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The best of booth worlds

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So it was my birthday this week. Mid-January is never the best time for a birthday and it amuses me when family give me gifts at Christmas-time and say “now that’s for your Christmas and your birthday!”

I often wonder if my birthday was in June would they have said that? And how can you celebrate a birthday mid-January? No summer barbecue or lavish parties as everyone is counting the cost of Christmas, counting calories or preferring to cosy up indoors and flick through sunshine holiday brochures.

But the great news for me is that I get to share my birthday with my twin sister – oh, and Gary Barlow – so with our birthday cash tucked in our purses (unfortunately Gary couldn’t make it) we headed out to Stonehaven for an afternoon of fine dining and girly chat.

We had heard good things about the Tolbooth and booked for Sunday lunch so that we could enjoy the fabulous vista overlooking the picturesque harbour.

Situated at the north side of the harbour, the Tolbooth is the oldest building in Stonehaven. The 16th century building was originally built as a store for Dunnottar Castle before becoming the town jail and court. It was renovated and opened by the Queen Mother in 1965 and in 1975 the ground floor became a museum, which is still open today.

We arrived quite early so had a wander around the free museum which is packed with artefacts from days gone by. We wandered through the treasure trove of interesting items on display, including a fabulous old fashioned dresser just like my grandma used to have.

So on to the Tolbooth restaurant. Up some steep stone steps and we were warmly welcomed into the bright, cosy restaurant. The walls are colour-washed white with pale blue wooden cladding and stripped wood floors, giving it a surprisingly modern feel within such an old building. The view overlooking the harbour is beautiful and felt slightly eerie on this dark, sombre day with the mist rolling down from the cliffs and the waves calmly lapping the shore.

The Sunday lunch fixed price menu of three courses for just £26.95 seemed excellent value, with four choices of starters and mains as well as an array of mouth-watering specials.

The majority of the offerings are seafood, which is only fitting considering its close proximity to the fishing boats on the doorstep. All their seafood is sourced locally and the blackboard updated daily with the freshest catch of the day.

We enquired about lobster and were told that they really only feature them in the high season (damn those January birthdays).

However, the waitress said if you are specifically wishing lobster then call ahead and they will see what they can do – customer service at its best.

For starters I chose pork and black pudding spring rolls while my sister ordered the Cullen Skink.

My spring rolls were served on a Thai carrot slaw and matsuhisa dressing. They were light and incredibly tasty with a perfect fusion of flavours including coriander, soya sauce and black pudding – top marks so far. My sister enjoyed the warming soup topped with herby croutons and homemade bread, although she felt it wasn’t fishy enough for her and she would have preferred it to have chunks of fish rather than the smooth consistency that was served.

After much deliberation over our choice of main courses (we could have chosen them all), I plumped for the grilled fillet of North Sea cod spiked with chorizo ratatouille, crispy sage and salsa verde.

Presentation was beautiful and it certainly tasted as fantastic as it looked. The fish, chorizo and tomato were a winning combination and I savoured every mouthful. The other side of the table had gone strangely silent; my sister had disappeared into food heaven. Two good-sized portions of sea bass served with basil mash, caramelised cauliflower and shaved fennel were going down a treat. She said the fish was perfectly cooked and the whole dish bursting with flavour.

As we sat back and relaxed overlooking the harbour we deliberated whether we had room for dessert.

But it’s our birthday treat, so why not? Being the family “pudding queen” I had spotted the ginger sticky toffee pudding earlier while my sister ordered the lemon and lime posset. My wonderful Uncle Dougie is the sticky toffee pudding connoisseur and I know even he would have given this a tasty 10 out of 10.

I loved the tiny pieces of crystallised ginger, giving the sponge a unique spicy taste that combined well with the cool ice cream and toffee sauce. My sister devoured the posset – the tangy creamy dessert topped with mini meringues proved a delicious end to the meal.

With a couple of coffees and soft drinks, the bill came to just over £60 and was worth every penny. Maybe January birthdays aren’t quite so bad after all.