Archive for November, 2019

Restaurant Review: Merienda, Edinburgh (Nov 2019)

Posted on: November 27th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Merienda Logo

Merienda, meaning a small snack, is a 20 cover restaurant serving small plates of Mediterranean inspired food which opened in 2018. This year it was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin, acknowledging its value for money. Located in Stockbridge, a fashionable area of Edinburgh already crowded with a range of eateries, it entered a highly competitive market but has held its own after receiving plaudits in the Edinburgh and Scottish press.

The restaurant is the creation of chef/owner Campbell Mickel, who already had a thriving high end corporate catering firm. After major heart surgery, from which he was given a 3% chance of survival, he remained a live wire – forgive the pun – seeing the cathartic experience as the trigger to open his first restaurant after 35 years of cooking.

Not that a Merienda represents a major slowing down of pace. Open for lunch and dinner five days a week, and with a monthly changing menu of up to 30 dishes, the pressure on cooking, coupled with the need to be creative, is ever present. With the aim of showcasing the finest Scottish produce, their availability dictates the menu composition.

High quality ingredients, including cheese, charcuterie, smoked products, poultry and meats are sourced from small artisan producers around Scotland and the Islands. Similarly, wine comes from small producers around the Mediterranean, selected to match the changing menus. Scottish craft beers, high end Scottish spirits and Scottish soft drinks complete the drinks offering.

Merienda Dining and Bar

Housed in what was once a farmhouse dating back to 1650, the bright, tall ceilinged room contains the dining area, bar and semi open kitchen. Designed by the owner, the décor has a panelled “soft” effect on one side, and an “industrial, hard” brick like effect on the bar and kitchen side. Tables and chairs in white are well spaced

Teaming up with Robbie Probert, formerly of the Michelin starred 21212, the influence of which is seen in the presentation of some of the dishes, Campbell has created an attractive formula in which guests can create their own tasting menu.

Merienda chefs

[Chef Robbie Probert and Chef/Owner Campbell Mickel]

For a small kitchen with two chefs, the number of dishes on the monthly changing menu is impressive: the November menu is divided into seven “Staples” (£3 to £9.50); five “Fields and Gardens” (£4 to £7.50); five “Rivers and Seas” (£8.20 to £8.50); five

“Farms and Pastures” (£7.90 to £8.50); and three “Sweetness” (all at £7)

Merienda Sample Menu

[Merienda Sample Menu]

Given the quality of the ingredients, and the skill in cooking, prices are realistic. They compare favourably with other small plate restaurants, as The Bib Gourmand confirms.  Whilst the dishes on the Staples section are large enough to share, it is advisable to order one’s own meat and fish courses as they tend to be smaller and likely to cause food envy if not shared.

Staples priced from £3 to £9.50 varied in flavour and texture, some being more successful than others.

Patatas Bravas (£5.90), satisfied the most: freshly cooked with a crisp, spiced crust and soft fluffy centre, a generous bowlful was served with a strong garlicy aioli. Pickled Lombardi peppers, served with herbs of Provence olives, (£3), were crisp with a more rounded, sweet flavour that offset their natural fiery heat. Padron peppers (£6.50) roasted in olive oil with smoked sea salt were suitably charred with good flavour. Serrano ham was rich and salty, being well matched with slices of nutty, mild lightly sweet Manchego cheese. (£7).

Other staples had strengths and weaknesses. Focaccia (£3) had an airy texture and good salt crust but the advertised rosemary flavour was rather muted. An olive oil dip would also have helped. Hummus blended with Bull’s blood beetroot (£6.50) had vibrant colour but was  requiring an acidic lift. The accompanying toasted Pitta bread was crisp but lacked garlic flavour. These are relatively minor hiccups which need little to rectify.

Much better were the fish and meat courses, showing imagination, creativity and accuracy in cooking. Both fish dishes employed well sourced Mediterranean produce but reflected Japanese influence in presentation.

