When you enter Ranald Macdonald’s Mayfair outpost of what’s becoming a mini-empire (there are also Boisdales all over town, not least in Canary Wharf and Belgravia), the first thought that strikes you is that you’ve walked into ‘bloody Brigadoon’, as Simon Callow puts it in Four Weddings And A Funeral.
Everywhere there are acknowledgements of Macdonald’s Scottish heritage, from the tartan adorning the walls to the many whiskies that lurk seductively on the drinks list, inviting a passer-by to take solace in a wee dram. If for some reason you’re a vehement anti-nationalist, then perhaps Boisdale is too far a stretch. For everyone else though, the sly combination of an unusual atmosphere and excellent food should make this an unmissable place to sup.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit one evening, you’re likely to be entertained with some very decent piano music while you peruse the menu. And in its newest Mayfair incarnation, you are in for a treat. The offering here has shifted away from the lavish trappings of other restaurants in favour of something simpler, smaller and quieter. But this does not mean that it is in any sense less interesting. In fact, an evening in the secluded part of the upstairs restaurant has many charms; discretion, excellent service and superb food are just part of the picture.
You shall not want for treats. Kick things off with a glass of the excellent house champagne, and the haggis quail’s eggs, and then the menu shows a bit of leg, as if kilt-clad. Oysters are English, salmon is Scottish, and the bin end is Pinot Blanc. Order away, and the worst that you can expect is that your (relatively small) table will shortly begin to groan with victuals. You may notice, while you allow the goodies to come to you, that the prices are unusually fair; if you ordered sensibly, it would cost little more here than in any neighbourhood restaurant.
Alas, we did not. There is currently no bylaw forcing you to have steak if you visit Boisdale, but you will be a happier lad or lassie if you do. Having once had a memorably bibulous afternoon with Ranald himself sampling the various cuts of meat, I can confirm that the 12oz rib eye with béarnaise sauce is something to aspire to, with the rich, full flavour of the meat given perfect support by the creamily delicious sauce. Obviously chips should and must be had, especially if they are of the truffle variety. If one’s companion wants calves’ liver, that will be similarly top-notch – although, perhaps, thirty seconds less cooking would be all the better.
Be guided by the excellent and helpful staff when it comes to everything that you drink. Rioja is of the very finest calibre, as is an espresso martini to finish the evening off with. But when you’re looking at a vinyl LP cover of Noel Coward – the Vegas years – it’s hard to resist luxuriating a bit longer.
Eventually, we stagger out into the open, replete and hearty from such an excellent repast. Boisdale, which was stuffed to the brim with visitors to the restaurant and bar (Ranald is not a modest and self-effacing man, and enjoys his appearances in the media) is becoming one of Mayfair’s most characterful and deliciously offbeat places to dine and drink, and long may it continue to be so.
Boisdale of Mayfair, shellfish bar and cigar terrace, is located in converted listed stables on North Row. For more information, including details of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Burns night specials, visit www.boisdale.co.uk.