There is an unforgiveable injustice in dining out right now: we pescatarians are banned from eating scallops.
Restaurants have ganged up in a trend towards always pairing those succulent beauties with some variety of pork.
A match made in heaven I’m sure, but it’s left me in a quandary.
As someone who respects – worships, at times – the chef’s craft, it feels off to ask for a tweak to careful creations.
Nor is Moonfish Cafe’s kitchen the haunt of just any chef, but of MasterChef: The Professionals runner-up Brian McLeish.
Nevertheless I arrived determined the famine would end should they be on the menu.
They were. As a starter. And – sure enough – served with a hint of pig.
Nestled away on Aberdeen’s historic cobbled Correction Wynd in the shadow of the magnificent Mither Kirk, Moonfish is a place I enjoyed once before for the top-notch invention of its dishes. So to whisper “Could I have them without the n’duja?” took all my courage.
It prompted a very polite but firm reminder that each dish had its unique signature. My resolve to bypass the ban visibly wavered.
I might have caved, had my dining companion not been one of those invaluable friends who can nudge you on to a wiser path with nothing more than a throat clear and an eye roll.
Maybe she had ulterior motives; a firm fancy had been taken to my fallback – a gourmet take on that staple of all great oriental feasts: prawn toast.
Her instinct was good.
I know because she offered me a bite and I had to agree takeaway would never be the same – all the familiar textures and flavours but presented in a manner as delicate as the taste was punchy.
Shamefully the generosity was not reciprocated as I savoured every last mouthful of those tender scallops, set off to a tee by wild rice and a salsa verde.
Worth every guilty bite though after dark months of deprivation – and while I’ll never know what a sprinkling of sausage took away, there was nothing lacking for me.
The restaurant is an intimate affair, only a few tables in an unfussily-furnished and tastefully decorated room.
Music plays, an eclectic selection at a volume that respects conversation, welcome in a confined space that at busy times might challenge the harder of hearing.
Picture windows and well-placed mirrors mean no lack of natural light despite a location at the foot of high-looming historic churchyard walls.
The menu reflects the room: small – five starters, four mains and three puddings – but put together with sufficient care and attention that it is all the more attractive for it.
A classic combo of prosciutto, mozzarella, confit tomato and rocket was among untested openers – along with pumpkin seed sodabread with truffle fromage blanc and olive tapenade and buttermilk ricotta with shaved broccoli and citrus kosho.
I confess, despite being an avid devourer of TV food shows, that I had to look up that last one.
Motoyaki was another that had me stumped. A surreptitious Google while I sipped a refreshing – and intensely green – melon sour, suggested it involved fish topped with a mayonnaise-based sauce, served in an oyster shell.
Perhaps my rushed research was lacking because the monkfish – a substitute for unavailable hake – came not in a shell but on a plate.
To be honest it could have come on a filthy floor tile and I’d not have cared overly, so good was the cooking both of fish and sauce.
Add the intense burst of flavours from a soy-rich chunk of tender aubergine and the zing of a coriander salad and you have a winning combination.
Across the table, a tomato tart fine was declared “deliciously different” and almost substantial enough to be a meal in itself, though that would have meant missing out on a melt-in-the-mouth piece of halibut with a perfectly seasoned crust.
Had I been a meat eater, the walnut ricotta alone might have tempted me into the lamb rump, and likewise the duck egg addition to a pearl barley risotto on the veggie side of things.
Portion sizes were just right to leave the door ajar to the temptation of desserts.
They left me as green with envy as that cocktail.
Mine was overly sickly sweet for my palate and lacked a little refinement. But perhaps I should have guessed that of banana, dulce de leche and burnt white chocolate.
Over the table meanwhile, a raspberry Bakewell and sorbet taunted me in a “you should have had us” kind of way.
I declined the offer of a taste; it seemed unfair after my selfish greed with the scallops.
But the eyes and wide grin across the table said everything I needed to know – a true “showstopper” of a finale, with a nice firm base cradling a flavoursome and crumbly filling, set off with a generous dollop of “punchy” sorbet.
The venue and menu may be small but the flavours are as big as the smile you’ll come away with.
Address: Moonfish Cafe, 9 Correction Wynd, Aberdeen, AB10 1HP
T: 01224 644166
- Food: 4/5
- Service: 4/5
- Surroundings: 4/5