Seeing new life being breathed into derelict buildings has always brought me so much joy, particularly when its new use is focusing on food and drink.
I recall the day I discovered that a new restaurant was opening in Portsoy vividly.
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed – as I do most days – and spotted a string of images showcasing the village’s former kirk going through a substantial renovation. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.
It was all hands on deck to find out who was behind the exciting project, which I quickly discovered was well-known Portsoy entrepreneur Jill Christine Mair.
We spoke about what the offering would include, along with the reasoning behind her eagerness to open a restaurant in the area.
Some of Jill’s words have stuck with me to this day. They included: “Aspire will put Portsoy on the map.”
I waited patiently for the business to open its doors in January and, once it did, it was always in the back of my mind.
My boyfriend Josh and I finally secured a date to stop by last month. The main question was, would it live up to our expectations?
We visited on a Sunday. The sun was shining and the village centre was bustling, it was a sight to see.
There isn’t parking on-site at Aspire Restaurant but securing a spot nearby was straightforward.
The restaurant is equally as impressive outside as it is on entering. It has a serene feel to it due to its bright interior that features high ceilings and an inviting white, grey and lime green colour palette.
We were seated and awaited our drinks. I requested a Diet Coke while Josh went for a strawberry daiquiri. Had I not been driving, the espresso martini would have had my name on it.
Complimentary canapes made their way to the table shortly after as well. These are a rarity in north-east restaurants but when they are on the cards, my mood is instantly heightened.
However, there is that added pressure to perfect them. After all, the kitchen team want to start your dining experience off on a high and set the standards.
One of the canapes consisted of two circular cheese biscuits sandwiching a sweet chilli sauce. Their diameter was no bigger than that of a golf ball.
Buttery and light in texture with a slight crisp, the biscuits melted in the mouth and were tangy in flavour. Cheddar was the most predominant ingredient.
The sticky sauce was thicker than anticipated which I loved. Had it have been a runny mixture, the bake as a whole would have proved messy. The sauce worked perfectly with the biscuit making for a nice sweet and savoury balance.
Talking of sweet and savoury, the second canape nailed this combination as well.
Two cocktail sticks (one for each of us) held two miniature sausages wrapped in bacon. The sausages themselves were herby and soft while the bacon was incredibly crispy – just as we like it. They were topped with a drizzling of maple syrup which added a lovely honey-like taste.
Josh was clearly enjoying his daiquiri and had just about polished it off before our starters arrived.
His traditional prawn cocktail (£8.50) comprised a bed of salad topped with fresh prawns and, of course, a pale pink Marie Rose sauce.
The sauce was smooth, tangy and had a subtle spiciness, while the salad – consisting of sliced peppers, tomatoes and lettuce – was crispy and refreshing.
The quality of the seafood was second-to-none and this continued throughout our meal.
For me, it was the Cullen skink (£7.50). Whenever the opportunity arises to opt for this hearty classic dish, I grab it.
The sheer scale of my soup bowl was enough to make my starter a winner off the bat. Hefty chunks of succulent smoked haddock, potatoes and onions featured in the soup.
Brown bread was served alongside it, which I used to soak up the creamy mixture that had a nice level of saltiness.
I can safely say that Aspire Restaurant now serves my favourite Cullen skink. I assure you this doesn’t happen often.
Josh and I proceeded to admire the interior once again. I’m delighted that Jill decided to retain the original stain glass windows.
Like the starters, our mains arrived beautifully presented and piping hot.
I waited a moment or two to give my green Thai salmon curry (£16.95) the opportunity to cool down slightly. Lemongrass, lime and peppercorns were the predominant flavour profiles in the silky concoction.
The salmon was even more delicate in my main than it was in my starter, which I didn’t think would be possible. It was buttery, citrusy and flaked away with ease, while the sliced onions and peppers added a subtle chew to the earthy dish.
I proceeded to add my accompanying coconut rice to the curry bowl and use the prawn crackers as a scoop to ensure I could enjoy each component in one bite.
Across the table, Josh’s main was receiving equal amounts of praise. He opted for the chicken supreme stuffed with haggis (£18.95).
The chicken itself was soft and wrapped in streaky bacon which added a delicate smokey flavour.
Teamed with dauphinoise potato, tender stem broccoli and a whisky cream sauce, each element was a delight and came together to make a stellar dish.
Round two complete, it was time for desserts. I can never say no to a treat on a Sunday after all. I requested the lemon cheesecake (£7.50) and Josh went for the sticky toffee pudding (£7.50).
We simultaneously uttered the word “wow” as we caught sight of them.
My dessert consisted of a crunchy biscuit base topped with a silky-smooth cheesecake mixture. The aromas of lemon were strong leaving me slightly apprehensive about how sour it would be, but I needn’t have worried.
A generous scoop of vanilla ice cream was served alongside it, as well as a dollop of blueberry compote. This was the star of the show and added a tart element to the plate.
Josh’s sticky toffee pudding was swimming in a pool of rich butternut sauce. The pair of us believe the more sauce the better, so he was thrilled. It was served with a velvety pouring cream (rather than ice cream) as per his request.
Aspire Restaurant has successfully brought the former Portsoy kirk back its former glory.
Is it currently operating in a soft opening phase with reduced services and menus, but I can’t see it being long until it is open for breakfasts, lunches, fly cups and dinners going by our stellar experience.
It is clear the food is made with passion. Three cheers for Jill and her team who have built a must-visit restaurant in the village.
Address: Seafield Terrace, Portsoy, Aberdeenshire AB45 2QB
T: 01261 842983
Price: £84.90 for two starters, two mains, two desserts, one cocktail and two cans of Diet Coke.
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surrounding: 5/5