Rockpool Café & Restaurant

07/11/21

The Square, Cullen

Philip’s working in Moray tomorrow and, as it’s a four-hour drive from Edinburgh, we’ve come up a day early. This gives us a very welcome opportunity to explore some more of Scotland’s beautiful northern coastline. Friends have recommended Cullen and Findochty as ‘must-see’ places, and a google search has yielded the Rockpool Café and Restaurant, which sits on a corner, a few hundred metres from the sea.

Of course, we need to stretch our legs after sitting still for so long in the car, and we can’t think of a better way to build up our appetites than to take a stroll along the shore. I say ‘stroll.’ The wind is so strong today that ‘struggle’ might be a more appropriate term. Any lingering cobwebs are well and truly blown away. It’s glorious.

An hour later, we walk (okay, toil) the short distance up the hill to the Rockpool, our cheeks glowing and our hair awry. We’re definitely hungry now. We’ve talked about ordering Cullen Skink, given that we’re actually in Cullen, home of the aforementioned smoked fish soup but, once we’re sitting with a couple of coffees, warming up, and looking at the menu, we change our minds. Because this is quirky with a capital Q, eclectic to the nth degree. There’s nothing coherent about the short list, and yet it somehow works. It’s intriguing. Whatever we expected a seaside café to offer, it certainly wasn’t this particular chef’s special: Korean chicken bao buns

The Rockpool is a traditional looking place: all white wood and pale blue accents; a cake counter full of tray bakes and scones; scrubbed pine tables and a bustling yet laid-back vibe. The staff are friendly and efficient; they know their stuff. “We’ve only one portion of the stovies left; the sausages are pork today, not beef.” We order the bao buns. Obviously. And a croque monsieur. We call the waitress back and add a side of fries to each sandwich. I mean, why wouldn’t we?

And when the food arrives, we know we’ve made the right choices. It’s all delicious – and nicely presented too. The bao buns are soft and pillowy, the chicken perfectly judged. It’s sticky and more-ish, served with a little pot of kimchi and a gochujang sauce that really brings the dish to life. The croque monsieur is delightful too: generously filled with a rich, creamy sauce, lots of smoky ham and topped with cheese. This is simple food prepared by someone with real skill – someone who clearly loves to experiment in their small kitchen, and who knows exactly how to hit those flavour notes.

So, we’re impressed. As for the Cullen Skink, we’ll just have to come back another time to give that one a go. Now, off to find our glamping pod. Because who doesn’t want to sleep in a shed on a hill in a howling November wind?

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

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