Merienda Octopus

Roast Octopus, (£8.50) featured small, meaty slices of perfectly cooked tentacle – soft, delicate and well flavoured. It worked well with a rich, nutty and slightly sweet pistachio puree, fragrant basil oil and micro herbs. Finished with dots of red cabbage puree, this was a well-conceived and visually stunning dish.

Merienda Tuna

Equally accomplished was a dish of Tuna carpaccio (£8.50). The ultra-thin, almost transparent, slices of stunningly fresh raw fish melted in the mouth. Grated radish gave a contrasting texture which complemented the delicate fish. Blue Spirulina, a non-fishy tasting algae, added a blaze of colour if not flavour. Lobster vinaigrette provided the necessary acidity to this attractively plated course. 

Game, so easily overcooked to become tough and dry, was cooked well here. A breast of pheasant (£8.50) was accurately timed to retain its moistness and soft texture. Puy lentils cooked al dente added a peppery note which complemented the gentle gaminess of the pheasant. A deeply flavoured Grand Veneur sauce brought the elements together well.

Merienda Prok Belly

Better still was the pork belly dish (£7.90). Slow cooked and glazed with honey and garlic, resulting in meat that was meltingly soft and full of flavour, this was a porcine treat. Apple chutney gave a spicy, sweet and sour note, working well with the rich, succulent pork. Despite the monthly changing menu, this is likely to be a popular dish that would be difficult to take off.

To finish, Panna Cotta (£7) proved a light, refreshing dessert. Set to a gentle wobble, it was dressed with mango gel which added a fruity note, organic cocoa nibs and toasted flaked almonds which gave contrasting texture and flavour. Visually, this was yet another beautifully presented dish.

Unlike other small plate restaurants, service at Merienda is not hurried. Bookings are staggered to encourage a leisurely enjoyment of food and wine. It also allows the staff to get t give more individual attention in a welcoming, informal and relaxed manner. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed chatting with owner Campbell over lunch, wishes it the continued success it deserves, and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Southside Scran, Edinburgh (November 2019)

Posted on: November 26th, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
SouthSide Scran Tom Kitchin

[Tom Kitchin at Southside Scran]

The Auld alliance is alive and kicking at Southside Scran bistro in the affluent Bruntsfield district of Edinburgh.  Opened by chef Tom Kitchin in November 2018, it combines the ambience of a French bistro with the cuisine of a Scottish master chef. It is the third of his venues in the capital, alongside his eponymous Michelin starred restaurant in Leith and the Scran and Scallie gastropub in Stockbridge, which holds a Bib Gourmand.         .

The attractive, spacious interior, designed by Michaela Kitchin, evokes a distinctly Parisian feel, enhanced by French background music. Plain wooden and tiled floors, mirrors and brass fittings, including an impressive mesh screen, blend harmoniously with the dark green and brown colour scheme. Different table arrangements in the split level dining area are paired with a variety of seating, featuring comfortable banquettes and classic bistro chairs in a range of materials and textures.  

Southside Scran Interior

[Southside Scran Interior]

Natural light cascading through the wide picture windows give the restaurant a bright airy feel.  At night, cleverly positioned wall, pendant and spot lighting, together with a roaring fire in the bar area, give the restaurant a comforting, snug feel, especially in winter. 

Pride of place must go to a magnificent Maestro Rotisserie, a boon for daily poultry, meat and fish dishes.

Southside Scran Head CHef Hearty Derlet and Head Waiter Diego Carrozzo

[Head Chef Hearty Derlet and FoH leader for the evening Diego Carrozzo]

Hearty Derlet, Head Chef, comes from the Kitchin fold, having spent two years in Leith before moving to China and returning for the bistro’s opening as sous chef, before being promoted. Leading a team of seven, he ensures that Tom Kitchin’s philosophy of “From Nature to Plate” is given full expression in the varied menu. This involves the sourcing of the finest, mainly Scottish, seasonal ingredients as the basis for cooking French bistro style dishes. Consistency in cooking standards is maintained through limited opening – Wednesday to Sunday lunch and dinner – relieving pressure on the kitchen, and a modest range of dishes, each of which can be perfected.

