This restaurant, situated in a former smokehouse in the port of Anstruther, built up a strong reputation for three decades but closed in 2013 after the death of its long-time chef/owner Peter Jukes. It reopened in 2014 under the direction of chef Billy Boyter, and gained a Michelin star in October 2015 in the Michelin 2016 guide. Mr Boyter went to catering college in Fife and then worked in Perthshire, including two years at Ballathie House, before joining Martin Wishart at his flagship restaurant in Edinburgh. From there he moved to the Michelin-starred No 1 Restaurant at the city’s Balmoral Hotel, where he became head chef before taking over The Cellar.
The restaurant is small, seating about two dozen diners at capacity and having just two chefs in the kitchen. There is a bar area where you can browse through the menu, the dining room having a tiled floor and bare tables. The room has a low ceiling and a quite cosy feel, with a fire in one corner.
Given that there is just a pair of chefs in the kitchen, the menu is understandably on the short side, with three choices for each course, priced at £48 for three courses. The wine list was also quite short, with a page of whites and a page of reds, as well as some sparkling wines, starting at £19. Sample labels were Pradio Priara Pinot Grigio 2014 at £28 for a bottle that you can find in the shops for £10, Eberle Mill Road Viognier at £49 compared to its retail price of £23, and Paul Hobbs Russian River Chardonnay 2013 at £75 for a bottle that will set you back £37 in the shops.
Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a choice of buckwheat roll or white bread, both having good texture (15/20). Initial nibbles comprised a ball of smoked cheese and semolina with mushroom ketchup, and venison haggis bonbon with apple gel and pickled pine. These were both good, the venison nibble in particular having deep flavour (16/20). This was followed by a further amuse bouche of ox cheek with Anstruther cheese espuma, chive and onion dust topped with puffed potato. This had great depth of flavour, the potato bringing a contrasting texture (17/20).
A starter of hand-dived scallop came with duck ham, kohlrabi and coriander. The scallop was delicately cooked and aphid superb flavour, its inherent sweetness nicely balanced by the ham and the earthy kohlrabi (17/20). Crab from nearby East Neuk came with heritage carrot, pickled egg yolk and dashi. The crab was excellent but I was particularly impressed with the flavour of the carrots (16/20).
For the main course, Goosnargh duck came with pickled pear, parsley root and hazelnut. The duck was cooked pink and had a good sauce of the cooking juices, the pear bringing some balance to the richness of the duck, the hazelnuts adding an extra texture (16/20). Hake came with cauliflower, chestnut, baby leeks, samphire, tempura mussel and hen of the woods mushroom with deep-fried garlic. The fish was nicely cooked and its strong flavour worked well with the earthiness of the vegetables (16/20).
A pre-dessert was about the only relative misstep of the meal, milk and hay with barley and whisky pudding topped with honeycomb. This was harmless enough but other than the whisky there was little flavour coming through (13/20). Better was cheesecake was made from a Scottish cream cheese called Crowdie, served with bramble and creme fraiche. The cheesecake itself was very good, the bramble providing acidic balance (15/20). Coconut parfait with chocolate cremeux, mint and cocoa ice cream was also enjoyable, the coconut bringing freshness and working nicely with the chocolate (15/20). Coffee was Nespresso.
The bill came to £87 a head, including pre-dinner drinks, a bottle of excellent Max Ferdinand Richter Spatlese 2014 at a very fair £33 given that it retails at £22, and a glass of Austrian Beerenauslase. If you just shared a modest bottle of wine then an all-in cost per head would be around £75 or so. Service was friendly, and although drinks topping up could have been slicker this was a quite informal place, and the wine was left within reach, so it felt entirely in keeping with the environment. Overall The Cellar was a most enjoyable experience.