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I didn’t visit Aberdeenshire for the food – I went there to see what adventurous activities the region had to offer – but the food was a bonus. If that surprises you, just know that it surprised me even more.
It’s not that I expected the food in Aberdeenshire to be bad. But having grown up in the UK, I guess I just expected it to be familiar. It wasn’t. Well, not entirely. Half of our meals in Aberdeenshire introduced me to brand new foods and flavours, and the other (more familiar) half came with unexpected twists and touches.
That means that, along with Dusseldorf, I’m adding Aberdeenshire to the list of underrated foodies destinations in Europe. Here are some of the reasons why and some of the dishes you’ll eat in Aberdeenshire, whether you travel for the food or not.
What you need to know about the food in Aberdeenshire
If you’re not yet sold on the idea of Aberdeenshire as a foodie hotspot, let me try to change that. I realise the food in the UK isn’t exactly famous for the right reasons, and I understand why you might be sceptical. But Aberdeenshire may just have some of the best food and restaurants in the whole of Great Britain.
As much as I love to travel, I prefer it if my food doesn’t. Farm to table restaurants are becoming popular all over the world, but you won’t have to search far in Aberdeenshire. Nearly every restaurant we ate at in Aberdeenshire boasted of their local connections.
It’s no surprise really. The vast and varied Aberdeenshire landscapes are ideally located for salmon fishing, cattle herding and vegetable. Whether it was locally sourced fish or eggs from a farm just down the road, your food probably spent longer in the kitchen than it did on the road.
Sustainability mixed with local entrepreneurship is a recipe I like the sound of – and I’m sure you do, too.
Vegans won’t be disappointed
In our three days in Aberdeenshire, there was only one menu that didn’t offer vegan options. And that was a fish and chip shop… so no surprises there.
Every other restaurant we ate in had at least a couple of dishes created specifically for vegans. That even included vegan haggis, something I jumped at the chance to try, given I eat lamb or mutton.
I’m not a vegan myself, but I know how awkward it can be having to ask for something off-menu. Vegans can eat out in Aberdeenshire without having to worry about being ‘that person’.
Allergies are well-catered for
Just like vegan dishes, every place we visited had plenty of options for all allergies. More than that, the staff were knowledgeable enough to offer advice and alternatives.
A restaurant with staff patient enough to run through all options and put together an allergy-free menu is rare. In Aberdeenshire, we ate at several of them.
I know it might not be a big deal if you’re lucky enough to not suffer from any allergies. But if you’re celiac, dairy intolerant or have any other allergy, I know how much of a difference it could make to your trip.
You won’t want to skip breakfast
Not just because it’s the most important meal of the day, but because Aberdeenshire knows how to do it RIGHT. The only bad thing is you’ll have to choose between fresh fish with gooey scrambled eggs, warm toast with blossom honey and locally produced yogurts with fresh fruits, among other options. Mmmm.
As an English woman, I’ll have to whisper this… a full Scottish breakfast is even more satisfying than a full English. Yep, even though I skip the haggis.
What to eat in Aberdeenshire
You won’t be short of food to try in Aberdeenshire, but here are some you won’t want to miss.
Aberdeenshire isn’t just home to the best salmon I’ve ever eaten, it’s also home to the second best and the third best and… well, you get my point. In fact, I even had three of the best salmon dishes in a single meal at Meldrum House.
Yes, the infamous Scottish dish made from sheep intestine. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, I wouldn’t blame yet. I’ve been told it’s really delicious and worth trying, but I’m also telling the vegan version is great too. Your pick!
Essentially a mash-up of meat and potatoes, stovie if the perfect Scottish food to warm you up on a cold or rainy day. It’s the ideal comfort food and best washed down with a cold glass of Irn Bru.
Before our plane hit the runway of Aberdeen Airport, I knew what my first meal in Aberdeenshire was going to be: pie. What I didn’t know was just how diverse the menu at JG Ross would be. One that I’d never seen before was macaroni pie – but it popped up on several menus throughout our stay.
Make sure you try at least one pie in Aberdeenshire. Order a side of mash for a hearty, filling meal.
Fish and chips
Because no UK holiday would be complete without a traditional takeaway, would it? That and the fact that Aberdeenshire is home to the world’s best fish and chips (at The Bay) means you really have no excuse.
Vegetarian or not, Aberdeenshire knows how to make a soup that you’ll remember. And for a food that’s usually pretty forgettable, that’s saying something. Think unexpected combinations or locally grown veggies, and throw in an international twice.
If you like your sinful foods with a saintly twist, Aberdeenshire is your place. You won’t have to look far to find a sweet treat, and you won’t have to look any further to find gluten-free, vegan or healthier take on all the classics.
No fewer than three of the restaurants we visited had a temptingly healthy smoothie menu. And I can tell you from experience that they taste as good as they sound.
6 restaurants that will give you a taste of Aberdeenshire
Now you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time to dig in. Whether you’re looking for some quick pub grub or a healthy family meal, Aberdeenshire’s food scene is surprisingly diverse.
Here’s where to eat in Aberdeenshire, whatever the occasion, with a mix of higher end restaurants and more affordable eats. The one thing they have in common is that they passed my taste test with flying colours – you’re welcome.
Best for vegans and vegetarians: Buchanan Bistro
Buchanan Bistro is more than a café and restaurant; it’s a concept. With sustainable eating and health-conscious options at the heart of its menu, it’s a must-visit for a fresh, wholesome meal.
The soups, salads and other healthy eats change with the season – just like they should. There’s also an extensive tea menu and a cosy book corner, both of which can still be enjoyed without an empty stomach.
Best for a warming lunch: JG Ross
JG Ross is a popular chain of bakeries across Aberdeenshire and north east Scotland. With a history dating back to 1962, JG Ross mixes traditional favourites with innovative bakes. The Inverurie coffee shop and restaurant is a must-visit on any trip to Aberdeenshire.
Best for a mixed group: The Boat Inn
Finding a good pub in the UK isn’t hard. Find one that caters to lots of dietary needs, however, can be.
The Boat Inn is a cosy pub on a quiet country lane. Its location might draw you in but its varied menu will keep you coming back. With options for vegetarians, vegan and all allergy sufferers, it has something for everyone. And if you eat everything, you might find it hard to choose.
Best for fine dining: Meldrum House
Meldrum House is primarily a hotel, also a golf course and the workplace of some incredibly talented chefs.
Given its title of ‘best boutique hotel in the UK’ you might arrive with high expectations. You won’t be disappointed. It was here I had the best steak, best sticky toffee pudding and best whisky truffles I’ve ever tried. (Okay, so they’re the only whisky truffles, but I eat a LOT of salmon.)
You can visit Meldrum House for dinner as a non-resident, but it’s also a wonderful place to spend the night.
Best for the local experience: The Bay
The Bay Fish & Chips isn’t just a local Aberdeenshire treasure, it’s also a world favourite. Voted the best fish and chips in the world, it’s an unmissable food stop for any visitor. Order a jumbo haddock and chips for a taste of this British classic at its best.
The Bay comes with the longer-than-usual queue you might expect from such a title, but it will be worth the wait.
Best for breakfast: The Sand Dollar Cafe & Bistro
The Sand Dollar Cafe, right on the Aberdeen coast, serves up the full Scottish breakfast you’re looking for, as well as gluten-free, vegan and extra large versions. Sip on a fresh juice or smoothie while you wait as everything is cooked to order.
I hope this has given you a little taste of Aberdeenshire and shown you I was so blown away with it. Even though I’m British and grew up with a lot of this food, I got to taste it in a whole new way in Aberdeenshire.