COSY, quirky restaurants are always my dining spots of choice.
And La Stella, hidden down a cobbled Aberdeen lane, fits this bill perfectly.
A couple of years ago the small dining room, with a handful of tables and chairs, was serving up rustic Mediterranean fare.
But the restaurant has taken a turn for the fancy, with stunning set menus – while still retaining its cosy charm.
On a weekend evening my pal and I holed up in a little corner for some fine food.
An extremely friendly waitress explained the menu – which gives diners a choice of two or three courses, as well as a ton of daily specials – before offering us an aperitif.
Sipping our gin and tonics, we puzzled over the choices and were offered a “gift from the kitchen” while we perused.
We each got a little cup filled with fresh pea shoots and hot smoked salmon, which was fantastic.
And the gift also included a haggis bon bon – a little croquette filled with peppery haggis, served with a mustard cream.
After our amuse bouche, we finally decided to share a starter and a pud while enjoying a main course each.
Two courses on the set menu cost £32 each.
To start the meal we went for the grilled mackerel – but after we had ordered, an apologetic waitress told us the fish was finished.
Never fear, the chef came up with an alternative offering the same dish with red mullet – and it was a delicious replacement.
The fish was perfectly crispy on the outside with soft, flaky flesh and was served on top of crunchy toast. It was finished with a tangy yet buttery hollandaise and a runny poached egg – my idea of food heaven.
For my main event I went for the pan-seared sea bass. The perfectly-cooked fish was served with a pancetta and chickpea cassoulet, crispy fish scales and the most delicious dill and lemon dumplings.
My pal went for the Gressingham duck breast.
The meat was fantastically-tender and served with an innovative combo of white-truffle mash, squash puree and carrot crisps.
And for pudding we decided to share the tiramisu cheesecake.
A large slab of deliciously-light filling was served on a crunchy, chocolate base and was offset by a zingy Sambuca ice-cream.
There was also a berry fruit compote, which wasn’t to my taste but added freshness to the dish, according to my pal.
And while we patted our full tummies we were offered another gift from the chef – a little plate full of delish goodies, including an Amaretto truffle, a marshmallow and strawberry tablet.
With a bottle of Pinot Grigio rose (£17.95) the whole meal came to just short of £82 – a fairly expensive dinner for two, but the exceptional food was worth the cost.