Sugar Boat, Helensburgh - a must eat
Sugar Boat in Helensburgh has been the recipient of quite some attention of late, deservedly so. It has two rosettes, features in the 2018 Good Food Guide, received a Bib Gourmand in the recent run of Michelin awards, and was yesterday listed in Ron McKenna's Top 12 Restaurants in Scotland, in The Herald. McKenna referred to Sugar Boat as 'blisteringly good" and he's not wrong.
Sugar Boat, opened by Will Smith of Arbutus and Wild Honey fame, appeared on the Helensburgh scene in spring of 2017. Named for a ship carrying a cargo of sugar that ran aground near Helensburgh in 1974, Sugar Boat bills itself as your local, neighbourhood bistro. This seems almost to sell it a little short but the interiors and ambiance are indeed relaxed, comfortable and friendly. You come into an inviting, laid-back bar area and this is where we started our evening. There is a great selection of wines, beers and cocktails on offer but as I was driving, I was looking for a soft drink that wasn't dull. I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of options and plumped for a bottle of Fentiman's Elderflower, a lovely light and refreshing fizz, while my husband chose a pint of St Mungo, the signature lager from Glasgow's West Brewery. On that note, provenance is important at Sugar Boat - there's a whole section on the website dedicated to it.
After a bit of a natter, we were invited to our table in the restaurant area. The restaurant was pleasingly busy and buzzy and we took our seats at a table near the large doors that lead into the courtyard area. Service was lovely and friendly, informative and helpful. We were brought menus quickly - this is a new menu and offers a really good range of different options, from bar snacks and brioche buns, to rich mains and delicious desserts. We skipped starters in favour of saving space for pudding. I was torn between the cod and the grilled piece of beef - which turned out to be bavette and looked delicious - but the cod won out. My husband went for the pork and our friends opted for the pork and grilled beef. Well, actually one chose the beef suet pudding but our server helpfully pointed out that the suet pudding takes 25 minutes and since we were not having starters, our food would take longer than we perhaps expected. On that basis, the grilled beef was chosen!
There was one small snag with the menu - one of our friends mentioned how they would love the meringue dish for dessert but the rest of us didn't have that option on our menus. It transpired that there was none of it left and it shouldn't have been on the menu - just a wee temptation that was easily overcome by the other delicious desserts on offer.
We were kept topped up with drinks and water for the table until our food arrived. The pork was served separately in a pan which meant that those having pork were presented initially with an empty plate - our waiter quickly quipped that this wasn't all they were getting! My cod was perfectly cooked, soft and flaky, and the bavette looked similarly so. Our friends also ordered a side of the broccoli and kale which was surprisingly delicious (I'm not much of a kale fan, it needs a lot of work I feel!). All of our dishes came sort of piecemeal in that my fish was alone on the plate and I received my warm new potatoes and seaweed in a bowl on the side - I promptly dropped the little dish as I tipped my potatoes onto my plate - and as I mentioned, the pork came in a separate pan and the mash was also served separately in a little dish. This is a really pretty way of serving but it did leave our table rather crowded with pots and pans!
As we had chosen to forgo a starter in favour of leaving room for pudding, we were happy to see the return of the menu. I've had the clafoutis before and knew of its fluffy delights but none of my fellow diners had and so we all picked it, not least for its accompanying salted caramel ice cream. The clafoutis comes served in a little pan with a handle so hot the waiter warns you not to touch it - this makes me feel compelled to touch it! I resisted and focused instead on the clafoutis, which was delicious - it's complimented by the ice cream which comes with a sort of crunchy chocolate soil and each of these adds a lovely texture to the dish.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening and even though the restaurant was busy, we were not rushed off our table. The food is everything the critics say it is - 'flawless' (McKenna), 'a sweet dream' (Joanna Blythman), and as The Telegraph's Michael Deacon wisely states, 'the pudding would be worth getting fat for' - so please, get yourself round there and try it for yourself.
PS: although I couldn't have any last night, I can say from experience that the wines are delicious!