As a Shetland-bound ferry made its way gently out to sea from Aberdeen harbour, the passengers were waving farewell to us through the early evening gloom.
We waved back from our table at The Silver Darling restaurant on the quayside as they passed.
The restaurant has been a familiar landmark for countless seafarers at the mouth of the port down the years, and the historic building’s past role as a customs house before that.
But it has been navigating its way through stormy waters recently with the Covid pandemic.
The Silver Darling was in the same boat as everyone else through the lockdowns and restrictions that crippled the hospitality industry.
During our Friday night visit, it appeared that everything was almost back to normal apart from face masks still being worn dutifully by diners when moving about, we were glad to see.
The dramatic highs and lows of The Silver Darling in recent times can be charted by checking out past news snippets on its website.
A prestigious dining award came its way just before the last Covid-free Christmas in 2019, with staff celebrating joyously in a photograph; there was also a positive upbeat message for customers in early 2020, looking forward to fresh spring menus being rolled out.
And then catastrophe came out of the blue as the pandemic swept in.
The restaurant’s owner – The McGinty’s Group, which has several well-known hospitality venues around Aberdeen – was able to post more positive news recently by vowing to bounce back “mightier than ever” from the pandemic.
The Silver Darling surroundings
There were glimpses of previous happy days as we climbed the stairs from the front entrance to the first-floor
After all, these are no ordinary stairs, but a striking industrial-style twisting metal staircase that does so much to reinforce The Silver Darling’s unusual character.
Pictures of smiling celebrity guests adorned the stair walls – knights of the realm Rod Stewart and Alex Ferguson beamed back at us.
We settled into a corner table at one end of the restaurant.
Being wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows offers guests stunning views of the beach and coastline.
OK, you don’t get the full effect at night when there is a cosier and more intimate atmosphere, but I have been here for lunch in the past and can recommend the daytime views.
In the past, I remembered studying the menu outside when fish dishes dominated, but since The Silver Darling changed hands a few years ago, it has broadened its appeal.
I feel you can’t go to a restaurant named after the old Scottish nickname for herring without trying one dish at least from what is still a large and attractive fish section, though. So I kicked off with oysters as my starter.
Yes, delicious and slightly decadent, but not something I do on a regular basis. As The Silver Darling is a special occasion type of place, however, I couldn’t resist the temptation.
Six chilled Carlingford oysters at £15 soon came my way, laid out in their shells in a big bowl loaded with ice.
I recalled that they were served here in specially designed oyster dishes in the past, which was a classy touch, but I don’t know what became of them.
What a treat they were, especially with vibrant red wine and shallot vinegar.
I’m never sure how to eat them, but I alternated between the small fork they provided and slurping them down straight from the shell. There is always a chance of missing your mouth with the latter, but I managed to avoid that.
For my wife, prawn pil-pil, a dish we love from Spain.
This was not a typical Spanish one – it didn’t have the noisy sizzle (which supposedly makes the “pil-pil” sound) from hot bubbling chilli and oil that you hear before you see, nor did it have a mountain of sliced garlic as in Spain.
But it was presented in an authentic terracotta bowl and captured the essence of the dish: my wife loved the plump, juicy prawns.
For main, I chose roasted, lightly smoked cod, and what a lovely thick fillet landed on my plate.
Brilliant white and fleshy, it sat on a bed of buttery, well-seasoned leek mash and was dressed with a delicious mussel sauce, which actually contained mussels.
I ordered steamed curly kale with toasted pine nuts and vinaigrette as a side dish, but felt it still needed something else.
My eyes came to rest on roasted baby beetroot next to my wife’s steak…
She duly obliged as she didn’t fancy it.
I think beetroot went better with the fish anyway, but as I don’t wear a chef’s hat, what do I know?
Just for the record, my wife’s seven-ounce fillet steak was delicious, tender and cooked to perfection. They also kindly agreed to serve red wine jus with it, which was only offered with a different pork dish on the menu.
It was accompanied by long and slender king oyster mushrooms, which neither of us had seen before, and hand-cut chips.
We shared a sticky toffee pudding with two spoons, and wolfed down a plate of cheese and crackers between us — cheddar, Brie, Stilton and goat’s cheese.
My wife enjoyed a snowball cocktail at the start, but fancied a little cherry-flavoured number to finish. Unfortunately, a waiter had to apologise – they had run out of cherry syrup.
It was a shame, but didn’t spoil our night. We could hardly complain after what The Silver Darling has had to sail through recently
Address: The Silver Darling, Porca Quay, Aberdeen AB11 5DQ
T: 01224 576229
Price: £114.90 for three courses for two plus drinks and sides
- Food: 4/5
- Service: 4/5
- Surroundings: 4/5