Staycations are the new heading for foreign climes, but you can still get that hankering for feeling transported away from Aberdeen.
There are bits of the city where if you squint– and apply a liberal dose of imagination – you can almost think you are somewhere more exotic.
Windmill Brae might not seem the most obvious contender, but in a certain light and certain angle, the ancient street can bring to mind the famed cobblestones of, say, Paris.
So it’s fitting this wynd is home to a restaurant which doesn’t need a flight of fancy to pass for a French auberge.
Which is what Café Boheme would appear to be styled upon, with its wooden panels, mirrors, brickwork, soft candlelight, and high shutters and doors suggesting a rustic inn.
And nothing says classic French cuisine like Café Boheme’s a la carte menu which was the reason for our heading to this popular dining spot on a Saturday afternoon.
The place was heaving and the atmosphere was filled with the chatter of folk who were happy to be there. The staff can be included in that, given our warm welcome.
The starter selection saw classics like soupe a l’onion and moules, jostling for attention with duck l’orange and ratatouille. My wife and I went with the onion soup and the mussels.
Given our trip was on a blustery and chilly day, the soup was a treasure. A yummy croque monsieur gave way to the richest, beefiest, onion broth.
Plump nuggets of braised beef cheek sat at the bottom, just waiting to melt in the mouth.
I know it was good, because I was offered only one spoonful “for research purposes.”
Still, my side of the table was quite happy.
My bowl held a visually appealing nest of mussels, sitting nicely in a vibrant yellow broth – or seafood nage to give it it’s Sunday name.
This was a light stock, singing with white wine with a delightful touch of herbs with tarragon leading the charge.
The Shetland mussels themselves big, plump, tender and beautifully cooked, I munched the lot. If I had a quibble, it was that a bit more shellfish would have been welcomed. But this was fine dining, not an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Although I could have eaten a lot of those.
As our starters were cleared, we relaxed into the calm of our surrounds, enjoying a carafe of chilled white wine (Piqpoul de Pinet) and became super mellow.
For our mains, we had decided to see what the kitchen could do with the simplest named dishes on the menu – poissin and lamb. The answer was remarkable things.
My other half’s choice of chicken was a pretty dish that packed a pretty powerful punch on the flavour front.
The roast roulade was like two small mini breasts, sublimely tender and lifted by a red wine jus.
Meanwhile the confit leg came away from the bone with ease and had a depth of flavour that would spoil your tastebuds for normal chicken forever. It was so intense.
A shallot puree added zing, as did the parmentier potato. Both were presented with a minimalist touch, to the point that at first glance you wondered where they were.
But this was a dish of such subtlety and richness that it was more than satisfying and filling.
Except for the king oyster mushroom, which my missus found too slippery for her tastes. I liked it, though.
I also liked my own food, having discovered “lamb” was a smorgasbord of treats.
As with the chicken, at first glance I thought I’d be peckish later. There’s that minimalism again. But, as with all good things, less is more.
It came with sweatbreads which I got out of the way first. Not my favourite things, these were crispy and flavoursome, setting up the dish nicely.
The roast loin of lamb was nicely seared, but delightfully pink at its centre.
Café Boheme prides itself on using the best local produce.
You could tell that from the first bite of the lambiest lamb going. It might have benefited from resting a little longer before reaching the plate, though. There was a bit of leakage.
Accompanying this were dots of puree around the plate that were the essence of peas, while the pommes Dauphine were perfectly executed.
Adding another layer, including a bit of welcome bite, was a wee melange of peas, onion and lardons.
Again, this was a dish that you had to just admire and enjoy.
We swithered over whether to call it quits at this point, both being nicely sated.
But why be sated when you can be stuffed, especially with a simple bit of “chocolat”.
This turned out to be one of the yummiest desserts we’d had for a while.
A black hole of chocolate tart tantalised with an undertaste that had us guessing at cardamom, fennel or even mint. Tonka beans apparently. Nice.
So it was job well done.
A lingering experience that had taken us out of the humdrum with excellent food.
Checking in at £80 plus it wasn’t the cheapest of Saturday lunches, but as this was fine dining done well it was easily one of the most enjoyable meals to be had, day or night.
Address: 21-23 Windmill Brae, Aberdeen