The restaurant world is developing a new format. It’s out with the big, spacious and grand, and in with the boutique, tailored but simple. The older style still exists, however. Take fish-restaurant chain Loch Fyne, whose venue at Bluewater is your typical chain eatery with wide-open spaces and the ability to seat and serve scores of customers.
It’s not always easy to get a feeling of personal service when visiting these sorts of places, but a new menu option and very informative staff did much to change my preconceptions.
We started with a plate of Loch Fyne oysters. We were told that they were brought down from Scotland fresh every morning, as was anything on the menu with the Loch Fyne trademark. Served on ice with the option of red-wine vinaigrette or even a touch of tabasco sauce, they were fresh and clean with no grit.
Next I opted for the pan-fried chilli-and-garlic king prawns. They were pre-shelled and the spicy lemon-oil sauce complemented their fresh, firm texture despite the presentation lacking finesse. The brown bloomer was well received for dipping although it was not as fresh as the fish.
My guest, a chef, went for the trademarked smoked ashet. Again our server pointed out the different strength in tastes for each of the three types of salmon served on the granite plate. It included a trio of bradan rost (kiln-roasted salmon fillet), kinglas fillet (sashimi style) and tradit- ional smoked salmon.
A very positive nod from my guest and the empty platter said enough of its quality, while the server’s knowledge was appreciated.
Having heard about the Fish Your Way option at Loch Fyne, I gave it a try. Guests are encouraged to “choose a fillet from the list below or visit the fish counter to make your choice”; this included wild Scottish hake and gilt-head bream, but after seeing my guest’s starter I went for the farmed Scottish salmon.
You then choose how it is cooked, from grilled, steamed or pan-fried, which I chose. The side dishes are also your choice and I went for the battered new potatos and tenderstem broccoli. My chosen sauce was hollandaise.
The salmon was firm in texture but fell away with a push of the fork, perfectly cooked with a clean, meaty flavour. However, the potatoes were not buttery and almost seemed an afterthought, while the hollandaise looked more like butter than sauce, although still rich in flavour.
The chef went for the trademark poached smoked haddock. It was served with colcannon mash, mustard and crème fraîche sauce and topped with a soft poached egg. Again the plate was cleared and words of approval were uttered.
Having eaten so much, we skipped dessert and instead mulled over the boutique style in which the chain store does business. With a couple of beers and the oyster aperitif making three courses, a bill of £62.55 was very reasonable. All in all, it had been a very surprising outing.