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The Boathouse

The Boathouse

19b High St
South Queensferry,

0131 331 5429

Price Rating: 2

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The Boathouse

Review published on 02/12/2004 © Sunday Herald

Who needs the Saltire or Lion Rampant when you’ve the Forth Rail Bridge?
It ought to be as quintessentially Scottish as the Eiffel Tower is French. Arguably it’s a greater feat of engineering than the latter. As a child, it constituted the highlight of long weekend trips from the far south side of Glasgow to visit my grandmother in Inverkeithing.

So, of course, it was impossible for me not to appreciate The Boathouse. It is as close to the river as it is possible to be without getting wet, and its windows offer the most gobsmacking, in-your-face vista of the bridge in all its ferrous magnificence.

The chairs are positioned helpfully, so that you can always look out at the bridge. In food terms, it is a reasonable restaurant that is irritatingly close to being rather good. But it has to decide whether it will settle for mediocrity or aim for higher things.

What it gets right is the fish. We ate scallops, mackerel, sea bass and monkfish. They were all fresh and well-timed. The mackerel and bass were fleshy and moist under perfectly crisped-up, blistered skin, the scallops crusty but juicy within, the monkfish trimmed of all membrane that might cause it to scrunch up into foetal position. So if you go for a nice piece of fish, simply cooked, then you will be happy.

What it does get wrong, however, is the accompaniments, with broadly two variations: either sugar snap peas and new potatoes or mixed-leaf salad. When I see those bolt-on, blanched mangetouts and boiled potatoes, my heart sinks. I actually can’t work up the enthusiasm to eat them. The menu might as well read, “Vegetables? We’ve given up trying.”

How many thousands of miles from Kenya have those ubiquitous contributors to global warming been flown? They are a lazy option in the depths of a Scottish winter when there are better local, national and European seasonal options. I’m thinking kale, Jerusalem artichokes or green cabbage. I could go on, I will go on – fennel, celeriac, celery and squash. And should dunking vegetables in water and then slathering them in butter count as cooking?

As for that trusty standby, the green salad, within these parameters, might there not be more appropriate seasonal salad ingredients such as beetroot and capers or celeriac remoulade or pomegranate and winter chicory or parsley, orange and red onion?

There is a sense, too, of the cooking drifting away from the menu concept.

The monkfish was meant to be roasted with rosemary, “baby” garlic (whatever that is) and olive oil. Yet it looked and tasted steamed, being white and virginal. It was covered in a fairly unidentifiable, bland and slightly viscous sauce that did not correspond to the menu description.

The bass came with a ‘garlic hollandaise’, a misconceived innovation. The garlic overpowered the fish, and its addition seemed to miss the point of this emulsified sauce, a balance of vinegar and eggy butteriness which makes the perfect carrier for subtle fresh herb flavours.

For dessert there was a hit – a sort of crème brulée meets bread and butter pudding made with white chocolate and raspberries – and a miss – a mushy under-caramelised Tarte Tatin with sub-standard pastry. An illustration of an uneven performance that needs correcting if the Boathouse is to sparkle.

© Sunday Herald