were perfect in size nice and small, skin on, firm, waxy and well cooked, drenched in butter and parsley and were a perfect accompaniment to the halibut. And for some vegetable content, I chose a side dish of samphire with lemon.
I’ve always said that chefs in non-seafood restaurants can get away with many errors without too much damage being done. For a chef in this type of establishment however, it’s just not the case. They don’t have the same amount of leeway and when something goes wrong, it’s both very obvious and can be disastrous for the dish.
My dining colleague opted to have the king prawn linguine with cherry tomato, samphire, chilli and tomato sauce priced at £16.50.
The linguine pasta, once again supplied by La Tua, was cooked al dente. For those who may be unsure, linguine is similar to spaghetti but slightly wider. Timing when cooking fresh pasta is crucial. If it’s cooked correctly then you should need teeth to eat it, but it should not be chalky or tough. If overcooked, it’s more likely to be soft and slimy! There was no complaint with ours. It was nice to see the chef had not skimped on the king prawns either, one of my pet hates. A good number of cherry tomatoes were enrobed in a delicate tomato and chilli dressing. There is sometimes a worry that any dish containing chilli will be too hot, but that was not the case here.
The prawns were both juicy and tender as well as being sweet. It’s a great mix – prawns, pasta, tomato and chilli, you can’t really go wrong. It wasn’t long before we had two clean plates yet again.
We finished off with two desserts. A crème brûlée and a Black Forest trifle priced at £5.75 and £5.95 respectively.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m a sucker for a crème brûlée so can call out a good one from an impostor pretty easily.
To my mind, a ‘proper’ crème brûlée shouldn’t have all sorts of fruit added to it. It’s basically a set egg custard cooked in a water bath. It has four ingredients, egg yolks, cream, vanilla pod and granulated white sugar.
And that’s exactly what was served. The custard was soft and creamy with a lovely hint of vanilla flavouring, topped off with a crispy, slightly burnt sugar topping. The latter element is an important one because the caramelised top should break with a crack when hit with a spoon. It needs to be slightly burnt in order that the flavour can act as a foil against the much sweeter custard below. For that extra texture, ours was supplied with two honey oat cookies.
I’m also a bit of an aficionado in trifles – do you see a pattern emerging here? Anyway, I’m really a sherry trifle kind of guy. I know, blame my highland granny!
But this version took me back to my youthful days of the 1970s when Black Forest gateau was deemed upmarket and only for the poshest diners – so quite why we got it is a bit of a mystery. A small dessert glass arrived at the table. Looking at it from a side view showed four layers the top one being whipped cream (and none of that canned muck), below that a lovely light yellow custard, underneath that a moist chocolate sponge and below that morello cherry base layer.
What a thing of exquisite beauty, both on the eye and most certainly on the tongue. It was a mix of creamy goodness broken up by the texture of the sponge and then a hint of both sweet-and-sour from the cherry compote layer.
If like me you have a sweet tooth, and you’re not sure what to have for your dessert then I’m telling you now choose the trifle for a change or go for the crème brûlée – both are amazing!
The Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill are hosting a special Christmas and New Year menu this year until January 5, 2020. Further details and booking forms are available at: Loch Fyne booking and menus.
One of the things that continuously surprises me doing this ‘job’ is the quality of food available locally and more importantly, the value for money aspect, making eating out affordable for most these days.
So, as you may have gathered this restaurant in Newhaven, Edinburgh has gone straight into my top five of Scottish restaurants and has taken the number one spot for seafood dining. An exceptional accolade and well done to them for achieving it.