Thou shalt definitely have a fishy, as long as you're in Ballater. Their newest opening is Fish Shop, which is a venture from hospitality and development company, Artfarm, who are behind luxury Braemar hotel The Fife Arms, as well as Mount St Restaurant and The Audley in London, among others.
This 40-cover restaurant also functions as a fishmonger, with a laudable focus on sustainably-sourced seafood. That includes fish caught from day and short trip boats, and creel caught and hand-dived crustaceans. Even the charcoal, used for smoking, is zero-emission.
As you might imagine, if you’ve ever visited The Fife Arms, the interior isn’t an afterthought. It was created by London-based Russell Sage Studio and incorporates salvaged wall lights, portholes, and a table, taken from an old Western Isles tender boat.
You can absorb this, while trying dishes including MacDuff brown crab crumpet, Stonehaven lobster taglieri with chilli, garlic and chervil, or salt cod mousse and grilled sourdough, all of which were created by executive chef, Marcus Sherry, who will be running this place with his wife, Jasmine, the general manager. We asked him to tell us more.
How did you get involved?
I’m from Ayrshire originally but live in Braemar and was already working at The Fife Arms when the opportunity to open Fish Shop came up. I’ve worked in Scotland at the Isle of Eriska Hotel, Restaurant Martin Wishart and Wedgwood in Edinburgh, but also in Brisbane, Australia, where I was at Matt Moran’s Aria and Bacchus at The Rydges Hotel.
What are the stand-out dishes?
I think it’s less about the dishes and more about the ingredients. We have access to what I feel is some of the finest seafood in the world. For example, the lobster we’re offering right now is incredible quality and all it needs is a little butter and some seasonal wild garlic. In this area, even the seasonal vegetables and fruit or the grass-fed beef and game are world-class. Our job as chefs is to enhance what Mother Nature has already provided.
Any interesting tweaks you've made to traditional dishes?
The partan bree is very much an East Coast and Shetland dish so it’s local to this area. We take these beautiful little velvet crabs, then cook them and blend them whole to make a rich bisque before serving with a bit of cream and some toasted oats, in a nod to the traditional recipe.
Tell us more about your seafood
We’re working hard at ensuring that we respect all fish that is landed - not only the headline haddock or cod - and our crustaceans are all hand-dived or creel-caught. We’re into May now, so just about everything is coming into season. Our oysters are from Cape Wrath and the mussels are from Shetland. And the plaice we’ve had in the past two weeks is just superb. It’s on the opening menu. We BBQ it slowly on the Hibachi grill and whole on the bone (enough for two to four guests), so it goes a bit sticky and slightly caramelised, then serve it with a light sauce of mussels, samphire and parsley. It’s just a stunning local ingredient at its finest.
How has the interior of the venue changed?
It was formerly the Rothesay Rooms, where they did fine dining, and it’s been totally refurbished. We’ve kept the entrance area as it keeps out the draft in the colder months, but have knocked down walls, put in a new kitchen (all-electric and green energy), as well as a bar, toilets and almost every single thing. The sustainable ethos runs through the interior. For example, we’ve used low-carbon leather from Muirhead in Glasgow and the timbers are FSC-certified. Even some of the table tops are made from recycled yoghurt pots. And Helen Jackson, a local artist who grows and works in organic willow, has created a fantastic piece of 120 floating fish for the ceiling. Even the exterior has had a facelift.
Who will your customers be - locals or travellers?
Both. And from all backgrounds. We have a well-priced set menu at lunchtime, as well as the à la carte for both lunch and dinner. We’ve worked closely with the front-of-house team and have great wines and Scottish beers that work well with the dishes and spirits too. They will cater to just about everyone, including occasions and those that want to (or have a bit more) to spend.
Did you get to meet Charles and Camilla on their recent visit?
Yes, we all did. It was incredible that they took time out to visit us, especially as it was only a couple of weeks before the coronation.
Did they sample anything?
No, unfortunately. The restaurant wasn’t open yet so we were not at the stage where we had any dishes prepared.
Is the restaurant something different for the area?
I think so. We don’t have a permanent fishmonger or seafood restaurant here. Artfarm were keen to add a service to the community as a fishmonger, as well as provide a place where everyone could come together and enjoy some great dishes. 90 per cent of our menu is seafood and 10 per cent is other meat or vegetarian.
Are people willing to deviate from fish and chips?
We’re not selling fish and chips. Fish Shop is adding to the existing community and there’s already a well-established fish and chip shop in the village.
3 Netherley Place, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5QE, www.fishshopballater.co.uk