Published: May 2011
Only the highest quality is good enough at Wick's No 1 Bistro. That much is obvious from a glance at the display cabinet set into an interior wall, showcasing various prize tickets and rosettes awarded to prime livestock at Quoybrae mart – animals then purchased by the restaurant to ensure that its beef and lamb dishes come with impeccable credentials.
The clear message to diners is that they're not just getting local produce, they're getting the very best available – and I can vouch for the fact that it's a highly effective selling point. As soon as I saw "Caithness show champion stovied beef, served with cabbage" on the two-course lunch menu (a very reasonable £9.95) I knew I'd be looking no further for my main course.
It must have been about 30 years since I'd last tucked in to a plateful of stovies, back when it was an ever-present feature of Aberdeen pub-grub menus and an ideal way to fortify yourself for the raw chill of Pittodrie on a Saturday afternoon. This promised to be a step up in quality from those comfort-food bar meals of the early '80s – after all, the No 1 Bistro version could boast a championship-winning pedigree. And so it proved.
The beef was beautifully tender, the tatties had just the right amount of mushiness, and the whole hearty dollop was perfectly seasoned. It was served with a pile of well-cooked cabbage and a couple of locally made oatcakes on the side.
Stovies are never going to look sophisticated, but this was an expertly prepared plateful – simple yet satisfying.
My wife had opted for a green pea, leek and mushroom risotto (£7.95) from the main menu. It was very tasty, she said, though she felt that a few shavings of Parmesan might have enhanced it further.
Meanwhile I had an intriguing dessert to look forward to. Croissant butter pudding with home-made white chocolate ice cream sounded irresistible, and it didn't disappoint.
The slight oiliness from the top of the croissant blended with the delicate custardy layer underneath to create a real melt-in-the-mouth sensation. The single scoop of white chocolate ice cream was an ideal accompaniment. There was no more than the merest hint of Milky Bar richness, but that was probably just as well – otherwise the dish as a whole might have been overly sweet.
Service was relaxed and unhurried, which was fine by us. The first thing the waitress had done was offer to take our coats and hang them up – a nice example of good old-fashioned manners.
As everyone knows by now, No 1 Bistro has the distinction of being the solitary address on what is officially the shortest street in the world – the 6ft 9in Ebenezer Place, occupying the end section of Mackays Hotel. Careful refurbishment with tasteful décor has created a split-level space that's modern, bright and airy yet with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. (And my wife was won over straight away by the choice of background music – you really can't go wrong with Bruce Springsteen.)
My biggest problem had been deciding which two courses to opt for. Starter options were pâté of Caithness Smokehouse salmon with local oatcakes or the equally tempting Strathdon blue cheese and walnut tart, along with a choice of two soups. Mains included whole-tail scampi with hand-cut chips and breast of chicken with braised vegetable casserole and mash, while if the croissant butter pudding hadn't leapt out at me I'd have been quite happy to order the lemon and lime cheesecake or Old Pulteney panna cotta with berry compote.
Underlining the theme of locally sourced produce, we were assured that all the seafood served here comes directly from the Scrabster quayside. No doubt if rosettes and prizes were awarded for the best freshly landed fish and shellfish they'd be proudly on show in that display case as well – on the basis that nothing but the best will do at Wick's No 1 dining establishment.
Quality of food: 9
Menu choice: 9
Value for money: 8
Summary: The championship rosettes say it all: No 1 Bistro offers the highest quality of local produce. Nice décor, good atmosphere... and the "world's shortest street" distinction for good measure.