A modern, stylish and sleek restaurant is not necessarily what you think of when visiting Ballater in Royal Deeside.
The area has more of a tartan shortbread tin vibe, with stone cottages and ghillie’s in plus fours. It is, after all, a must-visit for the hunting, shooting and fishing crowd, as well as wealthy Americans and one or two royals.
Now, though, the small village is home to the Fish Shop, a restaurant and fishmonger that opened in late April. At the helm of this new venture is Jasmine and Marcus Sherry, who worked at the Fife Arms in Braemar - about a 20 minute drive away.
The hotel, which has over 14,000 pieces of art inside, has brought something of a regeneration to the area, with former staff opening this restaurant, a patisserie and setting up a number of outdoor activities businesses - all of which benefit from the tourists that come to stay in the bonkers but beautiful abode.
The Fish Shop is the latest venture from Artfarm, the hospitality and development company behind the Fife Arms, so the interior design has had as much thought as the focus on sustainability which can be seen in dishes on the menu to the cooking practises.
It was created by London-based Russell Sage Studio and incorporates nets, portholes, salvaged wall lights and a full sized boat which acts as a chef’s table space at the back of the restaurant.
On the wall there’s portraits of fishermen and women that have been involved in the produce and, on the ceiling there’s a shoal of fish made from woven wood. On one wall there’s a small video playing showing the fishermen who sell their Sound of Mull scallops to the restaurant.
Much like the Fife Arms, a lot of the restaurant interiors have a story, such as the white table tops being made from recycled yoghurt pots. Although stylish, there is a real focus on sustainability here.
The menu only has sustainably sourced fish and shellfish from Scotland and around the British Isles and the restaurant supports the Ocean Recovery Project.
It’s these Sound of Mull scallops that, along with the fresh lobster, catch our eye from the specials board when we visit on a very busy Monday night.
Guests from the Fife Arms hotel can book to be driven here, but there’s also staff from the hotel enjoying a night off. After a refreshing glass of sparkling Maid of Bruton Rose from the Fife Arms owner’s farm in Somerset, we tucked into snacks of lobster crumpet, seabass tartlets and fresh Cape Wrath oysters.
Everyone we’d spoken to about the restaurant before we arrived had recommended that lobster crumpet, and this sweet, buttery morsel did not disappoint.
The tartlet was wafer thin and held small chunks of translucent fish - fresh and well seasoned. The same could also be said of the oysters, which came with lemon, Tabasco and mignonette and with a fermented green chilli dressing. You could also order them cooked in a champagne tempera, served with mayonnaise. Fresh and creamy, the chillies only added the subtlest of kick.
Despite being a top of the range restaurant, the Fish Shop is in no way stuffy, with diners encouraged to share dishes, which are listed by size and are served when ready.
This means you’re unlikely to get food envy, but will be wondering if it’s polite to finish the last bite. We decided to go all out and share an Isle of Wight tomato and goat’s curd salad, Macduff lobster tagliatelle with chilli, garlic and chervil, Scrabster monkfish with cauliflower, pine nuts and sorrel and the special of Sound of Mull scallops served with wild garlic butter.
To mop all of that up we went double carb for the sides - chips and Ayrshire new potatoes served with seaweed butter. The fish, especially the monkfish which was served on the bone, was unbelievably fresh, with a sharpness from capers in a side sauce that accompanied it.
The scallops were served in the shells with just a hint of garlic from the butter, which let the sweetness of the shellfish come through. The lobster tagliatelle was hoovered up quickly and ‘cooked to perfection’ according to my dining companion - a comment hard to disagree with.
For desserts we shared Blacketyside strawberries with yoghurt sorbet, 70% island dark chocolate ice cream with blackthorn sea salt, Braemar rhubarb with set cream and madelines and Clava brie with homemade fruit crackers which had a hint of malt loaf about them.
All were sublime in their own way - the salt bringing out the sweetness of the rich ice cream, the freshest and lightest madelines I’ve seen, which made great scoops for the rhubarb and cream with the strawberry dish felt like summer on a plate.
Overall the Fish Shop is an impressive and immersive place that you won’t forget in a hurry, and the same goes for the food. Light, fresh, local and unfussy, this is a place to book if you want to try some of Scotland’s best seafood, cooked in a way that lets the ingredients and produce shine.
3 Netherley Place