WE’RE always told to be wary about throwing stones in glass houses. So before the fun and games commence, an admission: we were 20 minutes late for our booking, perhaps even 25.
St Andrews Seafood Restaurant
Bruce Embankment, St Andrews, Fife
Two courses £39.50
Three courses £48.50
Not that it should have mattered because the famously futuristic smoked glass cube suspended above St Andrews’ West Sands was only about a third full, and in any case, we arrived well before eight o’clock, the witching hour at which even the most unwelcoming or remote restaurant should still be serving.
You could argue that the turbo-charged service, which had us in and out of there quicker than Lewis Hamilton exiting the Mercedes pit lane, was down to the fact that it was a Sunday, but if you ask me, if you’re open on the Sabbath, then you’re open until your last punter decides it’s time to amble into the gloaming. Our disappointment at being whizzed through so everyone could go home didn’t exactly endear the experience to either of us.
I’ve eaten at the Seafood Restaurant on several occasions since it was opened to great fanfare way back in August 2003, when its eye-catchingly contemporary design (especially in the context of the auld grey Victorian toun that is St Andrews) drew even more attention than its refreshingly pared-back menu. Since then it has flourished commercially without ever quite persuading anyone that its substance lives up to its undeniable style. Even now, energetic newcomers like Adam Newth at Castlehill across the Tay Bridge and Billy Boyter at The Cellar in nearby Anstruther are nipping at the Seafood Restaurant’s heels.
In fairness, one of the place’s best points disappears at this time of year when the early nights mean that even if you have a table with a sea view, as we apparently did, you’d never know it. That said, there is an undeniable sense of theatre about eating in a restaurant where you can’t see out, but anyone who passes can see in. Such showmanship is reflected in the restaurant’s kitchen, which is in plain sight of the whole restaurant. There’s a definite sense in which you’re supposed to enjoy being seen dining in this prominent and architecturally striking building.
But what of the food? The initial portents were good, with the menu still looking relatively sparse and showing every sign of consciously placing the main ingredients squarely centre stage. It was, however, a little surprising in an area where provenance is so crucial that only two of the 12 starters and main courses detailed where the main ingredient had been sourced; which meant, for instance, that scallops were off our menu given that the failure to mark them as hand-dived left open the possibility that they could have been dredged.
Instead I started with a plate of nice, fresh tuna tartare. This ample brick of tuna turned out to be a deep shade of purple thanks to its overexposure to the other main ingredient, beetroot, but also had a pronounced tinge of ginger that did almost as much to tease out the fish’s subtle tones as the deluge of beetroot did to overwhelm it.
If I was relatively noncommittal about my starter, Hattie, an old university friend who polishes off her best-selling foodie books overlooking the Fife coast, was in strident form when analysing her starter of East Neuk crab with mango, tomato and chilli. Not only were the chilled tomatoes and mangoes tasteless, she sighed, but they were diced so tightly that the result was “one of those poncy restaurant textures that is akin to baby food and totally denatures the ingredients – a looks-not-taste dish”. Say what you mean Hattie…
There was a time when monkfish infested every menu in the land, but like razor clams, it’s a relative rarity these days, so I ordered it for old time’s sake. It arrived with a dollop of puy lentils, smoked pancetta and four thin squares of squid. This time it wasn’t the fripperies which caused raised eyebrows – the squid could not have been cooked any better – but the monkfish, which had that slightly gritty texture, which is the sign that the fish is on the verge of being overdone.
Hattie’s fillet of halibut was also slightly overcooked, although she felt it was just about within acceptable bounds, but she didn’t get much of the promised Moroccan spicing in the accompanying quinoa. At least there was some unintended comic relief in the form of four absurdly small micro-carrots that had nose-dived into blobs of puréed carrot.
Pudding, as is unerringly the case in seafood restaurants, was the weakest suit. My lemon crème brulée had the consistency of a thick soup, while Hattie ordered cranachan and got a deconstructed dish made up of a tasty scoop of raspberry sorbet, a spoonful of raspberry jelly, a rather dense Drambuie panna cotta containing too much gelatine, and some extraneous foliage. Since when has cranachan contained micro-leaves?
In all, the evening was a tad anti-climactic, especially given that the bill, which included coffee, a bottle of house wine and service, pushed up towards £140. The building has sleek, clean lines and that should be a metaphor for the food, but instead of glorying in its seafood and allowing its main attraction to hog the limelight, there’s a little too much tinkering going on. Sometimes less really is more.
St Andrews Seafood Restaurant
Bruce Embankment, St Andrews,
Fife KY16 9AB
(01334 479 475, www.theseafoodrestaurant.com)