Review: The Haven

Giving the Scottish their long overdue credit for cuisine
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 1, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

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SMOKE SHOW: Listed as an appetizer, the “house smoked salmon fish plate” could easily serve as a filling and tasty dinner.

How is a Scottish gastropub different from the Irish kind we know so well in Boston? Is it like Trainspotting versus The Commitments? Well, sort of. Scottish ales are stronger and a little smokier than their Irish counterparts, although the Scots also have "session beers" — a now popular coinage — for when you are having more than one. (Due to limited licensure, that other specialty drink of Scotland is not available here under any spelling.)

The Haven| 2 Perkins Street, Jamaica Plain | 617.524.2836 | Open Monday–Friday, 5 pm–1 am; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–1 am | AE, MC, VI | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Sidewalk level access
One thing the Haven team got right immediately was the quality of light. By moving into the empty Hyde Square space of the lamented Zon's, they got north-facing windows, which means that on any cloudy day the unlit bar is as dreary as Scottish weather. At night, low light and candles assure the same effect.

If you miss all the other signifiers, the breadbasket should clang some bells about kilts, bagpipes, and thistles, as it consists of home-made oatcakes — soft, chewy pancakes that are excellent with butter. Haven also puts out some house-made lightly pickled vegetables, another signifier — this time of Boston gastropubbery. If you just can't wait, there is an appetizer version of haggis and neeps ($8; $16/entrée). (We'll get to the haggis jokes at the entrée level.) Less controversial starter choices might include a seasonal bridie (currently $8, tomato), which is a turnover wrapped in wonderful flaky pastry. The dislocated Lowland Scots, who came to the American colonies and eventually were known as Scotch-Irish, do not get enough credit for their influence on Southern United States pie crust. In Scotland, as in early America, pies (and bridies) are as likely to be savory as sweet, and the tomato version, with cherry tomatoes, mild cheese, and some thyme, is a fine appetizer or bar bite. Simple salad ($7) reads like a lot of bistro dishes, with raisins and nuts, but the Edinburgh sweet tooth has the nuts candied, the raisins cunningly plumped up, and the balance with vinaigrette dressing tipped to the sweet side.

A "house smoked salmon fish plate" ($12) is listed as an appetizer, but could end your dinner plans on the spot. The centerpiece is a nice chunk of hot-smoked (rather mildly) salmon, served cold with more oatcakes and garnishes of crème frâiche (lighter than sour cream), a bean-and-onion salad, and a couple of "Finnan haddie croquettes," fried golf balls of potato and smoked fish, with a house-made tartar sauce.

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