The November menu featured four starters, £12.50 to £18; five “From the Land”, £16 to £26; three “From the Sea,” £15.50 to £19.50 and fish of the day at market price; three salads in two sizes; four vegetarian dishes, £8 to £14; eight sides all £4.50; and five desserts, £8.50 each. To these are added daily starter and main “specials.” Prices are fair and realistic given the outstanding quality of the produce, the skill in cooking, the generous portions, the well-judged service and the refined surroundings. They also compare favourably with similar restaurants in Edinburgh. For those on a more limited budget, a set lunch (3/4 courses (Including cheese) for £21.50/29.50), with three choices in each course, offers excellent value for money with no reduction in the standard of the cooking.

Heading the front of house team on the Saturday lunch time we visited was Diego Carrozzo, another veteran of the Kitchin fold, whose undoubted charm was matched by his extensive knowledge of food and wine. His warm, welcoming, relaxed yet professional service quickly put us at our ease

Our lunch began with a good selection of nibbles: crisp baguette with good butter; a well flavoured, smooth chicken liver mousse with calvados jelly, homemade crisps and cornichons. Whilst lesser establishments often charge for these basics, here they are offered freely.

Southside Scran Salmon Raviolo

A first course of salmon raviolo featured exemplary thin pasta encasing a generous, well-seasoned, textured filling of the subtle tasting fish. Balancing this was a vibrant, deeply flavoured, rich yet not too creamy shellfish bisque. An acid test of an accomplished kitchen, this passed with flying colours.

Southside Scran Crab Pancake

The earthiness of an open, thin chickpea pancake worked well as the base for the beautifully fresh white meat of Newhaven crab. This was spiked with as a well-judged oriental kick of chilli, ginger and coriander’ which did not overwhelm the delicate crab. It was also pleasing to see good use made of the brown meat in a mayonnaise served separately. Little gem lettuce added the crisp salad texture the dish needed.

Southside Scran Veal Sweetbreads

A “special” of veal sweetbreads saw this delectable piece of offal accurately timed to produce a   caramelised crust and soft, smooth, creamy flesh. Roasted and pureed pumpkin gave an earthy sweetness which contrasted with the mild, savoury taste of the sweetbreads. Soft pillows of sautéed gnocchi added substance to the dish which was finished with crisp sage leaves and pumpkin seeds. Overall, this was a beautifully conceived and well executed dish.

Southside Scran Mallard en Croute

Scottish mallard en croute from the main menu was not a dish for the faint hearted. The two very generous slices comprised a meal  in itself; had I known, I would not have ordered a starter. With a mild gamey flavour and slightly coarse texture, the fatless breast and leg meat of this wild duck, together with a vegetable farce, was wrapped en crepinette and pancetta, before being covered with puff pastry. The result was moist, tender meat encased in a crisp, flaky, golden crust with no soggy bottom. Finished with a smooth, gently sweet parsnip pure and a rich red wine reduction, this was a tour de force of game cookery.


A whole small turbot, expertly cooked on the plancha grill, was deftly skinned and filleted at the table by Diego, adding a little theatre to the service. The large flakes of the gleaming white flesh retained their moistness, and it was good to see the often overlooked but delicious cheeks also being served. Sauce Grenobleoise, with its beurre noisette, lemon and capers gave a rich and sharp lift to the mild flavoured fish; brown shrimps added a stronger seafood note and croutons gave a contrasting crispness.   

Three side dishes – a ragout of lentils and lardons, fondant potatoes, garlic and spring onions, and warm French beans, hazelnuts and shallots were given the same care and attention as the main courses. The large portions were designed for sharing.

