THEY dive deep into the Firth of Forth, before pulling out pea-green crabs. As the crustaceans scrabble around in their beaks, they shake them hard, while neatly amputating all pincers.
Then they’re – almost magically – holding a legless puck, which they swallow whole. The last time I was in South Queensferry, I spent ages on the pier, transfixed by female eider ducks performing their dinner trick. It seemed like a lot of work.
If the poor quackers’ legs were longer, they’d be able to scramble onto the bar stools at the new Samphire Bar & Grill, and order dressed crab instead. For now, they’ll have to visit vicariously, through me and my dining partner, Rolf.
This place is the newly refurbished 136-cover restaurant that’s part of eight-year-old hotel Orocco Pier, which also houses the more casual Antico café.
It consists of a swanky seafood bar, fringed by curtained booths à deux. At the end of this narrow thoroughfare is an open-plan eating space with an angular seating plan, where we bagged a pew. From the primarily piscine options, Rolf chose the fish soup (£6.95) and I went for the Thai red curry mussel pot (£5.95). The latter was satisfying, as each of the generous collection of butterball molluscs was fragrant with coconut milk and lemongrass, with a jab of chilli. But our accompanying bread rolls were leathery, and I would have liked an absorbent mop for the leftover gravy.
Our other option was reminiscent of a hot and sour-style soup – bright red, watery and with a tang of fish sauce. Nice at first, but lacking in depth and solids. It came with a couple of hard rust- coloured fried croutons, plus two small ramekins, one of which contained finely grated Gruyére and the other, a blob of pale yet spicy rouille. Mix together these elements and – kaboom! No, actually, it was okay, but hardly explosive.And now I have to tell you about the big fat pause. Waiting an hour for our mains of baked sea bass (£8.95) and chargrilled loin of pork (£8.95) was a bit like watching paint on the Forth Bridge dry.
Waiting staff were looking flustered, customers tetchy. We started to absorb the sense of stress, and it suddenly felt a bit cramped in this place. I wanted to be an eider duck, with all the sea as my self-service, no-hassle buffet.
When our dishes did arrive, they had obviously been rushed. The two sturdy piggy strips were fine, seasoned well, but dry, with only a drizzle of sage butter and none of the spiced apple chutney that had been billed. An accompanying thatch of golden bubble and squeak, with a layer of chopped white cabbage along the bottom, couldn’t console us.
My course was pleasant enough. I wasn’t that impressed by the fish’s flobby and rubbery skin, but did like its accompaniments – a glossy, sharp lemon and parsley sauce, angular shards of new potato, asparagus chunks and wilted spinach. I just wish I didn’t have to wait so long for something so simple.
Still, a member of staff did offer us free puddings to compensate. My salted caramel and chocolate torte (£5.25) was decent enough, with a densely packed digestivey base underneath a thick layer of waxy ganache.
But Rolf’s lemon and amaretti cheesecake (£5.25) had too much of a kiddyish, blancmangey bounce and Cif-like note.
Despite my gripes and the wait, this place has plenty going for it. The views, for one thing, and the prices are very reasonable. Perhaps they need to subtract a table or two, so they can cope with a full house?
As things stand, I’m not sure if I can recommend it to the ducks.
• Samphire Seafood Bar & Grill, Orocco Pier, 17 The High Street, South Queensferry
0870 118 1664, www,oroccopier.co.uk
THREE TO TRY
1114 Argyle Street, Glasgow (0141- 334 6127, www.crabshakk.com)
Tuck into seafood galore at this funky little venue, with options including crab claws, whole lobster, seared scallops, oysters or humble old fish and chips.
The Seafood Restaurant
Bruce Embankment, St Andrews (01334 479475)
The express lunch menu (two courses, £12.95) includes sea bass with capers, sunblush tomatoes and spinach.
North Pier, Oban (01631 565666, www.eeusk.com)
This glass-fronted eatery – named after the word for fish in phonetic Gaelic – overlooks Oban Bay. The lunch menu includes halibut with creamed leeks.