The Cellar

24 East Green, Anstruther, KY10 3AA
Tel: 01333 310378
GPS: 56.222059, -2.696079

January 2023

Having spent many of my formative years in a small coastal town, the sights and sounds around the harbour in Anstruther are exactly those of my youth. Rows of pleasure craft of assorted size and design bob gently up and down on the inky grey-blue of the North Sea, their movements set to a soundtrack of lapping water, the clinking of rigging against masts and the cacophonous calls of swooping gulls. Behind, the quayside buildings huddle tight, their thick stone walls firm against the wind as it whips in off the open water. Some display their original stone, while others are rendered and painted in a variety of shades, but all share one common trait; they have stood here for centuries, resistant to the weathering of wind, spray and time. No doubt they will still be standing here many centuries from now.

There is one very obvious difference between my native town and Anstruther though; the former does not boast a restaurant of the calibre of The Cellar. And to be honest, while I enjoyed my walk around the village streets and the breakwater, I was not here for the harbour ambience. Turning my back on the North Sea I headed back into the town; after all, I had a dinner reservation to keep.

A local lad, chef-proprietor Billy Boyter grew up in a house just a few minutes walk from the location of his restaurant on East Green, just above the harbour. The son of a fisherman, Billy nevertheless resisted the call of the sea, turning to cooking instead; after finishing college he put in time at a variety of Edinburgh’s top establishments, including stints with Martin Wishart in Leith, and then with Craig Sandle in the kitchen of Number One, in the Balmoral Hotel. There he was eventually appointed head chef, but by then he was intent on heading home. The Cellar – already a well-known fish restaurant in the region, run by the late Peter Jukes (1949 – 2012) – was up for sale, and this was one calling Billy could not resist. He returned to the village of his youth, and The Cellar reopened its doors under his direction in 2014.

The Cellar, Anstruther

By the end of 2015, after barely 18 months running the pass, Billy Boyter had been awarded a Michelin star, one he has held on to ever since.

The menu is a set seven-course affair, the first two courses small bites, very much in the amuse bouche style. One of the delights of the menu is that it offers little clue as to what to expect, so the first course (above) – simply described as mutton, Jerusalem artichoke, seaweed – which Billy Boyter brought to the table himself turned out to be a delicate, mouth-sized tart of mutton tartare, covered with miniscule flakes of parmesan, seaweed and flower petals, on the finest, crispest, lightest pastry base imaginable. I quickly realised that if this high level of precision and execution was to be continued through the courses to follow, I was in for a fantastic evening.

The Cellar, Anstruther

The second course – lobster thermidor, mandarin, caviar – allowed for a little front-of-house showmanship, served as it was within a smoke-filled cloche. It was not a matter of style over substance though, as the lobster thermidor came in a perfectly crafted doughnut, wearing a little hat of caviar, a wafer-thin mandarin gel and a single sliver of garlic. The doughnut oozed creamy lobster richness as I bit into it, and I had to resist the temptation to simply devour it in one. I made it last two bites (and I am quite proud of that) and it was worth the self control to prolong the pleasure; this was a delightful dish, with both preparation and presentation skilfully executed.

While Billy naturally changes the menu from time to time, one dish you are almost certain to find on the menu should you make the journey to Anstruther is his ox tongue, aged parmesan, truffle combination (above). I feel obliged to tell you how this dish is put together, although I also feel a little guilty, as much of the joy here comes from discovering the unexpected (so look away now if you don’t want to see the results). The ox tongue is cooked sous vide then cut into dainty cubes before being gently pan-fried, the end result a crisped outer surface within which there is a melt-in-your-mouth core. These little cubes are then served in a cream of aged parmesan, covered in puffed potato with tiny truffle shavings, and the combination is a perfect melding of expressive flavours and contrasting rich and crispy textures. Billy Boyter has no intention of taking this off the menu, so it serves as his signature dish. Believe me, this is a good decision.

The Cellar, Anstruther

We then moved on to two dishes serving somewhat more traditional combinations, essentially a fish course and a game course. The turbot, Arbroath smokie, celeriac, mussel (above) course was very fine, a thin slice of turbot with nicely crisped skin over a celeriac cream, with a mussel or two on the side, and an Arbroath smokie emulsion. This was beautifully presented and frankly delicious, although the highland roe deer, turnip, wild garlic, quince (below) which followed took it up a notch or two for me.

The Cellar, Anstruther

After these two perfectly executed yet quite traditional combinations, the innovation and individuality seen in the earlier courses returned with the final two dishes. The mysteriously named black olive, marigold, vanilla turned out to be a sorbet of Granny Smith apple, beneath a fragile sugar disk coated with tiny dehydrated crumbs of slightly salty black olive. Does black olive really work with apple, you might ask? As it turns out it does, although I did not have too long to ponder this question as I was soon devouring the final course, crowdie and vanilla mousse, pear, toasted hay, whisky, which was a sweet soul-food finish to the dinner.

There is of course an option for matched wines but I have never really enjoyed devolving this responsibility and I found myself drawn to a Sancerre on the list, from François Crochet; faced with the choice of the 2018 Chêne Marchand, or the 2021 Les Perrois (which Carine Crochet tells me is just an alternative name for their domaine cuvée on the UK market) I plumped for the latter, simply because I am wary of the effect of the warmth of 2018 on the balance or freshness I have found in this appellation. It was a decent choice, while I took a glass of young and oaky Lalande-de-Pomerol from the less than familiar Château Garraud to drink with my venison.

This was a great dinner, and it turned out to be the highlight of a few days of touring, dining and drinking my way up Scotland’s east coast. The cooking here is innovative, and while Billy Boyter is clearly not afraid to experiment I never felt the combinations and choice of ingredients were pushed too far. Everything worked. Suffice to say a return to The Cellar is very high on my wish list for future dinners. I must remember to pack a warmer coat and hat though, because I won’t be able to resist taking another fine stroll along those wet and windy harbour walls.

Prices: Dinner for two, including all the above courses, wine and coffee, came to £368.50. This included seven courses at £120 a head, the François Crochet Sancerre at £78 (listed at the same price as the single-vineyard cuvée), two glasses of Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs at £14 per glass, a glass of Château Garraud Lalande-de-Pomerol at £18, and a final serving of coffee at £4.50. (10/3/23)