“A very small man can cast a very large shadow” – George
I’ve been thinking a lot about smallness lately, perhaps inspired by
my admiration for Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
It sounds insulting, even though it’s not meant to be.
I’m certainly not in a position to look down on anyone for anything, being a little short myself – something that has never bothered me at all. I mean, Alexander the Great was a 5-foot-6 shrimp, just like Winston Churchill, and they weren’t doing too badly in life.
My mum always reveled in being what she called ‘wee and nervous’ and in Scotland we often preface descriptions of people or things as being ‘wee’, however irritating and condescending that may sometimes sound like. be.
But by using the term “small,” I’m obviously not referring to Lynch’s size, or his knowledge, success, power, or popularity — things he’s already achieved in spades.
In this case, “little” means people like you and me, people the famously imperious Liz “just call me Elizabeth” Hurley once considered “civilian” – her legendary bashing of anyone who wasn’t at home. television.
The workforce, the underdogs, the people who aren’t taking the path of least resistance, the underdogs who turn out to be anything but rank, the people who are struggling to stay vibrant in these trying times.
The thrill of watching people overcome enormous odds to get their message across is never more needed than now, when so many of us feel the futility of trying to make ourselves heard.
Small businesses know this too – while big businesses could often weather the perils of Brexit and Covid, smaller ones took the hit faster and felt the lasting effects more intensely.
Restaurants are no exception, and that’s one of the reasons I prefer to focus on independents rather than chains in these pages, not least because meals are paid for out of pocket.
It was perhaps a coincidence that I discovered The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry on a day when I became overshadowed by my own inner Willy Loman, the character from Arthur Miller’s classic Death of a Salesman who is “there- low in the blue, riding a smile and a shoe shiner,” the middle-aged guy who is not needed in New York but clings to the belief that he is vital in New England.
It was a day to remember the little guy and how much we all mean.
In truth, I was returning from Edinburgh to Fife worried about the state of the world and, more prosaically, about how I would write this column.
It was a Tuesday and no interesting places were open that I could get to in time for the photos to be taken (the food photos are taken before the review was written, and the deadline for them is tighter).
Before leaving Edinburgh I had googled restaurants in North Queensferry and a place called The Shore Grill and Fish House came up. It seemed to be open and it looked pretty good. Results.
Typing it into the satnav I headed for North Queensferry, suddenly excited to be going somewhere I’ve never been before (you have to remember I’m 62 and have to take my pleasure where I found).
The Shore Grill and Fish House proved so elusive that I would probably still be looking for it now if I hadn’t wisely stopped the car just before entering the Forth.
As I gazed in wonder at the masterful beauty of the Victorian railway bridge above me, I thought there must be somewhere to eat in a place as scenic as this, where nature and engineering meet with such impressive effect.
It was a sunny day and I suddenly felt like the world belonged to me – but where were those damned bivalves?
It was to my senile shame that I completely forgot Wee Restaurant was here, even though it had been on my list of places to visit for quite a while.
After all that I have to say what a find this place is.
Friends in Edinburgh will no doubt smile when I say this is a find because this little restaurant has actually been serving good simple food and wine since 2006. I know that now because it’s the first statement that you see on their website, and I can definitely confirm that the food is much better than just good.
The little restaurant
The Wee Restaurant is a total joy and owners Craig and Vikki Wood (along with their son Ethan, who served me) should be truly proud to have enjoyed such success in a village 20 minutes from the capital, separate from ‘her by a river and three bridges, and moored discreetly in a picturesque village.
This place is everything I love about restaurants and I was delighted to see that it is actually considered a classic by foodie friends in Edinburgh.
That it’s also on “our” side of the river is a bonus for us Fifers, although no one needs to be territorial about it.
As you would expect, the Wee Restaurant is small, seating only 28, but it doesn’t look particularly small and the tables are well spaced.
Ethan’s welcome is effusive, which isn’t always the case with solo diners. It’s a sign of a bad restaurant or a bad maitre d’ when lone diners are pushed onto the worst tables, often near the toilets. I always turn this down because in truth, the only thing I enjoy as much as a solo lunch is lunch with friends – and I’m damned if I’m going to be given the worst seat in the house just because I am on my own.
Here, no nonsense and I was offered a choice of tables, even if the one I would have liked – with a clear view of the river – was already occupied. It was a good sign because it was only 12:30.
