There are scenes in Thomas Mann’s wonderful short story Death in Venice where the inhabitants of this beautiful city are starting to see discreet indications that a plague is on its way, even though authorities deny the contagion is serious and continue to allow tourists to walk around the city.
It is an image that suddenly seems very current.
Images from the movie of the same name popped into my head the day we visited Tayside’s classic Fisher and Donaldson (F&D), a tour itself quite bittersweet as we had actually been there on the last day of trading. before the first lock.
That day, we saw the staff start knocking over tables and chairs as if they were preparing to flee in the short term – then we had no idea how much our lives were going to change.
David remembered this as we sat in the cafe at the end of December, wondering where the usual holiday decorations had gone (I’m writing this just before Christmas due to holiday printing delays). The answer seems to be that F&D must have toned down Christmas this year, which was a bit daunting to see as it’s a place that seems to be full of festive joy all year round.
In a year where we were told everything was on the rise, it was sad to feel a sense of slowing down at the end of 2021, as if we had all been gradually depleted of any fun gene.
Fisher and Donaldson
To be honest, F&D was not my first choice for this first review of 2022, despite the fact that I am used to it.
But the end of 2021 was such a time of such uncertainty that it was nearly impossible to think of a place to review that would be permanently open. Cancellations were plentiful – both from customers and the restaurants themselves, forced to abruptly shut down when staff fell ill with the virus.
Two separate visits to Edinburgh’s Timberyard were canceled because their staff fell ill – at a time when most restaurants were hoping to make enough money to make up for losses suffered earlier this year. Places that should normally be booming during the holiday season have been closed, a tragic end to the year for businesses built on customer loyalty.
To say that now is not the right time to be a restaurateur would be an understatement.
I myself had to cancel our staff’s Christmas lunch at London’s wonderful Quo Vadis (owned and run by incredibly talented chef Jeremy Lee of Dundee) when central London just seemed too risky to ask. our staff to surrender. We’re a small business of seven, but imagine this happening all day, every day, as businesses the size of ours cancel each other out – the cumulative effect quickly becomes apparent and crippling.
The lack of government guidance from Westminster has effectively left us all to set our own rules regarding our conduct and the environments in which we feel comfortable.
Essentially, the hospitality industry has been brought down by the stealth lockdown.
I decided soon enough that I would stop going to restaurants where I didn’t feel safe, and soon after, I decided to quit eating out altogether. Others felt different and vowed to continue as usual. There is no “correct” answer.
Mine was not a decision to be taken lightly, as our beloved hospitality industry is on its knees. However, I’m 62, and although in relatively good health, I just don’t want to risk serious illness just for a nice dinner out. For me, the compromise is not worth it and, in my opinion, it should be the responsibility of government as well as customers to ensure that hospitality survives.
I made an exception to sit down at Fisher and Donaldson for this review because while I know their menu by heart, a review should be as up to date as possible.
Did I feel comfortable there? Well yes, the tables are well spaced, the staff strictly respect the hygiene protocols and the front door often opens to let in the fresh air.
The problem with restaurants is also what makes them great: you share space with strangers. Before the pandemic, there was nothing I loved more than going to a bustling restaurant where you kind of felt like you were at the center of a scene that was going on.
Now that’s my idea of hell.
A friend of mine recently shared that she feels a lot safer these days, alone or with a small group of people. She’s right and I wonder if the days of communal tables and sharing platters are long gone?
In a time of fear and uncertainty, I want peace and space, not bustle and noise.
And in a time of limited life, I want comfort food that is no-fuss, not six-course tasting menus and pretense.
With all these thoughts going through my head, it seemed like now was the best time to start this Fisher and Donaldson party and order some stovies and a fudge donut, two things guaranteed to drive the blues as much as a chorus. of I Should Be so lucky after three pints of cheap cider.
F&D dishes are the best thing on the menu – and it’s a great menu, so they have a lot of competition. If I say they are better than my late mother’s, that is the highest praise I can give, as mum made her stews using drips of roast beef, onions, potatoes and the ends of the Roast beef. They were Lochee’s topic of conversation.
F&D items taste rich and smooth and I have no idea how they are made and guess they should kill me if I asked them. They cost ridiculously cheap £ 4.50 and come with the best fife oat and butter cakes which I think are best used to put in the stoves, rather than on oatmeal cakes.
Really, you want that throat-grating oatcake hit followed by the Stove Ambrosial Balm – or better yet, you dip the Oat Cakes in the Stove for instant texture.
However you eat them, I think a visit to F&D would be wasted without a bowl of this supremely Scottish goodness.
For an extra £ 2 you can complete one of the sandwiches on offer by F&D with a bowl of soup and our deal was tomato and basil (a full serving of soup is £ 3.80, with bread and butter) .
This soup was delicious, as nice as anything you could find in a much more expensive place.
Other delicacies on this short menu are an excellent mac and cheese with salad (£ 4.50) and of course a Scottish pie, sausage roll or onion bridie for £ 2.95. All accompanied by a delicious homemade onion chutney, deliciously tangy.
A spinach roll (£ 2.95) is a nice addition for vegetarians.
Our two course meal did not include any of the classic F&D cakes as I had already bought a box of them that we would later eat at home. Among the classics, it was hard to choose between the fudge donut and the coffee tower, but I have to admit my all-time favorite is that quality underdog, the lemon swish.
This divine creation is expected to make the Top 10 F&D Creations even though asking for it in store will shatter any hope of being a butch you could harbor. I find it impossible not to think about Are you served? actor John Inman every time I ask for one – not that a little whistle has never done anything but dawn, of course.
Fisher and Donaldson is really awesome and so toned. The interior makes you feel like you’re in a suburban bakery in France (that’s a good thing) and the staff uniforms make you feel like you’re in 1956 (that’s a good thing). The service is simply wonderful.
It’s just lovely and we need as much beauty as possible right now.
While writing this article, I was sending a message to Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis and I remembered that he was a huge fan of F&D. Here’s what Jeremy, one of London’s top chefs, has to say: “I love Fisher and Donaldson and have been doing it since I was a kid. My mom and dad shopped there every week. I love pies! F&D is a first step in my all too rare home visits. Oatmeal bannocks, rowies, oatmeal breads, all the cookies, oatmeal shortbread… there are so many good things. Rhubarb and apple pies too – Fisher and Donaldson are an institution and a superb example of the great Scottish baking tradition.
Renowned food stylist and author Maxine Clark, who now lives in Tayside, is another Fisher and Donaldson admirer, saying: “These are Dundee’s best bakers. They make fabulous pies and provided me with strong, plain flour during the lockdown when I couldn’t find it anywhere else for love or money.
F&D has stayed true to its roots, with a French touch.
The fudge donuts are now legendary, their breads are exceptional and their oatcakes / bannics are fabulous. I would love to order anything from them. He is a very good Scottish baker, always inventive and who understands the local clientele.
As this remarkable company has celebrated the trade for over 100 years, how lucky are we to have them based in this part of Scotland?
In fact, writing this made me so hungry that I’m going back for my second consecutive lunch this week.
Address: Fisher and Donaldson, 12 Whitehall Street, Dundee DD1 4AF
Phone. : 01382 223488
Prices: Sandwiches from £ 3.50, hot dishes from £ 2.90, cakes from £ 1.80
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 5/5