We all know Ninety-nine as one if the coolest hotspots in town for laid back afternoons and buzzing evening vibes, but I'll be the first to admit that I rarely consider this venue when dining out. With 'bar and kitchen' in the title, this really shouldn't be so, but I'm probably not alone in reaching for the cocktail menu first and foremost whenever I frequent - these guys really know their stuff when it comes to tasty tipples and are arguably the best cocktail bar in the city centre.
I was excited to have been allocated Ninety-nine to review this Restaurant Week and see if the food lives up to the hype their drinks offering conjours, and even more so when I discovered that chef Paul Smyth (formerly of Musa) has recently come on board with the intention of not only upping their food game in terms of taste and innovation, but also creating dishes that compliment the cocktails, an interesting take on the usual running order when it comes to pairings.
I arrived at the bar at 5.30pm and it was already alive with the energy of the Saturday night crowd. I had originally hoped to visit Ninety-nine at a lunchtime to be able to enjoy the meal while things were moving at a slightly slower pace, but they were keen for me to visit post new Autumn menu launch, so Saturday night it was. If you prefer a nice quiet spot where you can have a cosy chat, I'd recommend sticking to lunchtimes and mid-week when it comes to making a reservation.
Craig (food and beverage consultant for Ninety-Nine, Rye and Soda and Sneap) kept me company as I waited for my pal to arrive and checked out the menu. He gave me an insight in to the direction that the kitchen side of the business is heading in, and showed me the newly launched 'small plates' section of the menu, which is set to be super popular for those who fancy a nibble while enjoying casual drinks.
During restaurant week you can choose anything from the small plates menu, which made the decision a tough one with so many tasty sounding options, but I decided on the Halloumi Brochettes, because halloumi, right?! FYI, a brochette is nothing to do with bruschetta in case any of you make that incorrect assumption, which I totally didn't...(read - 100% did). A brochette is in fact a skewer. What I received was warm chunks of fresh watermelon and grilled halloumi on a bed of rocket. Watermelon and halloumi are a winning combination, and one that I'll definitely be experimenting with at home. The only thing I would have asked of this dish was more halloumi, but that's pretty much the story of my life.
I went for the recommended cocktail pairing of the 'Too cool 4 school', a refreshing and extremely morish combination of vodka, watermelon and ginger ale.
It sounded so good that my plus one Jill went for the exact same to go with her starter of tempura veg with a soured cream and chive dip, which was light and perfectly crisp.
The veggie option sounded right up my street - Roast butternut squash, tomato and chickpea stew. Unfortunately this wasn't what I received. Due to a wee mix up with the a la carte menu option of Roast butternut squash and goats cheese salad, I ended up with this instead. I wasn't mad about eating a lighter option as I've eaten about three times my body weight this week while visiting all of these fantastic venues, and it really was a fantastic salad, but it does mean that I can't tell you what you're in store for with the stew. Sorry guys!
Jill ordered the 'breaded boneless lemon chicken thighs, hand cut chips and Singularity chilli mayo'. Again it wasn't quite the nail on the head here as when the chicken arrived, it wasn't breaded. It was however lemony and tasty according to Jill, and came with an absolute mountain of chunky chips which were perfect for dipping in the flavoursome mayo.
Our cocktail choices for this round included the 'Squash 'n' mash' for me; rum, butternut squash shrub, mint. This was full bodied with a hefty kick of rum, I seriously enjoyed this one. Jill had the 'Ketchup or left behind' - vodka, citrus, Cam's ketchup. If you're a fan of a bloody mary, this is a more sophisticated version and you're going to love it.
As my original booking had been for lunch, we were supposed to be sampling two courses only, but we were treated to a pudding to share anyway which was a nice touch after the mix up with the mains. The fantastic Shaun brought us the Rowie and butter pudding, an Aberdonian take on the classic bread and butter pudding, and boy am I glad he did! This was the real star of the show for me.
Sean talked us through the process of how they make the Falernum which spiced the crunchy wee cranachan pieces that topped the deliciously sweet but salty, melt in your mouth pudding. I'm seriously getting hungry again just thinking about how good this was, so please, please give it a try! It's indulgent, warming, and probably contains about a thousand calories, but who cares when it tastes this good.
Sean also expertly guided us through the cocktail offerings with charm and humour, and honestly made our dining experience a pleasure despite the mistakes, so a big thank you to him for making our visit a great one overall.
He recommended one last cocktail for the road, the #seeninthedeen, a twist on the gin collins mixing it up with white wine and dill added the most amazing aroma and offset the sharp citrus perfectly. Yup, I could easily drink about ten of these!
We went on our way with smiles on our faces, and probably a little tipsy, and I know we'll be back to Ninety-nine again soon, if only for that dreamy pudding...