Wine List Confidential: Fish Shop, Ballater
“An impressive and immersive place that you won’t forget in a hurry,” appraised The Scotsman’s Rosalind Erskine of Fish Shop, Ballater, adding, “the same goes for the food. Light, fresh, local and unfussy, this is a place to book if you want to try some of Scotland’s best seafood, cooked in a way that lets the ingredients and produce shine.”
Despite its inland location on the edge of the Cairngorms national park in Royal Deeside, the town of Ballater has accrued high profile fans for its piscine delights. As reported in Daily Mirror, the Queen was known to dispatch a footman to this locale to satisfy cravings for fish ‘n’ chips when in residence at Balmoral just seven meals east.
Now owned by Artfarm, the sister company of the Swiss contemporary and modern art gallery, the premises are overseen by Jasmine Sherry front of house, with husband Marcus in the kitchen. They previously worked at Artfarm’s textured, art rich, The Fife Arms in Braemar – a mere 20 minute drive away ideally in the hotel’s Range Rover replete with glass roof – and prior, Wedgwood in Edinburgh.
Opened in April, and visited almost immediately, with just half an hour’s notice given, by HM King Charles and the Queen Consort, Fish Shop is divided into a wet fish counter and dining room. Realised by Russell Sage Studio, the interior of the latter features a shoal of 133 fish formed from willow floating from the double height ceiling, a pretty counter with Lalique-like frosted looking lights, and an actual boat which serves as the base for a chef’s table beside the pass. Echoing the ethos of sustainability of ingredients, pretty, terrazzo-like table tops on reclaimed bases are formed from spent yoghurt pots. Portraits of fishermen and fisherwomen line one wall, supplemented, unfortunately, by arguably intrusive video screens showing harvesting at sea.
As at The Fife Arms, Robert Lorrigan, group sommelier for Artfarm, focuses on “smaller domains and more mindful practices in the vineyard” on this list, which was, he says, “a fun little project” to assemble.
As well as archetypal wines to match with delights from the sea, such as Picpoul de Pinet (Terre des Treize Vents) Albariño (O Rosal, Terras Gauda) and Chablis (Domaine de L’Enclos) you will find braver collaborators in the form of biodynamic Trocken Riesling Jacobus (Peter Jakob Kühn), the also lunar Château Le Puy’s “Marie Cecile” Sémillon which one merchant described as “enviably endowed”, very slowly vinified, Bu N’Daw Petite Arvine, and, via Coravin, Essex Chardonnay (Danbury Ridge). From the shorter line-up of reds, Bulgarian Soli Pinot Noir, Edoardo Miroglio is very popular by the glass, with selections rising to Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Clos L’Eglise Pomerol from 2010. The neat sherry selection includes Hidalgo Marques de Rodil Palo Cortado. Only the formulaic mark-ups hobble consumption at the higher end, unfortunately.
Cocktails include the Samphire Negroni starring the handsome Thompson Bros. gin, the Douglas fir pepped Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae, also from Scotland, and from down south, Capreolus 1000 Trees Apple Eau Du Vie. Purchase of a bottle of the local Burnside Brewery Macbeth Pale Ale, sees £1 contributed to the River Dee Trust to directly support the planting of One Million Trees over the next 15 years.
Whether you do a Queenie by adding a portion of chips to your fish, albeit here served with burnt lemon aioli, only sustainably sourced fish and shellfish feature at Fish Shop, mostly collected harbourside by Fish Shop’s dedicated driver. Resulting snacks include very moreish, very buttery MacDuff brown crab crumpets, followed by Sound of Mull scallops with wild garlic butter ordered from the blackboard, then perhaps Shetland mussels with East Coast cured nduja and tomato. Those with means could opt for a quality surf and turf in the form of the rib of Highland beef with lobster scampi and tarragon dressing with an optional half lobster to crown proceedings.
Previously Rothesay Rooms, a destination launched by the then HRH The Prince of Wales to drive tourism and employment to the area following flooding and fire in the village in 2015, and since relocated to the historic Old Royal Station, this well-run site has been opened up, brightened and is drawing in a crowd which is happy as a clam.
- Cape Wrath oysters with fermented green chillies
- Scottish accented cocktails
- The enthusiasm of GM, Jasmine Sherry
Value: 91, Size: 82, Range: 87, Originality: 90, Experience: 94; Total: 88.8
Fish Shop Restaurant & Fishmongers – Netherley Place, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5QE; 01339 720250; firstname.lastname@example.org; fishshopballater.co.uk