Taking a seat at the table in one of Scotland’s 12 most beautiful restaurants, Murray feels right at home in St Andrews’ Seafood Ristorante.
“Glamour… is a kind of vessel into which dreams are poured, and some vessels are simply worthier than others… glamour is the power to rearrange people’s emotions, which, in effect, is the power to control one’s environment” – Arthur Miller
That the Seafood Ristorante manages to harness and exude an intrinsic feeling of glamour might seem inarguable. There it sits, a beautiful glass box, perched above the sand and the incoming tide, a jewel of a building enhancing its natural setting with grace, purity and true style.
It’s impossible not to be wowed before you even enter this space, a thing of great beauty in a town of great beauty – somewhere that lifts the spirits just by existing.
Although this review could probably be condensed into the almost haiku like “go there. You’ll love it. It’s perfect”, it’s worth analysing just what it is that makes so many people feel evangelical about this very special place. It’s not like it’s a secret but if – like me – you haven’t been here for a while it’s now time to revisit and get ready to be bowled over again.
Others have noticed.
A recent Conde Nast Traveller piece about the 12 most beautiful restaurants in Scotland quite rightly included the Seafood Ristorante (it’s also the closest one to home for many of us, although Gleneagles in Perthshire is also included).
When I excitedly posted a photo of the stellar view from our table, artist Derrick Guild pronounced it his favourite spot, whilst a chef friend in SW France could only respond ‘wow!’. Local Dundee music legend Gary Clark enthused that he’d dined at the restaurant the day before us – “and the food is better than ever. And what a room!”.
This is from a man who lived in LA for 7 years and who I last met in New York when he was working on his Broadway musical. He knows his stuff.
Before you get to the wonderful food, the inescapable delight of this restaurant is indeed the room itself. It’s been revamped since my last visit quite a few years ago and looks wonderfully fresh and timeless in a way that reminds me of the River Café in London, a place that itself defines high octane glamour in an ostensibly low-key style.
Although we were the second party to arrive for an early Saturday lunch, you could already sense the quiet hum of efficiency that defines a stellar restaurant; it felt at once welcoming, comforting and inspiring. You’re in good, assured hands here.
Firstly, the staff all look impeccable, which is really something to behold. They’re young, hip and knowing, eager to make sure your experience here is the best it can be. Their manner is perfect, neither cloyingly in your face nor distant and uncaring; they’re so well trained in the functions of a great restaurant that they exude the charming confidence you only acquire when you know you’re up there with the best.
Service this good is a sad rarity in our part of the world and when you witness it you just know – the highest compliment I can give is that these staff could have been in the most discerning restaurants in New York, LA or London and they wouldn’t put a foot wrong. They’re that good.
We were lucky to be seated at a window table and what a welcome bonus that was because the view of sand, surf and sky was awe- inspiring. Beneath us the tide rolled gently in as kids played on the rocks in a scene harkening back to gentler times. It was completely idyllic.
It was then that I had an almost physical memory jolt backwards to 15 years ago when my friend David and I had sat at this very table and he’d opened the local property guide and pointed out a very sweet looking house for sale further along the coast in Fife. Neither of us was looking to move from London at this point and we’d only picked up the guide to compare prices in Tayside to those in London as a form of willing mental flagellation.
I distinctly remember looking at photos of the house as I sipped champagne and ate oysters, growing increasingly fascinated with every sip and slurp. Someone slid the glass doors open next to our table and we heard the tide flow mere feet beneath us, and suddenly I realised that I didn’t want to go back to my mad life in London. It was like an epiphany and all the more powerful because I hadn’t expected it.
After lunch at what was then the earliest incarnation of the Seafood Restaurant, we drove along the coast, walked down the path to the little tucked-away cottage David had spotted, the owner invited us in and…I basically bought a house in Fife, the house I now type this review in 15 years later. And four years ago, dispirited with London life, David bought the house next door. It’s difficult not to believe in fate or the transformative power of a good lunch.
When I bought this place I was so poor I slept on a sun lounger because I couldn’t afford a bed. I’d drive up from London after work on a Friday, arriving at 3am. I’d drive back on a Sunday and go straight into work on Monday morning. My bank card was constantly refused. Nevertheless, my mum proudly called me the Laird of Wormit and I then saw her every weekend for what turned out to be the last four years of her life.
I’d get back from London to find the front door painted in white gloss and I’d go mad at Mum for trying to control my life – but when she died I realised she could have painted the house in rainbow stripes and tied a huge yellow ribbon round it and I would have hugged her and thanked her just for being alive. All of these thoughts exploded in my head from this meal last Saturday at the Seafood Ristorante; sometimes a lunch is about more than the food and the décor and this was one of those times.
The food here is fantastic. In the interests of presenting a complete picture I chose from the a la carte menu and David ordered from the set menu, which is £30 for 3 courses – a bargain for food of this quality.
He ate a wonderfully vibrant watercress risotto with peas, broad beans and mascarpone, as seasonal and fresh as it sounds, followed by Wye Valley asparagus with chicken in the woods mushrooms, duck egg and mushroom sauce. It was delicious and we ordered more bread to mop up every drop from the plates.
I ordered an incredible lasagne of Anstruther lobster with Loch Etive sea trout and a spiced shellfish bisque (£17) for my starter. This heavenly amalgamation was centred around a deliciously delicate sea trout mousse and every single component was harmonious and perfectly seasoned. I could have licked the plate had the extra bread not arrived.
My main course was a tranche of North Sea turbot served with asparagus, porcini and a delicious chicken butter sauce (£37). Again, everything worked together to create a perfect dish.
It has to be said that pricing on the a la carte menu is quite lofty but I do feel it’s worth it for food of this quality; as a comparison I often look to the aforementioned River Café as an example of a restaurant that has always priced highly but has also always served food of supreme quality and provenance, in beautiful surroundings – still for me the best restaurant in London.
There a current turbot dish features a wood-roasted tranche served with anchovy, capers, flowering oregano, summer beets and garden rocket. This is £44.
I don’t think it’s entirely fair to compare the two but, for me, there are enough different options at the Seafood Ristorante to cater for all price points and, to be honest, if I’m out for a meal I’d rather eat brilliantly once a week than try to economise by choosing the cheapest dish wherever I go. The quality here is excellent.
Our desserts of raspberries with vanilla panna cotta and peach and heather honey crème brûlée were fantastic, especially the latter which included an ace caramelised puff pastry and raspberry sorbet (£9.50).
I celebrated glamour and my mum with two glasses of excellent French Chardonnay at £12.50 a glass.
This place is very special. Bought in 2017 by Stefano Pieraccini, this was his first solo venture, having grown up in the hospitality industry observing his parents in places like Rocpool Reserve, Rocpool Rendevous, Riva, Pazzo and the brilliant Glenmoriston Townhouse in Inverness. A move to St Andrews saw them open Rocca and the One Under bar in the Rusacks hotel.
Inheriting a restaurant where the food and décor had grown tired, Stefano instantly redecorated the room in an attempt to make it feel less stuffy. His aim was to wow the customer at all points of their visit, which is exactly what this place does.
Bringing in executive chef Davey Aspin was the final part of the jigsaw; at one stage the youngest UK chef to gain a Michelin star, Aspin is an assertive chef whose food is an understated delight. Nothing extraneous features here; it’s all relevant and it’s all good.
It was such a pleasure to eat here in such a genuinely energising and gorgeous environment. This is a place that would be an asset anywhere in the world. How lucky we are to have it here.
Address: The Seafood Ristorante, Bruce Embankment, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9AB