“ Address: 58-60 Justice Mill Lane / Aberdeen / AB11 6EP „
Cafe Montmartre is a restaurant in Aberdeen that has been around for some time. I have always heard good things about it but "French Food" is never something that came up as top of our to do list when choosing a restaurant. At any rate, a friend of ours was in town and had enjoyed it previously, so there we went one frosty Saturday eve.
The atmosphere is slightly peculiar when you walk in. The tables are set in a very "fine dining" manner, with white tablecloths and a fairly sterile ambiance. The place wasn't terribly crowded either which always leads to more self consciousness when there are half a dozen staff staring you up and down as you walk through the door. There is an attempt in the decor to recreate an "authentic" French restaurant - i.e. wood beams and other accents. It vaguely reminded me of a restaurant in the Latin Quarter, without the warmth unfortunately. I don't know if it was the high ceilings, the slight starkness of the rest of the decor, or the stiffness of the service, it just felt a slightly mismatched amalgamation of style.
However these things can be overlooked if I am properly fed. The menu was relatively small, with a half dozen or so options for each course there should be something to suit everyone who isn't terribly fussy/a vegetarian (I speak as a former veggie). There were a few nods to traditional French cuisine - escargots, steak tartare, etc, but the dishes seemed largely cooked in a more rustic, simple manner than the heavy sauces and such one might think of as "French".
Getting the distinct impression that portions would not be generous, we all opted for starters. Myself and a friend opted for the mussels, my husband had the soup, and our other friend had a tart of some sort (ooh er). There was freshly baked crusty bread and nicely softened butter, deliciously simple but surprisingly hard to find in our dining experiences where we live. All were satisfied, the mussels were a generous portion and perfectly cooked, served in their steaming pot. This always reminds me of New England which I love. They were steamed in a light Pernod sauce that had an aniseed flavour however so might not be to everyone's taste (no allowances were mentioned in terms of this but we were both happy with the slightly unusual flavouring as it didn't overwhelm the mussels). We had a bottle of (French) red wine which was decent if no doubt overpriced.
For the main my husband and I opted for the sea bass, our friends had the monk fish and chicken, respectively. The food was by and large cooked well and seasoned perfectly. The fish had a nice crispness but was still soft and fleshy. The fillet was definitely on the small side and for the price I did find this a bit stingy. It was served on a bed of "char grilled Mediterranean vegetables",which were a bit underwhelming as this consisted of peppers and some overworked scraps of courgette. No lovely aubergine or anything else exciting/imaginative. I think there were approximately two small wedges of new potato. This was perplexing to me. If a dish isn't meant to come with potatoes, fine, I will order them on the side (although I do find this irksome). But to throw two tiny lumps of potato on a plate seems an afterthought. My husband in particular was still famished after his main.
Our companions were happy enough with their lot, with one remarking his monk fish portion was even nicer and larger than it had been the last time he'd ordered it. We all had plenty of room for dessert, which is a novelty for me after two courses.
I opted for the apple tarte with ice cream, memories of warm tarte tatins fresh from the baker in Paris swirling in my head. My husband had the chocolate torte, our companions opted for the creme caramel. My tarte arrived and I could tell by looking at it that it was to be a mediocre tarte, sadly. Lukewarm, a bit bland, no bite to the apples, no crispness or butteriness to the tarte crust, with a generous if unremarkable splodge of vanilla ice cream. Yawn. Sorry but for the better part of £10 I expect something a bit more special than this. As is my wont I seemed to have picked the dessert dud on the menu as everyone else was happily sated if not blown away.
I do find the laziness/incompetence of restaurants in regards to desserts endlessly frustrating though it must be said. It is the one course that is meant for adulterated pleasure & indulgence - most people who order dessert do so as a treat, yet sadly the experience is rarely fulfilling. I could have picked up a nicer tarte in M&S for half the price.
The service was efficient if not very friendly, again just a bit cold which seeing as the place was near enough empty on a Saturday night you would think they would make more of an effort to get return customers (I think by the end a half dozen or so parties had trickled in - our reservation was it would seem unnecessary).
Restaurants like this frustrate me as for whatever reason they proliferate my town. Expensive, ultimately unfulfilling (if I am still peckishly hungry after three courses that is a fail), and yet they continue to thrive. We dropped the equivalent of half a week's grocery shop in this place, it is ludicrous (we don't usually eat at such stupidly priced places if that's not obvious already!).
In conclusion, if you are flush with cash, as many are in this oil rich town, this may be right up your street. As for me, I wouldn't bother, not even as a "treat", as there are plenty of other restaurants to try and hopefully fare better with. I will give it three stars as the food was largely good quality and nicely, if unimaginitively prepared.