'Great things to eat and drink should be demonstrably accessible to anyone.' An admirable belief and one that its exponent Ranald Macdonald - bon viveur extraordinaire and owner of the Boisdale franchise — is anxious to put into practice.
This is the third Boisdale to open in London — the first, in Belgravia, opened 23 years ago and was followed by its Bishopsgate cousin. And this one already feels happily settled in its new home, having opened at the beginning of May. Word is that the flamboyant Macdonald, having hired twelve different interior designers, sacked the lot of them and oversaw the décor himself. Thus this opulent eaterie is gloriously lavish, with tartan carpet — Macdonald, of course — kilts for the waitresses and matching ties for the waiters. The result is slightly kitsch, but classy. The best seat in the house is table 75, slap bang in the middle of the semicircle overlooking Cabot Square and with a good view of the stage for Boisdale’s live jazz evenings. Various stuffed creatures, including an impressive mounted salmon, adorn the walls. Someone, it seems, is on their way to achieving a McNab…
The semicircular open-air bar underneath the restaurant is already abuzz, despite the disappointing May weather. The host of live jazz nights promise to bring in the crowds too, thanks to a pretty impressive line up hand-picked by the Boisdale's Patron of Music, Jools Holland; apparently he knows his stuff. The restaurant itself is impressively busy — word, it seems, has got round.
And it is not misplaced. Boisdale boasts an astonishingly prodigious menu — do ask your helpful waiter or waitress if you’re boggled, as the friendly staff know the menu inside and out. There are seven different types of caviar, from 'royal salmon' at £15 a portion to a jaw-dropping £3,750 for 125gm of Golden Almas.
If crustaceans are your thing, langoustines, crab and lobster make an appearance, as does plenty of shellfish, including Colchester or Rossmore oysters. Scotland is represented by a mini roasted Macsween haggis as a starter, Dunkeld smoked salmon, Loch Duart gravadlax or salmon fillet, and Orkney soused herring. Other starters include Heritage golden beetroot mixed salad, with goat’s curd and 'walnut crumble' (£7.75). The beet is sliced so it’s almost translucent and the curd is mild and deliciously creamy, while the crumble adds texture. There is crunch, too, with the ballotine of guinea fowl and Yorkshire pigeon (£10.50) thanks to some pistachios. An apple and tomato chutney lifts the rather bland guinea fowl, but the pigeon has a lovely gamey gumption.
A main of Wicks Manor pork belly with pig’s cheeks and crispy crackling needs no such lift; the meat is soft and silky, with a piquancy coming from cider sauce with hefty bacon lardons. The cheeks are delicious, although a little overcooked, but the crackling is quite possibly the best to ever challenge a molar. A generous portion of shepherd’s pie would easily serve two and is positively bursting with full-flavoured organic Welsh lamb (£15). For the real carnivore though, there are seven different steaks, all aged for at least 28 days on the bone, served with béarnaise sauce, roasted field mushrooms or served Rossini, with seared fois gras and black truffle. A little decadence is good for the soul, if not the waistline.
Talking of the waistline, puddings include a white chocolate and banana parfait, which is actually better on paper, but does come with a fabulous chocolate sauce. A bread and butter pudding brulee, however, is a triumph; rich and gooey, with whisky-soused sultanas and apricot jelly. All puddings are £6.75 and Boisdale offers savouries, too, including Scotch rarebit with Ayrshire bacon and whisky and angels on horseback.
Whisky, of course, what else? Boisdale’s long bar glows gold with bottles of the Celtic nectar and has more than 500 Scottish varieties on offer, as well as Welsh, Irish, American and Japanese. It would be impossible to try them all, but it would certainly be fun trying. There are not quite so many wines to choose from, but still a decent list, with the house white and red, a French Symposium, a very reasonable £15.50. There’s also a good selection by the glass, either 175ml or 250ml.
The Last Word
Ranald Macdonald’s latest venture is about as far from the other clan member's global behemoth as it could possible get. Let’s hear it for the Bois.