When the waitress said there was an octopus in my soup, I refrained from making a joke, even although it was on the tip of my tongue.
For some inexplicable reason, I assumed this exotic seafood would arrive ready-sliced or in bite-sized cubes. I was not quite prepared for the fact that there, sitting impressively on my plate, was not just one, but several intact and fully-formed baby octopus.
I could see why, in some parts of the world, octopus are believed to be the remnants of an alien life form. They are wonderfully weird, after all.
To give them their official title, these cephalopods, with their eight arms and an array of suction cups, were the star attraction of my soup. Quite a mouthful and you don’t see them swimming about on many menus.
Sopranos, however, is striving to be different. It has been in Guild Street for quite a while now, as part of a 32-bedroom hotel, but has revamped its menu with an emphasis on fish and other creatures of the deep, given a Mediterranean twist.
With Aberdeen harbour, fishing boats and fish processors close by, it seems a good match. Personally, I cannot resist the pull of the North Sea’s old favourites of cod and haddock – especially when the latter is smoked in Cullen Skink.
My starter seemed refreshingly different, however: seafood soup with octopus, squid, prawns, mussels and a few other shellfish thrown in for good measure. This was a spectacular and vibrant soup – full of bright colours and flavours, with a wonderfully rich tomato, chilli and garlic sauce.
I didn’t know what to expect when I popped the first baby octopus into my mouth. Maybe it would be something like soft-shell crab, I thought, which melts deliciously on the tongue. Unfortunately, the octopus in my dish were on the rubbery side and a bit too chewy for my liking. I laboured on, but it was hard work.
That apart, the rest of the dish was bursting with flavour, but it was a shame about the octopus as it was a main feature of the soup.
On the other side of the table, my wife was enjoying her starter and had no complaints. Her dish was proscuitto ham parcels stuffed with celeriac, caper and wholegrain mustard, bound in mayonnaise and served with fresh figs. This was an attractive dish with pleasing and contrasting flavours.
Sopranos sits in what appears to be a good position, close to the rail and bus stations and Union Square shopping centre, and a short walk from Union Street.
The dining room is deceptively large as it sweeps around to the rear in a horseshoe shape and includes a cosy private dining booth.
Near the entrance, a large granite wall along the back of the bar is an attractive feature and the atmosphere is one of relaxed elegance and smart decor, in keeping with the image.
For mains, we chose seafood marinara and a rather up-market haddock and chips. We found the seafood choice was a reworking of the ingredients in the seafood soup – complete with baby octopus – and accompanied by linguine pasta and a white wine, garlic, tomato, chilli and basil sauce. Unfortunately, the octopus was again too chewy for our taste. The overall look and taste of the dish was good, however.
Deep-fried fillets of haddock came with king prawns cooked in a tempura batter, sesame-coated squid, hand-cut chunky chips, home-made tartar sauce and a pea puree.
This should really have been a top-class fish and chips dish but, unfortunately, it arrived just the wrong side of well done, with the fish batter and chips slightly burnt.
We decided not to make a fuss, however it did seem odd as the kitchen did not appear to be overworked, with just two other diners at another table.
Our friendly and attentive waitress offered us puddings, from which we chose raspberry and cava jelly, served with a mixed berry and star anise compote, and home-made vanilla and honeycomb cheesecake with mandarin ice cream. Both were excellent.
Our bill came to £56, including coffees and soft drinks.
Sopranos wine bar and bistro, 20-22 Guild Street, Aberdeen. Telephone 01224 589411.