Favourites

checkmark tickThis is a page aimed mainly at North-east Scotland. It’s an array of companies, organisations, restaurants, shops or individuals whose work, products or customer service have delighted us. We have spent our own money with them and have not regretted it. In many cases we have dealt with them repeatedly.

These are not advertisements. We have not been paid or received benefits or discounts in return. They are just a well-deserved thank-you to the people and businesses listed. We can’t guarantee that your experience with them will be as pleasant as ours (but we’re pretty sure it will be).

We’ll be adding to it and rotating the information over coming months, so come back every so often.

And, no, we’re not related to any of them.

 

SHOPPING

Argyll Jewellers, 8 Midstocket Road, Aberdeen AB15 5NE (01224 636797)

Argyll JewellersWe started shopping at Argyll Jewellers, between the Rosemount and Midstocket areas of Aberdeen, when we were walking from a friend’s house, where we had parked the car for nothing, to the city centre and I realised that my watch battery had gone flat. The shop owner, Irvine Main, did the battery change in three minutes flat and so cheerfully, instead of the sullen mumble you get at national keycutting chains, where they peer at your watch as if it is rubbish and then thrust a ticket into your hand and tell you that if they have the time to do the job you can try coming back at the end of the day.

So it was Irvine’s cheery customer service that kept us going back. Initially, it was for more watch-battery replacements but eventually it was for Christmas and birthday jewellery.

The range of jewellery and watches, for all tastes and budgets, is amazing for a small, one-man store. I have never yet been in the shop and not seen something new that I think would make a good present.

Lately, we have been trying his remodelling service. Mrs Harper’s wedding ring had stuck and needed to be cut off and expanded a size. Not only did he remove the ring in such a way that did not damage the inscription or the hallmark, but the remodelled ring, two weeks later, was indistinguishable from the original. I ordered a replacement for mine at the same time. Mysteriously, I had contrived to fling a hankie in a waste bin at Tesco and the wedding ring went with it, never to be seen again.

The new ring that Irvine found in his catalogues, then polished and had engraved to match my wife’s is also indistinguishable from the original.

It’s a fantastic jewellery shop, with obliging service and cheery banter. Your only problem might be parking, as it’s on one of the busiest double junctions/crossroads in Aberdeen, where five main roads meet, but take my tip: park for 30 minutes for 50p at the lower end of Beechgrove Terrace and walk 100 yards.

Irvine is closed on Sundays and Mondays; opens at 10am from Tuesday to Saturday, and closes at 4pm on Tuesdays, 5pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 4pm on Fridays, and 2pm on Saturdays.

www.argylljewellers.com

 

CAFES

The Steading, 166 Mid Street, Keith AB55 5BL (01542 882106) 

Steading Cafe

This unassuming cafe scores consistently well with Banffshire people and with visitors from farther afield. The home bakes really are home-baked and the meals are presented beautifully. Service is friendly, too. When I quizzed one of the staff about their scones, out came the recipe and a sample of the cheese which they use to give them their snappy sharpness (Kintyre Cheddar, in case you’re wondering). The coffee is not half bad, either. It actually tastes of coffee, instead of the coloured water you get in some places.

They don’t stop at serving food, though. They help you make it to their standards. They run classes in breadmaking for beginners and for more-advanced home bakers who want to try their hands at something more exotic. Occasional bistro evenings are well attended, too.

The high ceilings, the old wooden furniture and the pleasure of looking out at a rain-lashed Mid Street while you’re cosy with a book, a hot drink and a comforting piece is wonderful.

www.thesteading.co.uk

 

Thirteen Moons, Mill of Towie, Keith AB55 5HX (01542 810748) 

Thirteen Moons country cafe, near Keith, Scotland

A colleague of Mrs Harper’s suggested this relatively new country cafe would be a worthwhile stop three miles out of Keith on the road to Dufftown. She wasn’t wrong.

Thirteen Moons got its name because a full year (13 moons) is the natural cycle of things. On the ground floor is a small shop selling crafts, books and local produce, including eggs from the on-site free-range poultry. The upper floor is a spacious cafe area with several tables and one or two sumptuously comfy sofas. Visit on a cool day and the space is warmed by gas heaters. The low lighting makes it feel doubly cosy.

Dawn Ravenhill and Richard Sanders are the people behind Thirteen Moons. They have seen their former oats mill become a community hub, as well as a self-sustaining small-animal farm and cafe.Logo of Thirteen Moons country cafe near Keith, Scotland I had time for only a coffee and a slice of chocolate cake, but both were tasty, and I enjoyed being slumped in one of the red-velvet sofas, next to a gas fire, pretending to read while listening to the conversations round about me.

www.thirteenmoons.org.uk

 

MOTORING

Station Garage, Craigour Road, Torphins AB31 4UE (01330 882326) and Mugiemoss Road, Aberdeen AB21 9US (01224 685000)

Station Garage Mitsubishi, Torphins, Aberdeenshire

I’ll admit that I went to school with the boss, but that doesn’t colour my judgment. Station Garage Mitsubishi operates at Torphins, Aberdeenshire, and at Mugiemoss in Aberdeen. It proves to me the worth of a rural-based business whose owner takes a direct interest in how customers are treated.

We’re on our fourth car from them and stuck with them even when they switched franchises (from Daihatsu to Mitsubishi). We have looked at different marques each time we have needed a new car, but the pull of the customer service at Station Garage has always brought us back.

