Thursday, 9 June 2011

Eating Edinburgh

A Search For Unforgettable Food

When: May 2011

Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

Call it luck, call it planning but on a recent trip to Edinburgh I really wanted to eat quality food in a nice environment. I know that shouldn't be hard but meal after meal of forgettable food in London for less than reasonable prices proved me wrong. I can count on one hand the amount of genuinely good meals out I've had in London during the last 18 months. This coupled with some poor planning on a trip to Hamburg made me determined to make the most of Edinburgh. So taking to the web and to the guidebooks it was time to do some serious research. Thanks to FlyerTalk, TripAdvisor and The Rough Guide to Scotland all was planned. I also linked the places up to where we were visiting at that time of the day for the best of both worlds. So here goes!

I'm writing this post as an antidote to all the forgettable food I've been eating in London over the last 18 months: for all the luke-warm service, bland menus, boring food and poor value for money I have been encountering lately. I can probably count only a couple of times when I have been surprised by the quality of the food/service I have had. This coupled with ending up at a McDonalds at Hamburg train station due to my poor dinner planning during a trip there made me determined not to do the same for this trip to Edinburgh. So this time I planned everything to the finest detail including the food. I was armed and dangerous and ready for good food.

Day 1 - Foodies at Holyrood (Ideal for Holyrood House and the Scottish Parliament)

I found Foodies in The Rough Guide to Scotland, it is located a five minute walk from the Scottish Parliament and is the perfect place to grab a light (or less light if you prefer) lunch. Clean, friendly and inexpensive. I had a jacket potato with cheese and beans, my partner had a Tuna Melt panini, both washed down with fruit juice and a decent cup of coffee. It was a perfect cheap lunch out after a long journey and with a long trek around Holyrood Park to come later on it set us up perfectly for the day.

Hadrian's Brasserie (Balmoral Hotel - Ideal for relaxing after an afternoon walking round Holyrood Park)

Having a package deal we had money to spend at the hotel which pretty much covered a three course meal with wine. Service was efficient and friendly (with the small exception of the slightly over eager lady trying to get us to spend extra on aperitif drinks). To drink we had a nice bottle of Côte du Rhône which helped to wash down the bread. We both had egg florentines for starters which were light and perfectly cooked and followed up with lamb for our mains which again was just right. I finished up with a Crème brûlée and my partner had the profiteroles. Good food, nice service and ambiance, though I will remember the hotel more than the meal.

Day 2: Wildfire (Perfect after visiting the National Galleries of Scotland)

Wildfire cross-referenced nicely on both TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk. It specialises in steak and seafood and it did not disappoint. It is a small restaurant located at the end of Rose Street. We went for the 2 course lunch menu for about £12 each and shared a large bottle of local beer between us. I had pâté to start (I seemed to be obsessed with having pâté as a starter) and this one was particularly good. My partner had a large pot of mussels which she was very pleased with, even finishing up most of the broth! Then came the mains, steak and chips, a simple dish and perfect if done right, how often more than likely it wont be. At Wildfire I had the best piece of steak I have ever eaten (and this was just the cheaper rump steak from the lunch menu). Soft on the inside and lubricated with delicious garlic butter, a perfect medium all the way through - this is now my benchmark for steak. I hope I don't have to go back to Wildfire again to have a better one, as Edinburgh's a long way away! Chips were thin and crunchy and just right. After that we were too stuffed to contemplate dessert, all the more so after knowing what was in store later on. Service was steady and polite.

Castle Terrace (Perfect for visiting after the Theatre, Edinburgh Filmhouse or Edinburgh Castle)

So I wanted somewhere special for an anniversary celebration. This was the choice I was most worried about and due to the cost it had to be pretty good. It almost lived up to the billing thanks to the excellent mains and desserts. Anyway, a short cab ride from our hotel, Castle Terrace is found close to the the Theatre district and Edinburgh's Filmhouse. It is an upmarket fine dining restaurant with ambition. The food is Modern European with a French influence and firmly Scottish ingredients through and through. Things started well, the restaurant acknowledged our anniversary, we had a nice table in the corner, with a little privacy away from some of the ever so slightly drunken office workers with their loud conversations. To start things off I had a glass of champagne and my partner had a Kir with white wine. The free appetisers included bread sticks with a twist. They were presented in the style of an incense holder and consisted of some squid ink pasta, bread sticks and some small cheese filled bites. Tasty and a good way to get started. To drink I had chosen a glass of Rioja and my partner had decided to go for a glass of Italian white wine. I had the rabbit ravioli and my partner had the scallops. The ravioli actually reminded me of a super refined version of the won ton soup I used to buy in a can (this was mostly a good thing); the scallops were apparently very good. Next was a small amuse bouche in the style of a cappuccino which was lovely and refreshing; complete with foam, tapenade and finely diced tomatoes. Then came the mains: this was where the fun began. I had the Beef which was a Hampe of Scotch beef, seared and served with potato millefeuille, tomatoes, curly endive and a beef jus. This was a huge plate of perfectly cooked sliced beef served on a bed of endives. The millefeuille consisted of wafer thin slices of potato with a puréed tomato filling. Very filling and very good, even after that steak at Wildfire for lunch. My partner had the rabbit which was Rabbit from Roxburghshire, wrapped in Ayrshire smoked bacon and served with crisp pastilla, carrots and a caper sauce. The whole dish was presented like a little rabbit garden with little carrots, a fence, a hole etc. Apparently it was very good though the bacon was a little overpowering and the design was a little creepy. Finally to wash it all down was a super dessert. For me it was one of the best I have ever had, a pistachio soufflé, light, fluffy and warm, there was no way a single bite of this was going to waste even though I was completely stuffed. My partner had the apples with ice cream which she enjoyed, though she found it a little bit too sweet (and she's normally one to love her sweetness!). Espressi were very much in need at this point. So what stopped this being a five star experience? It was the drinks... I think our sommelier or the barman was having an off night. Revisiting the website I saw a lovely cocktail menu for aperitifs which I dion't recall seeing at the restaurant, instead we were left with the regular menu. I would have much preferred to try one of the Martinis then a glass of champagne. Secondly the sommelier was slow to get to our drinks order and did not introduce himself as the sommelier, so by that time we had already chosen what we wanted. I'm sure our meal would have been that little bit better with some wine advice and the full menu. In all this was a good meal that could have been truly great, you could taste what you were paying for, the service (with the exception of the drinks) was first rate and again, I would like to go back and eat there again. It was then off into the cold night air for a refreshing walk back to the hotel.

Day 3: La Garrigue (Ideal for the Old Town and the many walking tours)

So we finished our time in Edinburgh with a French restaurant with a Scottish twist. La Garrigue got a lot of good press for being mentioned as one of Ramsay's best restaurants. It was also all over TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk etc and with a well priced lunch menu it was the perfect way to round off the trip. I had a warming leek and potato soup, my partner had the onion tart. For the mains I had some lamb with lentils and my partner had the sea bream with wild rice. For dessert we had Crème brûlée. The food was all excellent with the exception of the Crème brûlée which was not quite set, but the flavour was all there. The atmosphere in the restaurant was really great with a real mix of diners, including charming regulars. Service was polite, efficient and non-intrusive. We wanted a relaxing lunch after the previous night at Castle Terrace and we got just that.

In Conclusion

I can't believe how many amazing set lunch bargains there are in Edinburgh, and also how little the chains have set in compared to London (though maybe I need to spend the same amount of time researching the options for London as I did for Edinburgh). If you like to eat well with great service and value for money the above options give you some ideas but of course, we really just scratched the surface during our stay.

Further Reading

La Garrigue