Having a birthday at the start of January seems like no fun.
Everyone is broke, in need of an alcohol detox and has just remembered they need to go back to work. Or is that just me?
But instead of hibernating on the sofa until spring arrived, this year I decided to treat my poor January-born boyfriend to a fancy dinner on his birthday – even if that meant leaving the house during the first week of the new year.
Walking home several hours (and cocktails) later, it turned out to be a good decision.
Choosing a restaurant wasn’t difficult. My boyfriend, Ollie, only had one thing on his mind: steak.
In his view, there are only a handful of places to get a decent quality, well-cooked steak in Aberdeen, and of those few, one stands out ahead of the rest; Malmaison.
This boutique hotel is a good 20-minute walk from the main bar and restaurant thoroughfare of Union Street.
But the walk is pleasant and I always enjoy gawping at the grandeur of Queen’s Road wonderful granite architecture.
Malmaison, or Mal as it’s often known, is slightly set back from the road with a customer car park and outdoor terrace.
Inside is dark and cosy with a slightly Scottish twist (think lots of plaid and stag heads).
As I looked closer I spotted some local landmarks on the walls – photographs of North Sea oil rings and castles like Crathes and Balmoral.
Walking through the bar you pass by an entire wall of wine and another of whisky before walking over the glass of a private dining room below.
The Chez Mal brasserie was busy. It seemed most people didn’t have my same qualms about leaving the house during the first week of the year.
We were led through to an opulent velvet booth which appeared to be the last table in the house, and to my boyfriend’s delight, one of the best.
Having knocked back a negroni (Ollie’s choice) and sweet pink cocktail made from vodka, rhubarb and champagne (mine, of course) we were ready to eat.
Pan-fried scallops from the specials menu arrived along with oak-smoked salmon carpaccio to start.
The scallops were served with a soy and ginger drizzle and dressed with spring onions and sesame.
They were deliciously buttery and soft as scallops should be. My boyfriend’s only complaint was the generous topping of coriander which wasn’t mentioned on the menu.
Carpaccio is usually thinly sliced beef drizzled with oil but the salmon version, served with beetroot, clementine and crème fraiche, was a nice fishy alternative.
It was finally time for the main event of the evening – steak.
Mal is known for its Josper Grill which works to both smoke and grill simultaneously.
It swiftly cooks Donald Russell prime cuts, from the signature Côte de Boeuf, T-bone, and sirloin, to sharing steaks of porterhouse and wing rib.
This was the reason we were here and it didn’t disappoint.
The rare steak was cooked perfectly and served with garlic butter and truffle fries (which were my highlight of the evening) and a side of sautéed mushrooms.
On my pescatarian side of the table was a plate of pan-fried seabass with gnocchi and roasted squash sauce.
My main was tasty though I’d also been tempted by a few more unusual dishes on the menu like the spinach and feta pithivier and cauliflower bhuna.
We took our time over our mains and never felt rushed. The staff were friendly and quick to ask if we needed more drinks.
Eventually we made it to dessert and ordered a classic crème brulee to share.
The desert menu wasn’t huge but the crème brulee was a generous portion and had a perfect hard caramel top for us to crack into.
Nothing beats crunchy shards of sugar with a smooth, set custard to finish off your meal.
Our plate was soon cleared and we sat for a while enjoying the last of our wine to stretch the birthday evening out.
It was a birthday meal done right, if I do say so myself.
Mal manages to have just the right mix of playful seriousness to make it a brilliant spot for a special meal out in Aberdeen.
Our bill came to just over £150, so it’s not somewhere you’d just drop in on a whim – which is good because booking a table is recommended.
And I could see why it was so busy.
Popular with hotel guests and locals alike, Chez Mal brasserie is the place to come to dine on excellent steak, sip colourful cocktails and order a dram form an impressive collection of whisky.
So, I suppose it was worth getting off the sofa on a cold January night for. I might make this a yearly tradition.