“Leave that for now and let’s move on,” sighed the service manager at Café Bohème as he delivered our gin and tonic and handed us the wine list.
He wasn’t suggesting I’d had enough, I hasten to add, though his advice could easily lead you to jump to the wrong conclusion.
Let’s face it, there have been many occasions over the years when another overflowing glass of red wine in a restaurant has left me with a headache.
It wasn’t one of them, I’m happy to confirm.
No, he was simply answering a question he had to hear several times a day.
“How did you deal with the lockdowns and all the other pandemic restrictions,” I asked. Hence his cryptic response, but one that was by no means abrupt; he was delivered with a good-natured smile.
I think his words were code for “we have more than enough to take, thank you”.
“We are fully booked tonight and tomorrow,” he added, as if to prove that this popular French restaurant – a permanent fixture at the top of Aberdeen’s restaurant hierarchy for years – was making a meteoric recovery.
I was glad ‘Best Restaurant in Aberdeen’ was alive despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s not my nickname, but an accolade from one of his legions of admirers on social media.
But based on our Friday night visit, I would find it impossible to argue against.
Another fan online said Cafe Boheme was the most authentic French restaurant you could find outside of France itself.
I couldn’t argue with that either as I’ve only visited France three times, but I have vivid memories of two establishments in the Languedoc region near Montpellier.
One was a noisy village restaurant that you could hear halfway down the street.
We didn’t like the look or the sound, but we finally worked up the courage to go inside.
It was very rustic and its long wooden tables were filled with locals. But we enjoyed the warmest welcome and delicious French cuisine.
The other place was further away; classy, elegant and expensive. For some reason, the woman responsible was dressed in a leotard, tail coat and top hat – and carried a whip. I often wondered afterwards if it was really a restaurant in which we had fallen by chance.
Looking up from the Café Bohème menu, I drank in the surroundings.
Sleek wood paneling around the walls complemented the floors, while dim lighting and flickering candles reflected in a mirrored wall created a cozy atmosphere.
Another delicious discovery was that our charming and excellent waitress was actually French; from Normandy in fact. She seated us and took our order.
My starter was citrus and gin cured salmon with sweet cucumber pickle and lemon chive mascarpone.
Delicate strips of salmon were arranged on the plate along with the cream cheese and pickle to form a savory combination.
For my wife, deer carpaccio with honey-roasted celeriac, puy lentils, beetroot and apple.
It was refreshing to see venison instead of the usual marinated raw beef version in many restaurants; meaty and rich, the meat also pairs well with the celery-flavored filling and diced additions.
What struck us about the two starters was the care and detail given to the presentation.
As a main course, I found the pan-fried sea trout irresistible because I don’t often come across them.
It was served with pomme dauphine – crispy potato sprouts – cauliflower sauce, braised leeks and topped with a saffron flavored poached egg.
My wife’s choice fell on the beef tenderloin, with beef cheek and black pudding rissole, mashed potatoes with parmesan, spinach in butter and beef jus.
There are few treats that match the sensory delight of a poached egg cracking open and its gooey yolk oozing out. It was the same view from the top of my trout.
What a treat this dish turned out to be.
Steaks are a staple on any menu, as diners never tire of what is still a treat reserved for going out.
Cafe Boheme does steak in its own style.
The tenderloin here was incredibly tender and rich in flavor, but the star of the show for my wife was the beef cheek and black pudding rissole, which involved pressing the ingredients together in breadcrumbs or batter before cooking.
This little ball of joy packs quite a punch in terms of its wonderful deep flavor.
We finished with a superb combination of dark chocolate, banana and honeycomb pie with ice cream, and a trio of wonderful petit fours.
To reinforce the illusion of being across the Channel, classical French popular music played in the background.
Come to think of it, Cafe Boheme is still playing a good tune despite the pandemic.
David Knight is the former associate editor of The Press and Journal and has reviewed restaurants for The Menu for many years.
Address: Cafe Boheme, 23 Windmill Brae, Aberdeen, AB11 6HU
P: 01224 210677
Price: £97.50 for three courses for two plus drinks
- Food: 5/5
- Performance: 4/5
- Surroundings: 4/5
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[Cafe Boheme brings a little bit of France to Aberdeen]