“Anchors away!” is usually the cry that signals a safe and welcoming haven for ships at sea, but we bumped into not one but two anchors on sentry duty just inside the entrance to The Silver Darling restaurant at Aberdeen Harbour.
Brightly painted and facing each other, either side of the familiar steel staircase that winds its way to the dining room upstairs, these anchors had been hauled in during a celebrated high-profile charity appeal around the north-east and Orkney.
They were among 21 spectacular anchors painted by local artists which went on show around the north-east to mark the anniversary of the Friends of Anchor hospital charity in Aberdeen.Aber
What a fitting resting place for them now, gazing at the heavy offshore industry shipping that moves in and out of Aberdeen Harbour constantly just yards from the front door.
And what a warm and welcoming ambience they help create for diners arriving at the door, especially in the face of the Beast from the East which was lashing out and snarling outside as the recent big freeze began to bite hard.
Nothing was venturing in or out of port on this filthy night – all the ships were safely moored to anchors at their berths or lying off just out to sea.
It had been a while since our last visit to The Silver Darling and a lot of water had passed down the navigational ship channel close by since then.
For a start, there has been a change of ownership after a lengthy spell under a different guiding hand, and the restaurant has had a makeover, too.
It is safe to use the word “unique” when talking about The Silver Darling due its striking position staring straight out to sea with nothing to spoil a spectacular view of the coastline and beach nearby, and the pretty former Footdee fishing village, which is one of the oldest parts of the city along with the Merchant Quarter and Old Aberdeen.
Upstairs, the bar and flooring have been re-designed and there have been a few tweaks to the ever-popular menu, too. Fish and seafood in general still play an important part, which is not surprising for a restaurant which takes its name from the shiny herrings which dominated the processing industry at one time, but non-fish dishes seem to play a bigger role now to perhaps widen the appeal.
The famous Carlingford rock oysters from Northern Ireland, chilled or grilled, are still keeping their iron grip on the menu and showing no sign of being dislodged, thankfully. I have enjoyed these in the past and they are a real pleasure in store for those who have never tried them. Shetland mussels in a choice of three flavours are also on the menu.
The most obvious sensation on arriving upstairs was not only the new look, but also the warmth of the dining room which relaxed us straight away on such a cold night.
We were guided to a table by a window looking out to sea and the waves were whipping up a stormy white froth. The early-evening winter light was closing in fast, but by day people enjoying lunch at seats facing out to sea would be treated to stunning views.
Friendly staff handed out menus and our selections were made: starters were to be homemade crab cakes and a shellfish bisque.
One large crab cake, with that unmistakeable handmade shaping, duly arrived and was more than enough as a single, with an infusion of roasted garlic and herb mayonnaise. The bisque was a delicate balancing act between maintaining the crab taste with the powerful creme fraiche and garlic croutons, but it worked well. We added on a serving of delicious warm bread and seaweed butter to go with the starters.
For mains, it was a mixture of surf and turf and the king of fish for me – a chunky fillet of hake.
The surf and turf was a combination of a seven-ounce fillet steak with king prawns and seaweed butter. The staff were also really helpful over adding port jus for my wife, “borrowed” from another dish on the menu. The dish sailed into view with a distinctly nautical look – with the king prawns sitting upright on the steak as though they were masts and sails. The meat was beautifully tender and even although it was well done, as requested, it still retained a light of pinkness, which was fine.
Hake was catch of the day, but I think it was my dish of the night, too. You just cannot beat hake – brilliantly white, fleshy and bursting with flavour. With a Parmesan crust, pesto mashed potato and tender stem broccoli, it was an absolute treat.
We finished off with a pair of light, refreshing lemon meringue cheesecakes.
We set a course for home, happy with the new waters The Silver Darling is exploring.
The Silver Darling
North Pier, Pocra Quay, Aberdeen
PHONE: 01224 576229
BAKED BREAD £3
CRAB BISQUE £7.50
CRAB CAKES £8
MARKET CATCH (HAKE) £18.50
SURF AND TURF £36
BLUE CHEESE SAUCE £2.50
SKINNY FRIES £3
CHEESECAKE X 2 £14
GLASS PROSECCO X 2 £11
TOMATO JUICE £2.50
AMERICANO X 2 £6