Nor was there was any deceleration in the desserts, often the Achilles heel of bistro menus

Southside Scran Sea Buckthorn

From the set menu, a Sea buckthorn tart had crisp pate sucree and well balanced sweet and sour filling, the berries reduced down with sugar and carrot juice to moderate their intense bitterness.  A cold and acidic quenelle of yogurt sorbet provided the ideal foil in temperature and texture.

Southside Scran_Pear

Finally, from the main menu, a pear poached in red wine was suitably soft and yielding. Stem ginger gave a warming note, and crème Chantilly was well flavoured with vanilla. This fruit and spice combination, balanced by the richness of the cream, worked well in this simple yet well executed dessert.

Good espresso finished a memorable lunch, one enhanced by relaxed ambience and the exciting buzz of contented diners as the restaurant began to fill. Now in its second year of trading, Southside  Scran has made its mark in the vibrant Edinburgh dining scene. Well above the average bistro standards in its food, service, design and décor, it can only go from strength to strength in a highly competitive market. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its visit and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Aizle, Edinburgh (November 2019)

Posted on: November 22nd, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

This feature will outline chef/owner Stuart Ralston’s background and career as a chef before analysing his cuisine against the criteria Michelin use for awarding a star. Aizle currently enjoys 6/10 in the Good Food Guide and is aspiring to a first star.

[Chef/Owner of Aizle, Stuart Ralston]

Cooking is in Stuart’s blood. His inspiration to become a chef came from his parents and brother, all of whom were chefs. Growing up in an environment of restaurants and hotels, he started working for his father at the age of 13 as a kitchen porter. From 16, he began to take the industry more seriously, gaining placements in other leading Scottish restaurants. Ian McNaught at Roman Camp and David Williams at Greywalls in Guillane became his teachers and mentors. Stuart also had experience at Inverlochy Castle. Aspirationally, Stuart’s inspiration was Gordon Ramsay, whose blossoming career he avidly followed, with a keen desire to work for him.

This finally happened when he trialled at Gordon Ramsay at the Connaught. Then came Stuart’s biggest break when he was transferred to Ramsay’s eponymous two Michelin starred restaurant in New York. Over two years, he was able to work in all sections, moving from commis chef to senior chef de partie. This huge leap in his career, in a team who progressed to become top chefs around the world, and with connections made through Gordon Ramsay, boosted Stuart’s reputation and international standing. Thus he was offered jobs in two and three star New York restaurants, settling in a position at the three Michelin starred Jean-Georges. This was cut short by the financial crisis, but he gained another top position executive chef at the exclusive Core Club.

After five years in the Big Apple, Stuart returned to the UK, being appointed Head Chef at Lower Slaughter Manor where he gained three AA rosettes and was inspected for a Michelin star. However, a year later, the company went out of business, a bittersweet moment as coincidentally he was offered the Head Chef position at the opulent, world-famous Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados. He stayed there for three years, part of a culinary team that oversaw five kitchens with 120 chefs and massive revenues.

Having been away from Scotland for ten years, Stuart decided to make his name in his homeland, and Edinburgh in particular, where leading chefs such as Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart had given the capital gastronomic credibility in the buzzing restaurant scene.

Passionate about being independent, finances enabled him to open Aizle in Edinburgh’s Southside without the need for investors. “Humble, small and low key” – the opposite of Sandy Lane – it made a quick impact as a tasting menu only restaurant, the first in Edinburgh. Over five and a half years he has gained a large and loyal clientele, demonstrating that a no-choice menu can have wide appeal if done well. Consequently, amongst other accolades, Aizle has been voted fifth best restaurant in the UK and second best in Edinburgh by Trip Advisor. After three years of inclusion in the Good Food Guide, the 2020 edition has finally appreciated the hard work and incremental changes it has made over time, awarding the highest mark so far of 6/10.

