In three words: Lively, Exuberant, Sumptuous
It’s not often one comes across Scottish restaurants. Despite having a rich and diverse cuisine, I can’t admit to ever having dined at an establishment catering specifically for this style of cooking.
As soon as one enters Boisdale, it is evident what the experience will deliver. Tartan carpets lead the way towards a casual bar and cigar terrace, while those wishing for a more refined meal can ascend to the dining room above. This restaurant also boasts a stage, on which guests can watch live music, including their regular jazz nights. In fact, Jools Holand is the patron of music here, illustrating that Boisdale is a great space for prime entertainment. The menu is centered around food from the highlands, and offers a wonderful chance to excite the palate with unusual offerings. And lovers of the amber spirit can rejoice – Boisdale holds one of the finest whisky selections in the world.
Location: Boisdale have three sites in London, and we decided to head to the Canary Wharf restaurant, nestled within the Cabot Place shopping centre. It is housed in a beautiful art deco building, and once through the bonny red door, guests can follow the tartan carpet to another world…
The Occasion: Boisdale caters for the after-work crowd wonderfully, with the lively bar and cigar terrace that looks across the river. But those wanting to have a more sumptuous and stylish evening should definitely move upstairs, where the quality of service and food assures of a grand night. Whisky lovers and fans of Scotland will be in their element, and we image it’s a prime place for anniversaries and celebration dinners, as well as important business deals.
Decor: Dining in Boisdale is like being in the grand lodge of some Highland aristocrat, albeit one with a penchant for the occasional eccentric piece of decor. There are pine-forest green banquettes and ruby red walls studded with portraits. The standard taxidermy of boar and stag heads glance quizzically down on diners, alongside Pop-Art paintings of Chairman Mao. A glittering bar, resplendent with just about all whiskies imaginable, lights the place up like a Christmas tree, and the flickering candlelight only accentuates the feeling of being part of a luxurious dinner party.
Atmosphere: This is definitely a place to come for that sense of occasion – you almost expect Michael Gambon to charge in doing his best Macbeth impression. It has an air of gravitas, which is then livened by the bands. While we visited we were lucky enough to experience some fabulous jazz – it added an extra special spark to the entire evening.
Menu Concept: Boisdale has a focus on fresh produce and Scottish classics such a haggis, which can be ordered as both a starter and a main. There is obvious a keen eye for sourcing the best ingredients, and seafood delights come in the form of oysters, salmon and catch of the day, while steak and game lovers won’t have any complaints.
What We Ate: Perhaps it was the opulent drawing room, or perhaps the candlelight had me feeling particularly amorous, but I was drawn to the oysters. Since I am a huge oyster fan, I was astounded to hear my dining partner had never tried them, and so decreed his education should begin that night. Luckily, the variety delivered were the ideal introduction – large and bulbous, slipping about in their briny vessel like droplets on a leaf. I popped on vinegar and lemon, and then instructed him to close his eyes and imagine being on a beach in the cold morning, when the sea and sky meet in a slate-grey horizon. His verdict? The freshest thing he had ever tasted – he could ‘almost feel the salt spray’ in his face. Result. It was all I could do to keep him from pinching another – luckily he had a deliciously refreshing chilled gazpacho with lumps of crab-meat to enjoy.
For main course we both went for game – our lovely waitress Christina informed us that grouse season had began a week ago. One of these birds was ordered – it arrived wrapped in bacon, wonderfully pink and tender. A brief encounter with some shot was all that paused the scoffing, interspersed with additions of red jelly and a tasty jus. I went for venison curry, served with spiced squash and a lentil and coconut dahl – the portion size was perfect, the fragrance of the spices married well with the rich game, and the whole thing didn’t sit too heavily.
For dessert, we shared a devilishly decadent sticky toffee pudding, absolutely smothered in unctuouscaramel sauce and served with clotted cream. This was accompanied by The Balvenie Caribbean Cask rum, aged 14 years. Each sip of this amazing tipple brought prickles of delight to my mouth. And I cannot stress enough about the cheese trolley. That’s right – an actual table with wheels comes to your table, for you to pick and choose cheesey delights at your leisure.
What We Drank: We each hada whisky cocktail to start (a traditional Blood and Sand for me, and a more adventurous Bee’s Knees for my partner.) This started the meal perfectly, and during dinner we quaffed a rather lovely Claret, specially blended for Boisdale at Chateau de Sous. The soft fruits and ripe, berry bursts worked perfectly with the game. The night was ended with a Maple Old Fashioned – the amber glow of which warmed our already content tummies.
Overall: There is absolutely no sense of kitsch about Boisdale, which it could have perhaps fallen into with the ‘Scottish theme’. Instead, one feels very lucky to be dining here and experiencing the sensational menu that is presented. The live music makes for a jolly evening, and the food is of the utmost quality. A visit here makes for a memorable occasion that will have you dancing a merry jig, even if your satisfied stomach will only allow it to be metaphorically.