Years ago, I was told if you pass a fish shop and there’s a strong smell of fish coming from it, it means the fish isn’t as fresh as it should be.
I remembered this while swinging by the River House Restaurant in Inverness to book a table.
Despite specialising in seafood and having an open kitchen at its heart, there was no fishy odour – a very good sign – just delightful aromas which instantly whetted the appetite and made me wish I was about to eat, there and then.
Seeing a “fully booked” notice was another good sign.
I was booking for a fortnight’s time and luckily managed to get the last slot available that night.
Take it from that, if you want to dine here on a specific date, book well in advance.
Two weeks later we arrived after darkness fell.
Subtle lighting and a canopy draped in hundreds of fairy lights gave the building an appealing, Continental look while the golden glow, emanating from the windows was enticing.
It’s a compact restaurant with a cosy atmosphere, stylishly decorated (worth visiting the ladies loo just to see the fab, fish-themed wallpaper), while the in-house kitchen allows diners at some tables to see chef and proprietor, Allan “Alfie” Little, at work.
The kitchen is tiny yet big enough to allow Alfie to produce beautifully presented, tasty dishes.
Having been warmly welcomed and shown to our table, we were presented with what I consider a tricky menu. Tricky because everything looked good.
Meanwhile, a selection of stunning seafood dishes sailed by, en route to other diners, each one making us change our minds about what to order.
Starters on offer included Shetland scallops, Orkney crab Thermidor and Cullen skink soup to name but a few.
There are also mussel and oyster dishes available as starters or main courses.
After much dithering, we began with frito miso, a selection of fried seafood, and a trio of seafood crostini with different toppings, nicely presented on slate.
I loved the Highland smoked salmon topping with dill cream and red, jewel-like bubbles of caviar which delivered explosive bursts of flavour in the mouth.
Equally tasty was the Shetland crab in a light seafood sauce with a hint of zingy grapefruit, while the third topping featured two fat, juicy prawns sitting on top of a slice of Speck (similar to prosciutto) dressed with chilli and honey which created a sublime mix of sweetness, saltiness and heat.
The miso was perfect for sharing as it included two large pieces of fresh, white cod, two big prawns, two calamari rings and a selection of whitebait, all covered in a light, crisp, batter and perfect for dipping into the accompanying garlicky mayonnaise.
The restaurant has a decent wine list and after asking for a recommendation, we chose a bottle of Pecorini Biologico, Feudo Antico, from Italy.
Crisp and light, it paired really well with all our seafood choices.
For mains, my partner chose steamed Shetland halibut, served with mussel and chervil butter, mussels, mustard mash and rounds of perfectly cooked baby leeks, topped with a slice of crispy pancetta.
The halibut was thick and cooked to perfection, as were the mussels, while the rich, buttery sauce was the variety that would have you licking the plate if you were at home.
I hate to think how much butter or cream was used in the mash, but it was the best we’ve ever tasted, super rich but warming at the same time.
For me it was collops of Scottish monkfish with squid and cannelloni beans tossed in a rich tomato sauce, served alongside garlic aioli, and topped with crispy kale.
My dish looked slightly less appealing than the halibut as the beans/sauce combo looked a bit like tinned baked beans topped with three generous portions of monkfish.
But the fish was superb; fresh, really thick and bursting with flavour and it went well with the rich, tomato sauce and chunks of tender squid and beans.
Proof that looks aren’t everything…
Despite being tempted by the desserts I could see being prepared, we finished the night sharing the Scottish cheese slate which was loaded with Strathdon Blue, Campbeltown
Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Orkney Cheddar, Morangie Brie, walnuts, fantastic heather honey from a Nairn producer, and a generous pile of thick oatcakes.
Full marks again for presenting cheeses at the perfect temperature.
Because of this cheese board I’ve discovered an oatcake topped with this Highland brie, heather honey and a walnut is a taste sensation.
Try it, you won’t be disappointed.
River House Restaurant is one of the best eateries in the Highlands and always delivers first-class, fresh seafood dishes.
Previously, I’d have regarded it as a “special occasion” venue but I’d say prices are now akin to other local high-end eateries which makes a visit here even more appealing.
During our visit, a steady stream of people arrived hoping to eat that night, only to find it fully booked, so advance booking is essential.
Address: River House Restaurant, 1 Greig Street, Inverness IV3 5PT
T: 01463 222033
Price: £107.75 for two courses for two plus cheese board, bottle of wine and a coffee
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 4/5
- Surroundings: 4/5