Aizle’s pastel blue frontage with large picture windows displays an ingenious nature inspired graphic design which incorporates the restaurant’s name above the entrance. Inside, the shades of blue, grey and cream give a warm, comforting feel. Décor in the high ceiling room is kept to a minimum, the main features being two blackboards listing the ingredients of the dishes on the menu. Clearly, the focus is on the food, with few distractions. Even the menu cannot be read until the end of the meal, when it is handed to the diner. Instead, the engaging and knowledgeable staff, who may include the person who cooked it, present and explain each dish as it arrives.

The rest of this feature will analyse Stuart Ralston’s cuisine against aspects of the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star: cooking techniques employed; balance and harmony in flavour; consistency across the menu and over time; provenance of ingredients; and value for money

Stuart uses mainly classical techniques with modern flavour combinations. A simple chocolate mousse is executed in a classical way involving emulsification and is often paired with salty, umami Japanese elements. Aged beef with cherry mustard, involving barbequing and grilling on a Japanese grill to produce a simplistic beautiful flavour has been skilfully employed, hence the dish is available often throughout the year. Conversely, a summer dish of Cod with sweet corn succotash with katsuobushi sauce, involves the classical techniques of fermentation and pureeing.

Sous vide is not employed on a day to day basis.  It is never used to cook fish. Game birds are roasted whole. Cooking meat and fish in a pan is the preferred classical method. Confidence, and actually being present to ensure precise timing, is essential for success. As Stuart is present at every service, consistency is guaranteed. He agrees that sous vide can be employed successfully in the highest level restaurants but can be misused in lesser establishments.

Whilst balance and harmony are taken into account in the creation of a new dish and menu, Stuart believes some ingredients in a dish may be (say) dominantly rich or acidic with good reason, to allow the flavours and profile to be bold. This does not mean a dish cannot be in equilibrium.

Consider the first, labour intensive, snack on the tasting menu: fresh, very rich goat’s curd encased in a sweet, delicate beetroot glass tube, with an acidic gel in the middle which helps balance the other two elements. Pine nuts add an interesting harmonious background. Essentially sweet and rich, a combination common with cheese, such as cheese and chutney, this snack is a successful “one bite, one shot opener which grabs the diner’s attention at the start of the meal.”

At the other end of the meal is chocolate mousse. The main ingredient from the celebrated Norman chocolatier, Michel Cluizel, has a malty, salty, caramel quality. It rests on Black sugar from Okinawa reduced right down with Scottish whiskey. A wafer thin nut praline is topped with Kinako ice cream of roasted soya bean flower. These elements give a quite tonal and therefore balanced character, with the combination of chocolate, nuts, milk and salt, giving a balanced, rich and comforting feel.

Harmony and balance across the whole menu is also carefully considered in terms of tastes, textures, temperatures and range of ingredients. Dishes also progress from small to large.

The second snack, sweet potato with teryaki and sesame is hot and fried, comforting and warming, with a very different robust profile.

By contrast, the third snack, a crab tartlet with caviar and apple is luxurious with delicately thin filo pastry

The first course always highlights a vegetable, in this case a super comforting and fragrantly luxurious dish of girolles served with ricotta tortellini, aged parmesan and Italian black truffle.

Bread is served as the next course to balance the previous smaller snacks and as a prelude to the more substantial fish and meat courses.  Served by the pastry chef, the mother base of the sourdough named Roger is four and a half years old. The warm rolls are flavoured with caramelised onion, lemon thyme and black garlic and served with cultured butter made in house.

The fish and meat courses flow naturally in succession:

Isle of Gigha halibut with Shetland mussels and Ken Holland broccoli, employs prime ingredients precisely timed to maximise their inherent delicate flavours

A game dish features breast of wild partridge topped with smoked sausage haggis and served with cabbage, Pommes Anna and a blackberry gel captured more robust, earthy flavours and textures.

