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Growing up on the east coast of Scotland I’ve always felt the magnetic pull of the North Sea. There’s something mesmerising about watching the breakers rhythmically surge and crash on a winter’s day. On a bitterly cold but sunny afternoon there can be few better places in the world than the vast expanse of St Andrews’ West Sands to wake up the senses and blow away the January blues. Except perhaps the best seat in the house at the Seafood Ristorante, instantly recognisable as the glass cube perched over the rocky shoreline with breathtaking views of the sands stretching into the distance.
Tumbling into the restaurant from the windswept, rather precipitous path down the embankment, there’s an instant sense of calm and a flicker of excitement that everything is going to be more than a little bit special.
A warm and completely professional reception from front of house set the tone for the afternoon. We knew we were in for a treat when the aperitif, as part of the Sunday lunch experience, was a glass of Bollinger. This was partnered by the most gorgeous baccala (salted cod). These were the ‘cicchetti’, a type of Italian snack typically served in Venice. Creamy and salty, these divine little fried croquettes were so moreish that at this point I swiftly decided this was a lunch worth settling down for and brokered a “you can drive” deal with Mr H. On that note the sommelier was literally brimming with suggestions and couldn’t have been more attentive.
There was no rush to decide on the menu, giving us plenty of time to drink in the atmosphere. The fact that the restaurant is flooded with crisp coastal light, and that many of the tables are positioned right against the floor to ceiling glass wall almost catching the sea spray, is special in itself. But the added drama comes from the open kitchen buzzing like a well-oiled machine in the middle of the room. I’m not sure I was the most attentive dining partner that day, as when I wasn’t captivated by the waves foaming outside I was focused on the chefs delivering a lunch service that appeared to be completely on point.
I didn’t have to hanker for more cicchetti for long as the next perfectly-timed offering was warm home baked bread, delicately flavoured with rosemary, and the smoothest rocher of butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Simple but perfectly done. When I finally did settle down to read the menu I found myself in one of those lovely quandaries where I wanted to order everything and have it all at once.
Something told me that the classic fish soup “rouille & croutons” would have been delicious, and Mr H was toying with the Shetland mussels. I found myself torn between the seafood and my own indulgence for fresh pasta, which featured only in the vegetarian starter, but we settled eventually on the house smoked salmon & East Neuk crab for Mr H and the Crown Prince Pumpkin Angolotti for me.
The crimped angolotti, garnished with pumpkin Parisienne, shaved parmesan and dill fronds, was elegant and refined; the little pasta parcels gorgeously plump with ricotta, resting on silky pumpkin puree vividly sweeping around the plate.
The texture of crispy sage and toasted pine nuts added a lovely contrast, cutting through the sweet pumpkin. Pasta this good is rare in these parts and, while the pumpkin was delicious, it did make me wonder what could have been done with some of that fresh white crab meat or the Shetland mussels. Across the table was a generous portion of salmon, delicately smoked and not overly salty, layered in the centre of a plain white plate, martialled by two perfect rochers of crème fraiche.
This was accompanied by three dinky caviar tins, filled with white crab meat, brown crab, avruga caviar, keta, some crisp salad leaves and soft springy blinis. Here was a ‘build your own blini’ and it was so much fun that I reluctantly swapped the last angolotti for it. Simple, fresh and tasting completely of the sea, this was a beautiful introduction to the meal.
Top billing on the menu went to the Roast of the Day, a Tuscan style roast pork belly, stuffed with apricots, sage and amaretti biscuits. “All the trimmings” were served in side dishes, ideal for sharing and a sense of Sunday occasion. Now this was not a meal to quibble about but at this point I do confess to wondering why the showstopper was neither seafood nor fish.
That aside, the pork – served on a crisply tart apple puree – was cooked to succulent tenderness with crackling to die for and a stuffing that stayed just on the right side of sweet, with a rich, glossy grain mustard café au lait sauce.
The dauphinoise were perfectly pressed and full of buttery indulgence, the glazed vichy carrots were tender and delicious and the cauliflower cheese had a welcome sharp tang. Across the table the Scrabster hake also went down well, flaky and subtly sweet, with tiny flavour pops of shrimp and vividly fresh broccoli puree and some purple sprouting stems. I could sense Mr H eyeing up my trimmings though and reluctantly agreed to share the dauphinoise.
When it came to dessert it was hard not to get excited. Mr H’s bitter chocolate fondant with oranges and Grand Marnier was exceptional, perfectly risen and almost glossy on top, offset by delicate layers of caramelised orange, a shortbread crumb and a rocher of vanilla ice cream. Plunging in with the fork (I couldn’t restrain myself from stretching over the table and diving in), the fondant yielded a river of exquisite chocolate heaven. The bread and butter pudding was, in short, one of the best I have ever had.
With the babysitter calling we sadly didn’t have time for cheese, but we squeezed in a coffee because we simply didn’t want to go home and leave this gorgeous cube of light on the seashore, being waited on by a front of house team showing a level of attentiveness that is hard to come by. And we were so glad we did because the chocolate hazelnut cannoli was the icing on the cake.
At £35 for three courses including the glass of Bollinger, home baked bread and cicchetti, there is no doubt that the Sunday lunch menu is outstanding value for the whole experience, which is both elegant and refined with a contemporary, relaxed vibe. This is one of my new favourite Sunday places to press the ‘pause button’ on life and we will certainly return.
Price: Bollinger Sunday lunch: £29.50 for 2 courses; £35 for 3 courses
Lunch/dinner: Starters: £12-£18