AS WE drew up to the clifftop Creel Inn, the first dusting of snow had arrived – in stark contrast to the red soil of the Mearns.
This is Grassic Gibbon country, where tilled fields run down to the sea edge.
This long-established diners’ favourite – which perches above spectacular Catterline bay – draws its larder from both land and ocean.
There’s pork, lamb, beef and even hare on the menu. But seafood is where it excels.
As my husband and I sat thawing out, I wondered if the Creel was so dear to my heart because it was where David took me for our first date.
Sentiment aside, I realised I really love the place mainly for its fabulous seafood, with most of the dishes around the £10 to £15 mark.
Even something simple like haddock in beer batter is an unfettered delight.
All the dishes are freshly prepared. Children are offered half-portions of the very same, as well as homemade chicken or haddock goujons.
Drinks are a speciality too, with more than 100 whiskies as well as real ales and Belgium beer chosen specifically to complement the food. A real fire roared in the bar, and there’s an open gas fire in the conservatory (which has fantastic sea views).
In contrast, the lounge was a little chilly – but the crab soup starter provided a glorious warm-up.
Crammed full of locally-caught crustacean, it was thick enough to stand the homemade bread up in.
As a starter, David had the “deluxe” garlic bread, soaked in olive oil, which came with whole oven-roasted garlic bulb and a fantastic salsa dip.
However, he couldn’t keep away from the soup.
It was such a generous portion there was more than enough for two, so we happily tucked in together, mopping up the residue with the bread.
For a main, I chose the pan-seared scallops, while David opted for a special of hot smoked salmon, served with crisp vegetables and chick peas which he demolished in double-quick time and declared delicious.
My plate was like a work of art – similar to the oil paintings of Shetland artist Jim Tait that adorned the walls.
The five succulent scallops were served with chicken liver parfait, black pudding, orange sherry and cracked pepper emulsion.
It looked so pretty I didn’t want to disturb it, but I dived in anyway.
Because I was feeling generous (or rather, stuffed from the soup!), I gave my other half one of the scallops to try, so he could also experience just how melt-in-the mouth they were.
Neither of us had room for dessert – not even the tempting old fashioned rice pudding with sultanas and cinnamon. Instead, we both enjoyed the homemade shortbread with our tea and coffee.
The hot drinks – and the glow from great food – were the perfect send-off into the sub-zero dusk.