Haggis and scallops are tops, with shortbread not far behind as Loch Fyne does fine.
Whenever I walk into a restaurant to be greeted by the smell of the ocean it brings back the tale of the fishmonger’s sign.
‘Fresh fish sold here daily’, says the sign. Wise guy says to owner: “You don’t need the word ‘here’, the sign is above your shop - where else would you sell it? You don’t need the word ‘daily’ because you wouldn’t advertise that you were selling them yesterday. You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because nobody buys fish that’s not fresh and you don’t need the word ‘sold’ - you wouldn’t be giving them away. You don’t actually need the word ‘fish’ – you can smell it from a hundred yards.”
Needless to say Loch Fyne has no trouble with bad smells or in selling fish – since the first Loch Fyne restaurant opened in 1998 on Loch Fyne itself they have done a remarkable trade in just that.
My first time in a Loch Fyne, the Sheffield branch opposite the Hallamshire Hospital being one of 42 restaurants in the UK and housed in a magnificent Georgian building, one of the finest in the city.
Manager Leigh Mcfarlane has been at Loch Fyne for six months, returning to his Sheffield roots following spells working in New York and Barcelona.
“People like to see the fish counter as they walk in,” said 37-year-old Leigh, originally from Ecclesall.
“Loch Fyne are big on ethically sourcing their fish. We only have seafood that’s in season and most of it still comes from Scotland. People can choose their food from the display. Lobster is very popular.”
We had booked by telephone via a very pleasant young lady who told us that if we came too early the service might suffer because o f the large Christmas party they were catering for that night. Nice touch.
My vegetarian daughter Ellen and I are seated in a corner as far as possible from the bar and the party - 57 extremely well-heeled and fairly restrained students on the fish and on the rip.
“There’s a heater behind you sir, it gets a bit cold in this corner. Switch it on and it will warm you if you feel the chill,” says our waiter Sean as he introduces himself. I do and it does, beautifully so.
Loch Fyne’s furniture, floor and walls are in pale wood with similar modern furniture, fishing-themed pictures on the walls and nicely lit. It feels like a decent restaurant - one of a chain, but a decent restaurant.
For starters I chose haggis with scallops, a lemon beurre blanc and caramelised pear.
It was the best haggis I’ve ever tasted - which isn’t saying much. But this is delicious. Salty, meaty with grain and texture and none of the muttony aftertaste that has ruined one or two New Year’s Eves over the years. The haggis’s warmth and depth complements the clean smoothness of the seared scallops. All set off by the pear and beurre blanc tart-sweetness and earthy cress garnish.
One of the best combination of flavours I’ve eaten all year.
Ellen’s starter isn’t quite so photogenic but her chargrilled aubergine rolls with goat’s cheese and red pepper tartlet is a substantial effort with excellent depth of flavour and a crisp pastry base.
An intensely middle-class young couple on the next table are earnestly discussing Sigmund Freud and his ideas on unconscious and repressed sexuality, perhaps brought on by thoughts of fish from the dark ocean underworld.
Or perhaps they just have a different menu to us.
Either way our main courses arrive. Mine is smoked haddock with Colcannon mash and a wholegrain mustard sauce. The fish is off-white rather than the dyed yellow stuff of old but isn’t the best-looking food you’ve ever seen. It tastes much better than it looks. The fish is nicely cooked, smokey, flakey and tender, the colcannon buttery and well seasoned with lots of bright green cabbage. The mustard sauce is a little grey but rich and peppery and goes well with the subtle smoke and rich mash.
Ellen’s main course is a bubble and squeak risotto which looks a delight, but I confess to being a risotto sceptic. The only convincing rice-dominant dish I’ve had was a particularly good paella in Spain which isn’t a risotto at all because of its crispy bottom. There’s that Freud thing again.
This risotto is unfortunately subtle to the point of being bland with hardly a hint of bubble or squeak, though the rice is nicely cooked, each grain maintaining its integrity.
It comes with an egg in breadcrumbs, carrot crisps and a crispy, cheesy wafer which help considerably.
Dessert-wise we had a chocolate and raspberry delice which had a deliciously chocolatey mousse made in-house with a granola base, raspberry coulis, fresh raspberries and a whisky cream. All delicious.
But not as delicious as the shortbread that comes with the home-made creme brulee. It’s is a crumbly, buttery, off-sweet delight that goes perfectly with the creamy crème brulee with the nicely crisp caramelised sugar top.
Unfortunately the blowtorch didn’t manage to melt all the sugar and there was a layer of raw sugar grains lurking beneath the dark topping...
Once you start with the Freud stuff it’s hard to stop.
For three courses each a Cranberry juice and a Bottle of Bellhaven IPA our bill came to £53.65
Star rating our of five:
* Loch Fyne, 375-385 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2HQ
* Tel: 0114 270 3940
* Opening times: Mon - Thu: 12.00-22.00, Fri: 12.00-22.30, Sat: 9.00-23.00, Sun: 9.00-22.00.