Last week, while working down in London I was pleasantly surprised to be stopped at 6pm when my colleague received a phone call from the boss (not necessarily 'my boss'). "Stop what you're doing and get yourselves cleaned up - let's go out to eat." This was pretty much the gist of the conversation.
Not needing to be told twice, we practically met ourselves coming back.
And so it was that, after a few libations in some pub on the High St, we stagge...strolled along to the Loch Fyne Restaurant in Barnet.
Loch Fyne Restaurants - A chain of Scottish seafood restaurants specialising in fish and shellfish from the area of the west coast of Scotland.
This is the first time I'd visited one of these restaurants, as it was for my colleague and only the second time for the boss. Strange for 3 Jocks not to have frequented such an establishment...or it would be if they had any in Scotland! Apart from the original Oyster shed that opened as a restaurant in 1987 in Cairndow, all their locations are south of the border. What's that about? I know us Northern Brits are not really considered as gourmets, indeed, if it's not coated in batter and deep-fried, or pickled in a jar, it's widely assumed that fish doesn't play a big part in the diet up here. Piffle-paffle. It's probably because we're loathe to spend 15-20 quid on squid, or bales of dosh on farmed salmon (tight-fisted gits).
Anyway, that's besides the point.
On entering the restaurant, we were quickly greeted and offered a choice of where to sit - the restaurant wasn't busy, but then it was a Tuesday. I can't vouch for the decor of others in the chain, but this one was pretty understated and casual. Pine was the dominant theme, in fact it was the only theme - no problemo, pine is fine. There's a few nets and other fish-related paraphernalia dotted around, but not too much. Some old photos of traditional Scottish fishing villages and harbour scenes complete the picture.
One of the most appealing things about the restaurant was the display cabinet stuffed with fresh fish and seafood on ice - these are for sale over the counter if you'd prefer to cook your own.
The menu was almost totally fish related (shockeroonie) and one of the things that struck me as amusing was the fact that the non-fish section contained 3 dishes - one meat and two veggie - probably the first time carnivores and herbivores have shared the 'minority' tag.
While perusing the menu, we were presented with a basket of assorted bread which, being on the ravenous side of peckish, we soon demolished. No worries, a replacement basket was instantly produced.
Including the specials, there was a choice of around 5-6 starters and a dozen or so main courses. Choices. choices, choices. For starters, I had the fish soup, as did my work mate, while boss man had assorted herring fillets. the herring fillets looked very nice - each one (4 of them) coiled and garnished with different sauces.
The soup was OK. tasty enough, it wasn't overly exciting and I got the impression it was made from all the off-cuts of fish being squished in a blender. As I said, OK but for a fiver I'd expect something more interesting. The portions were pretty large, especially for a starter, they would have been adequate as main courses. In fact, I was a little concerned that I would struggle to eat the second course...aye right!
Two of us decided on the Brandon Rost - kiln roasted smoked salmon with a wild mushroom and whisky sauce, while the other had smoked haddock on a bed of mash. All these dishes came in at around the £12 mark, with potatoes and veg being extra. We shared some chips, some mash, and some salad.
The Brandon Rost was lovely. The two salmon cutlets were char-grilled yet tenderly underdone and very tasty. The smoky flavour just piquant enough but not so strong to make you feel you're sucking ash. The sauce was delicious. Although the mushroom flavour was quite subtle, the whisky complimented the smoky salmon perfectly and a touch of cream kept it luxuriously smooth. Luckily, I kept some bread by to mop up the dregs of the sauce.
The mashed potatoes were fine - not too creamy, they still had a good, waxy potato texture. The chips were a little disappointing - they seemed like the frozen variety to me. The salad was quite pleasant but the portion was a little dinky.
I had a taste of the smoked haddock. Properly smoked, and not that yellow muck, it was really tasty and melted in the mouth.
None of us even glanced at the dessert menu, so I can't really comment on that.
Drink-wise, we settled for a couple of bottles of house white. I'm not a fan of white wine particularly, but it was very nice - I can't remember what it was though, apart from being Californian.
Coffee and cognac rounded the meal off. A nice touch with the cognac was the presentation. The snifter was cupped on top of a large tumbler full of hot water which warmed the cognac up wonderfully.
The service was attentive and friendly although, as I said, the restaurant wasn't very busy so the staff weren't exactly rushed off their feet. When asked about dishes, they were happy to recommend or give opinions on certain items.
The bill came to a little under £100 which isn't too bad for what we had. Even better was the fact that it was on xpenses...someone else's expenses.
In conclusion, I thought the restaurant was, in the main, very good. Although it's a chain, it felt individual and the cooking didn't appear to be of the 'ping' variety. In fact, I think they have an open grill area, but where I was seated I wasn't really in a position to see that. They used good fresh ingredients prepared in an attractive, yet unpretentious way, and don't charge exorbitant prices into the bargain. What more could you ask for? Top quality Scottish seafood? Well they had that too!