My Scottish friend invited me to midweek dinner and Jazz at the Boisdale, Cabot Place in Canary Wharf. It is easy to find, being set on the second and third floor of the large Art Deco building overlooking Cabot Square with its bubbling fountains, and with a great view of the Thames and the London City skyline. It is fair to say that the Boisdale is probably the most prestigious restaurant to have opened in Canary Wharf.
The inside is laid out in the distinctive Boisdale design; red lacquer and dark green walls, rich mahogany panelling, and a surprisingly bizarre yet complimentary arrangements of pictures and ornaments. The flooring is quality wood, and where carpeted it is in the Boisdale red and green tartan. Everything looks right, and gives an instant impression of wealthy opulence in a friendly and welcoming manner.
The first floor has an awning-covered open air terrace, a cigar area, shop and library, and a less formal but equally stylish Oyster Bar and Grill. The second floor houses the formal restaurant, the stage area for the live music, and a 12 metre long whisky bar stocked with over 1000 bottles of different blends. This is probably the best stocked whisky bar in the world.
We were shown to our table by a smiling waitress wearing the Boisdale tartan pleated skirt, the uniform being worn by all the staff which gave an added friendly but respectful feel to the place.
The menu is comprehensive and reminds you of how much good food comes from Scotland. From oysters to cod, beef to grouse, and a range of local (to Scotland that is!) produced vegetables. My friend ordered the Isle of Mull hand dived scallops with black pudding and apple, which is a classic dish in itself. They arrived well presented, the scallops just seared enough to be tender without being burnt, and the apple sauce mild enough to enhance the scallop taste and not hide it.
I ordered the Hebridean Crab Tian with Smoke Salmon, thinking this was a good choice to get a cross section of the Scottish tastes. The crab was very delicate in taste, the salmon was firm and well smoked with a very full flavour and aroma. Each was fine in itself, however I felt that the salmon dwarfed out the taste of the crab, and on reflection I think I should have just gone for either the crab or the salmon.
For mains, my friend ordered Grouse; well it is the grouse season so why not make the most of it? And it comes served with all the trimmings on the side – bread sauce, redcurrant jelly, jus and game chips; this is ideal if you are new to grouse as it takes a lot of the ordering worries away. The bird arrived perfectly cooked through and cut easily, making it a simple pleasure to eat.
I decided to order a small 7oz fillet, but to go for the extravagant option of having it dressed with fois gras and truffles. I also added some wilted spinach and straight cut chips on the side. When it arrived the aroma was intoxicating; you could almost eat it and needed to be savoured. The steak was perfectly cooked, medium rare, and each slice melted in the mouth. The fois gras and truffle really did enhance the taste. I ate all of it, my last mouthful being savoured the longest. Normally we share dishes when tasting. Not this time.
The wine list is comprehensive without being confusing. There is also a ‘members only’ pricing section which has good price reductions for loyal patrons. If I lived or worked locally I would be in. The list included some wines made especially for Boisdale so I decided that these just had to be tried. I ordered a large glass of Boisdale Clanranald Bordeaux White to go with the starters, and a bottle of Boisdale Clanranald Claret to go with the mains. These were £35 a bottle and there was a good range of wine around this price. The white I found to be just a bit too fragrant for the crab, but perfect with the salmon and the scallops. The Claret was allowed to breathe and really suited both the steak and the grouse, its rich blackcurrant taste expanding in the mouth.
The deserts looked too good to miss, although there was not a Crème Brulle on the menu, which I usually use as a benchmark. I ordered the nearest thing, the Crème Caramel. I needn’t have worried. It arrived beautifully upturned and basking in a deep, rich caramel sauce that didn’t have even the slightest hint of being burnt. Served alongside a pure vanilla Ice-cream ball and wafer almond biscuit it was an ideal selection after a main meal steak.
My friend chose the plate of petit fours, saying how she hardly had space for desert. Which was surprising, as the perfectly formed squares of chocolates mix and the macaroons seemed to disappear too quickly.
The Jazz had started whilst we were starting the mains, and everyone there seemed to be enjoying it as well as eating. Our position overlooking Cabot Square was sufficiently far away from the stage that we could still talk and eat without difficulty. The table up by the stage were really for the dedicated jazz followers who would have frowned on us talking. So the place was a mix of people, ages and interests. Clearly a lot had come specifically for the jazz and I think that is what makes the Boisdale. It is much more than a restaurant, it is a location, and you cannot really split the atmosphere from the food; and at the Boisdale you wouldn’t ever want to.
The Boisdale is a great place to go for a really good night out with friends. The live music adds to the charm, but does not detract from the quality of the food. The service makes you feel valued and I can guarantee that when you leave you will say to yourself, just as I did – “I must come back here again”.