The space itself is lovely, a word I would use to sum up this whole experience.
Simply decorated, it’s a pleasant mix of exposed brickwork, muted checkered carpeting, simple, comfortable furniture, mirrors, and abstract art on the walls.
The building itself, over 200 years old, has served as a small convenience store, post office, grocery store and yarn store. It feels cozy and relaxed, somewhere you’d want to linger. The vibe is smart enough for a special celebration but laid back enough for somewhere to go when you’re hungry while walking along the coastal path. It’s lovely.
A blackboard on the wall offers descriptions of cocktails, half an East Neuk lobster, chips and salad for £24 and the note that the current cheese board includes Wensleydale, Ossau-Iraty from France, Fourme d’Ambert and
St Tola Ash, a raw goat’s milk cheese from Ireland that I particularly appreciate for its fresh and lemony taste.
Seeing this, I back away, knowing that I am in good hands.
Reading that the chef-co-owner has previously worked at the Martin Wishart restaurant in Edinburgh, on the Royal Scotsman train and at the charming Crinan Hotel made me feel even more confident.
I could have eaten everything on this menu and was particularly drawn to the smoked Orkney fillet of beef, Cheddar Mull, Marcona almonds and black garlic aioli (£12) and the classic combination of hand-dipped Orkney scallops, celeriac remoulade and black pudding from Stornoway Sweets (£14), also a starter.
However, since I wanted the best experience from a place I hadn’t researched, I decided to ask Ethan what he would recommend and, although he found the choice difficult, he agreed. Said many regulars come here for the mussels – so that’s what I had.
The Shetland mussels with basil, red onion, bacon, pine nuts and cream of parmesan cheese (£12) were as delicious as they sound, the various flavors adding to the shellfish in a way that enhanced their flavor without dominating.
Good bread was brought to mop up the juice and that’s when something beautiful happened. The bread came with Edinburgh Butter Company butter (almost as good as my favorite French butter Échiré butter) and tapenade so delicious I mentioned it to Ethan when he asked if it was ok .
Seemingly delighted that I enjoyed it so much, Ethan asked if I would like to take some of this homemade olive salve with me, an offer that turned out to be so hearty and generous that my slightly busy day left me suddenly seemed infinitely more cheerful.
Warned to keep the tapenade in the fridge, I have to say it didn’t last long enough to need storing. I had the latter with tomatoes on toast for breakfast the next morning.
Kind gestures like this help create fond memories of a place and it certainly made me feel like this business is built on passion and soul, rather than just a desire for a quick buck ( besides, Ethan had no idea I was reviewing lunch, so his kindness was genuine).
My main course of roast rump of Perthshire lamb, hummus, peas, Glamis asparagus and basil jus (£25) was the taste of June condensed on a plate and simply a plate of food perfectly harmonious.
The lamb was beautifully pink and the asparagus was so fresh it could have been picked minutes before. A dish of Gruyère gratin dauphinois (£5) wasn’t really necessary but it was the best dauphinois I can remember eating (even in the 10 years I had a home in
France) and was therefore a completely correct addition.
A dessert of three delicious homemade sorbets, presented as a sundae with toasted coconut and candied pecans and freeze-dried berries (£9) was the perfect end to a perfect meal.
As I was so full I had replaced the sorbets with my original choice of white and dark chocolate pot, with Scottish raspberries and chocolate earth (£9) which I intended to eat as a tribute to the wonderful David Wilson, ex-owner-chef of the Peat Inn, whose definitive recipe for a pot of chocolate has been referenced by many chefs, including Nigel Slater. The next time.
The Wee restaurant is awesome. I had an exquisite lunch there, the service was perfect and the setting is simply adorable. My whole lunch cost £48.50 which is good value for food of this quality – and there was plenty of food.
It’s the kind of quietly confident perfection that I adore, and although it’s been there for 16 years, I left this wonderful place feeling like I was inside a secret. Sometimes the little guys win, you know.
I can not wait to return to.
Address: The Wee Restaurant, 17 Main Street, North Queensferry, Fife, KY11 1JG
P: 01383 616263
Prices: Starters from £9, mains from £22, desserts from £6.50
- Food: 5/5
- Performance: 5/5
- Surroundings: 5/5
For more restaurant reviews…
Already subscribed? Login
[The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry]