Moray

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

The Seafood Café

 

02/09/18

Findhorn, Moray

We’re up in the North of Scotland for the weekend, staying in a lovely B & B in Elgin. We’ve spent this unexpectedly sunny Sunday in Lossiemouth, walking a few miles of the Moray Coastal Trail, and cooling off by splashing about in the sea. It’s been delightful – all sun-blushed and salt-swept – so there’s really only one thing that will do for dinner.

Fish, of course.

So we head off to the pretty fishing village of Findhorn, and make our way to The Seafood Café, which has been recommended to us by the B & B’s proprietor. Located within the Royal Findhorn Yacht Club, this is an unprepossessing room, all pine furniture and pale walls, although the latter are hung with some pretty impressive photographs of local landscapes and wildlife. The place is empty (‘Sundays are quiet,’ we’re told) and it closes early so last orders are at 6pm, a little earlier than we’d choose. It’s unlicensed too, which isn’t a problem because we’re driving – but we note that there’s a BYOB policy, so it is quite possible to dine and wine if you want to. But we’re here for the fish, not the booze, and we’ve been told to expect the best.

We order a sharing platter to start – and it’s immediately impressive. There’s prawn cocktail here, as well as larger undressed prawns, a couple of generously-sized langoustines, smoked mackerel, oysters, smoked salmon with crispy seaweed and two salt-crusted scallops. It’s all delicious, but the scallops and salmon are the real standouts, the crispy seaweed elevating the latter and providing a nice contrasting texture.

Philip orders the ‘Posh Fish Fae Peterheed‘ for his main, which comprises a poached lemon sole stuffed with scallop mousse, another of those grilled langoustines, a pea purée and some sweet potato fries. As it should be, the stuffed sole is the star of the show, so light and delicate in flavour, it virtually melts on the tongue. The pea purée works well with it, and the fries are decent too: home cooked and crispy.

I have the daily special, which is hake, served with crushed potatoes and samphire. The potatoes are cooked with turmeric and tomatoes and are absolutely heavenly, while the hake is grilled to perfection – all soft, buttery flesh and hot crispy skin.

We may have eaten a lot, but we love our puds, and today’s specials sound so homely and tantalising that we really can’t resist, so we order a sticky toffee pudding and an apple crumble between us. They’re good – not as fancily presented as the main courses, it’s true, but who cares? The STP is sweet and moreish, generously topped with caramel sauce and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a shard of honeycomb. The crumble is spicy with cinnamon, the apple slices still quite firm and tumbled in the crumble mixture rather than covered by a layer of  it. It’s an interesting twist on a traditional dish, and I like it a lot. Yum, yum!

It’s only 7.30 when we leave and the sun’s still blazing, so we take another walk along that picturesque shoreline, admiring the view and feeling most contented to be here.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield