We were given a voucher for Stonehaven’s Tolbooth restaurant at Christmas and have waited for a sunny weekend all summer to use it. Our thinking is that it would be a shame to waste the trip to Stoney without being able to sit outside afterwords having a few speciality beers from The Marine. Well, summer came and went with barely a glimmer of sunshine on a free Saturday to get us over the hill so we decided to just book a table and hope for the best.
The restaurant lives right on the harbour in the upstairs of the old tolbooth jailhouse. Every seaside town needs to have a good seafood restaurant sitting right on the pier. Certainly every town with a fishing heritage like Stonehaven’s deserves one.
Upon arrival it’s surprising how small the restaurant is. For some reason I thought it was bigger. We were led to a table by one of the many windows overlooking the bay with a lovely view of the sunset over the Stonehaven war memorial. After ordering, a small canape of local smoked mackerel kicked us off. We gobbled it up before the confused waiter had time to come back with the bread which, judging by the expression on his face, the chef intended to arrive on the table at the same time as the canape. The smokey fish was delicious regardless.
Our starters appeared in front of us; a small tower of white crab meat from just down the road in Gourdon, with avocado, brown crab puree, pickled cucumber and some thin slices of toast looked brilliant and tasted amazing. The sweet crab meat worked wonderfully with the avocado while I thought the amount of the brown puree was just right so as to not overpower the delicate pile of white meat. Meanwhile, a smoked haddock tart was being devoured across from me. This was off the daily specials menu and like most of the dishes in the restaurant it featured locally caught (and smoked) fish. I loved this dish. It sounded great on the menu and the only reason I didn’t order it was because I knew I could steal some of Angela’s!
For mains I ordered the garlic and lemon prawns with wild rice while Angela went for the roast tail of monkfish. The prawns were beautiful. Marinated in coriander, chilli, garlic and lemon they were full of flavour that zinged and whooped on the tongue. The wild rice and delicate pile of ratatouille was a great accompaniment. There was a lovely balance to the plate. Never felt like I wished there was more of one item over another and the portion size was perfect.
Over at the other side of the table the monkfish wasn’t as big a hit. It was good but I thought the fish a little bland and lacking in flavour. The mash and the sweet potato puree that came with it were awesome though.
I couldn’t miss out on dessert but unfortunately it didn’t hit the same heights as the rest of the dinner. Billed as a “Celebration of local strawberries” the pudding arrived with a strawberry mille feuille, toasted marshmallows, strawberry and mint soup and a strawberry and basil sorbet. The mille feuille and the marshmallows were excellent. I loved them. But the soup and the sorbet were just confusing. If it’s a celebration of strawberries then I want to taste the strawberries but the mint and the basil added the wrong notes to the dish. They were nice on their own but I think I’d have preferred the clarity of just a strawberry sorbet or a really concentrated strawberry flavour that beat me round the head in the
Despite the bum note at the end which I’m going to think of more like a passing note in a musical passage instead of a real mis-step I really enjoyed the visit. The Tolbooth is in the perfect location and is exactly what Stonehaven harbour needs to be there. An excellent seafood restaurant. Afterwards we walked happily round the harbour to The Marine for some brilliant Belgian beer before walking (a little less steady on our feet) up the road. Honestly Stoney is lucky to have that harbour and the fantastic businesses that are located around it at the moment. It’s a shame a lot of people only think to go visit on a sunny day in July. It’s great all year round!