On the back of reopening and launching new menus for diners, Karla Sinclair headed to The Esslemont to try out some dishes from the restaurant’s latest spring/summer menu.
There is no doubt that the north-east is flooded with spectacular cafes, restaurants and bars.
But I must confess, The Esslemont, based in the former Esslemont and Macintosh building on Union Street in Aberdeen, has always been up there as one of my favourites.
It exudes style and historic character, with the interiors taking inspiration from the venue’s past as the iconic store.
Speaking from personal experience, it really does transport you back in time. And although I never had the opportunity to visit Esslemont and Macintosh, even I can appreciate the touches of history scattered throughout.
It had been a lengthy 15 months since I last dined at The Esslemont, due to the ongoing coronavirus restrictions. So when I say I was counting down the days until my most recent outing, I really mean that.
It exudes style and historic character, with the interiors taking inspiration from the venue’s past as the iconic store.”
I was able to secure a booking for my boyfriend and I to stop by on a sunny Friday evening.
Arriving at our designated time slot, we were greeted by a member of staff and taken to our table for two – masks on and all – before being informed of all the coronavirus safety procedures in place.
The restaurant was just how I left it, and the more time we spent sitting contemplating our food and drinks orders, the more excited I felt.
Being that it was a Friday, I requested one of my favourite tipples – a pornstar martini – while my dining companion opted for an ice-cold beer. As soon as our drinks arrived, the pair of us placed our food orders.
A seafood main was definitely on the cards for me, so I steered clear of any starters that fell into that category. The haggis bon bons caught my eye straight away.
Encased in a crunchy golden shell was a punchy and peppery haggis ball that was oaty yet creamy in texture. It melted in the mouth.
Each bon bon was nestled upon a dollop of Arran mustard and whisky mayonnaise, which was light and subtle in flavour.
Placed next to the mixture were two small servings of red onion chutney. This brought everything together and added a nice level of sweetness to the dish, while an apple salad provided some acidity.
Everything on the plate had its own part to play, which is something my boyfriend and I have always said The Esslemont manages to achieve.
To start, my dining partner decided on the smoked salmon and local crab timbale, served with avocado cream, grapefruit, cucumber, fennel and a dill citrus dressing.
Both of us were in awe at how visually impressive the plate was. Each component was clear to see, but the star of the show was (unsurprisingly) the delicious-looking timbale.
As expected, the first thing my boyfriend pointed out was the fresh taste of the salmon casing, which had a distinctive smoky flavour and silky texture.
He peeled away the layer of cold fish to a light and delicious salmon and crab tartar. Again, the ingredients were evidently fresh with delicate flavours and hints of salt and pepper.
And speaking of delicate flavours, the same could be said for the other components – excluding the sharp dressing, which contrasted well with the other ingredients.
Everything on the plate had its own part to play, which is something my boyfriend and I have always said The Esslemont manages to achieve.”
We polished both dishes off easily and continued to sip away at our drinks.
The atmosphere in the restaurant was buzzing. There were couples, families and friends meeting up and, by the looks of things, enjoying their dining experience just as much as we were.
Less than 10 minutes later, the pair of us spotted our mains.
Getting stuck right in, I went for the pan-seared black cod, while my dining partner requested the lamb rump.
The lamb was accompanied by fried potato gnocchi, fine beans, roast garlic pesto and lamb jus. I knew after watching him take the first bite that he loved it.
Coating each slice of lamb with a thin layer of pesto and jus, he said the meat was tender and rich in taste, just like the jus. The pesto added an earthy flavour into the mix, providing a nice contrast.
As for the gnocchi, there were three on the plate and definitely one of the highlights of the meal.
Each one was crispy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle. We usually expect gnocchi to be dense and more on the stodgy side, but they couldn’t have been further from that in this case.
The beans, fresh with a slight crunch, were lovely too.
My dish was equally as delicious. The cod was plentiful, cooked superbly and flaked away with ease. Bedded on a squid, chorizo and cannellini bean cassoulet, the fish had absorbed the aromatic stew-like mixture, making for a flavoursome combination.
The slices of chorizo had a deep smoky flavour to them and (to my delight) weren’t overly spicy, while the squid was mild and slightly sweet.
Again, the pair of us were apprehensive about what the consistency of the squid would be – given that it can often be very chewy – but it prevailed this time around.
As a side, we enjoyed a bowl of crispy sweet potato fries. Seasoned well, they tasted divine dipped in my leftover cassoulet.
Unable to stomach dessert, the pair of us made our way out of the restaurant to enjoy the rest of our evening.
Reflecting on our recent experience at The Esslemont, my boyfriend and I were wowed by the attention to detail of every dish and its presentation.
However, in the usual fashion, our food wasn’t the only star of the show during the restaurant visit, but also our server who could not have been more welcoming, helpful and friendly throughout.
I am yet to come across a member of staff that fails to hit those marks at The Esslemont, and I wouldn’t be able to say that statement with confidence a lot.
A huge thank you to the team for maintaining their high standards in all areas – including the food, drinks and service – despite the challenges of the past year. Bravo The Esslemont, bravo.
Price (food only): £55.50
Address: The Esslemont, 38 Union Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1BD