Tell Kenny Cruickshank, sales manager at Torphins, that Norman Harper sent you and he might give you a free pen. Ooooooh.

www.aberdeen.mitsubishi-cars.co.uk

 

BOOKS

Yeadons, 32 Commerce Street, Elgin IV30 1BS (01343 542411) and 20 Dee Street, Banchory AB31 5ST (01330 822221)

Yeadons, Banchory, bookshop

Independent bookshops are having a tough time at the moment; struggling against the volume buying of supermarkets and the online might of Amazon. Their best chance of survival is customer service based on their deep knowledge of the book trade. Yeadons has won awards for both.

I make a point of visiting Yeadons Banchory every so often for a chat with Vicky Dawson, whose knowledge of what is hot and what is not is unmatched. She now knows my tastes so well that she points me in reading directions I’d never have thought of. Without Vicky, I would not have discovered Nicola Upson, Virginia Nicholson or Josephine Tey.

It demeans the immense worth of such shops to say something is glib as: “Use Them or Lose Them”, but it’s true: a town without a proper bookshop is a sterile place. Do your bit. Support them.

www.yeadons.co.uk

 

 

EATING OUT

The Fjord Inn, Fisherford, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire AB51 8YS (01464 841232)

Fjord Inn

I’m not going to insult the fine folk of Fisherford by saying, as I have heard some say, that The Fjord Inn is “in the middle of nowhere”. Let’s just suggest that it’s not the first area that springs to mind when you think of fine dining in Scotland. Fisherford is a hamlet in Central Aberdeenshire. If you draw a line from Huntly to Inverurie, and cross it with a line from Turriff to Alford, the centre point is roughly where The Fjord Inn sits in the middle of farming country. It’s 13 miles each from Huntly, Inverurie and Turriff; 17 from Alford, and 30 from Aberdeen.

It might not look like a fine-dining restaurant, but step inside and you’re set for three wonderful surprises. First, the quality of the food. It’s not just the fact that chef Norman Mundie uses the finest local ingredients; it’s that he takes such care in preparing them to the highest standards. He could run any top-end restaurant in Edinburgh, Glasgow or London and charge twice the price and customers would still be raving about him and his work.

Fjord Inn sign

The basil oil he drizzles on his home-made soup is a taste explosion. I love his vegetarian dishes. Mrs Harper says that what he does with a salmon fillet is unlike anything she has come across before and she would go back again and again just for that one dish. As for the desserts, try to resist taking a photograph of the way he assembles his fresh-fruit pavlova. None of this, by the way, comes in tiny nouvelle-cuisine portions. No peering at stains on the plate here. Norman’s core clientele have hearty appetites, and he caters for exactly that. I suggest starving yourself before you go for dinner.

The second surprise is the bill at the end of the evening. It’s a good 60% of what you would be charged for comparable food in Aberdeen. Third, the service, led by Evelyn Mundie, is warm and friendly. Go back more than once and the waiting staff will remember you and chat and share a joke, but always heeding that you want to enjoy your food.

I can’t rave about The Fjord Inn highly enough.

www.thefjordinn.co.uk/index.html

 

Silver Darling, North Pier, Pocra Quay, Aberdeen AB11 5DQ  (01224 576229)

Widely regarded as the best restaurant in Aberdeen. I have colleagues from Edinburgh who make a point of travelling up just to eat here at least a couple of times a year. The restaurant specialises in fish, as you might guess from the name, but there is a healthy smattering of meat and vegetarian food, too. And I’ve never come across a Silver Darling dessert I didn’t like.

Dining here in the evenings is as costly as you would expect, and is probably best for ultra-special occasions or expense accounts. Silver Darling’s secret, though, is the fixed-price lunch menu, which offers all the evening quality in a two-course lunch for £19 a head.

With the quality of the cuisine, the friendly and efficient service, and views of the bay on one side and the harbour traffic on the other, it’s a bargain.

www.silverdarling.co.uk

 

Alford Bistro, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The Alford Bistro, 40 Main Street, Alford AB33 8PX (01975 563154)

Not many people think of Alford when they think of top-notch dining, but John and Danni Allan have changed all that. Their restaurant sits in a former tailor’s shop / bookshop / and family home on the main street, half-way between the post office and the chemist.

The menu doesn’t change often, but it is extensive, and what they do is exceptional. We know a couple of people in the oil business who have eaten steaks all over the globe, including Texas, and they rate the steaks at The Bistro as the best-cooked and most succulent they have had.

I like the risotto garnished with John’s own sweet-chilli dressing. Danni’s Dutch apple pie is pretty special, too, as it should be since she’s Dutch.

www.thealfordbistro.co.uk

 

 

 

The Breadmaker, 50-52 Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen AB25 1NT (01224 641520)

Breadmaker, Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen

We discovered The Breadmaker one Christmas Eve. The Aberdeen streets had begun to empty by about 1500 and, heading back to the car, but too hungry to reach home without major starvation, we were stuck for somewhere to eat until we spotted this bakery-cum-cafe where Anderson’s Cycles used to be in Rosemount Viaduct. Even although it was just 15 minutes before closing and the staff were already stacking chairs and sweeping up, they welcomed us warmly.

The bakery products are sensational and are made daily in the basement ovens. Try just about any of the sandwiches (I haven’t come across a bad one yet). If you’re looking for a loaf to take home, try the Red Cheese Damper, the Oaty, the Milk Plait or the Malthouse. This is the sort of breadmaking that is so good you find yourself eating it without spread or filling, just to enjoy the taste. They also run occasional breadmaking courses, if you want to learn the secrets from the experts. I’ve done it. Highly recommended.

www.thebreadmaker.org.uk