Vacherin Mont d’Or baked with Edinburgh blossom honey, and served with quince purée and homemade focaccia, provides a stimulating savoury and sweet, hot and cold cheese course

To balance this, a pre dessert of sea buckthorn (reduced down with sugar and carrot juice to moderate it is intense sharpness), yoghurt and lemon balm is suitably cold and acidic to act as a palate cleanser before the final rich dessert.

A rich chocolate mousse, described above, and dainty petit fours complete this sensational menu.

Consistency at a basic level involves everything being weighed: for instance, fish portions at 65 grams, bread rolls at 55 grams, tartlets have the same amount of crab and are of the same size and shape.

Consistency in standards is achieved by ensuring each chef cooks at the same station in each of the four open evenings, Wednesday to Saturday. Changes only occur when Stuart is convinced mastery has been achieved in his or her section. Closing three days a week ensures staff are not exhausted, retaining their energy, passion and enthusiasm. The team is energised as they feel ownership of the restaurant as part of a team with important responsibilities. Everyone takes holidays at the same time to negate any problems if Stuart is absent. Overseeing the service each day, Stuart himself ensures that no dishes leave the passe without his approval.

Consistency with suppliers is achieved by good relations built over 10 to 15 years. They know the high quality Stuart demands. Only big fish are bought for flavour and only wild fish and game are sourced. Daily orders are checked to ensure quality, size and presentation..

At Aizle, Scotland’s bounteous larder is exploited to the full for its seasonal menus: Gigha halibut, Shetland mussels, wild partridge, girolles, blackberries, sea buckthorn and blossom honey all feature in the autumn menu. Other top quality and seasonal ingredients are sourced from notable suppliers: broccoli from specialist grower Ken Holland’s farm in Northumberland; Aged Parmesan and black truffle from Italy; and Vacherin Mont d’Or and Martin Cluizel chocolate from France. Given Stuart’s extensive knowledge of Far Eastern ingredients, Katsuobushi, Okinawa black sugar and Kinako, roasted soya bean flour, are sourced from Japan. As mentioned above, daily deliveries are thoroughly checked for quality, size and presentation.

Stuart sees value for money partly in terms of how people feel when they leave a restaurant: have they got something for their money; have they been looked after; have they been impressed with the standard of ingredients? Examining the list above, wild fish and game, caviar, truffles, expensive French cheese and chocolate are quality, luxury ingredients that come at a cost which most guests appreciate. That many are repeat customers, some having eaten at Aizle 40 to 50 times over five years, is testament to its success in this respect. From an economics point of view, there has to be value in the meal, as certain costs have to be achieved, these being pushed to the limit in buying the best yet keeping the restaurant sustainable. Overall, a huge effort is made at Aizle, including learning from previous mistakes, to achieve value for money at its price point.

Having cooked for 23 years, Stuart’s energies at the age of 36 are still undiminished. Indeed, August this year saw the opening of his second restaurant, Noto, in Thistle Street. More casual than Aizle, and open all week, it has a neighbourhood feel. Serving a small plates menu with Asian influences, Noto has received good reviews, keeping its strong team constantly busy serving 48 covers with 110 on Saturdays. Stuart aims to keep cooking at Aizle, but splits his time between the two restaurants, empowering managers and senior staff, who have been loyal to the company. In the long term, perhaps another restaurant on the lines of Noto may be envisaged.

[Richard (chef de partie), Danielle (chef de partie) Stuart Ralston (chef owner), Tobias (pastry)]

Aizle, which means a “burning coal, a glowing hot ember, a spark” will undoubtedly continue to burn bright. Stuart’s investment in people, at Aizle and at Noto, has clearly paid dividends. With its team of four chefs and four front of house serving fifteen tables, Aizle has gone from strength to strength.  It will remain Stuart’s main focus of attention, as he cooks here each service. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its meal and meeting with Stuart and will look forward to the restaurant’s increased recognition in the national restaurant guides. A Michelin star cannot be too far away.

Review: MacDonald Holyrood Hotel, Surf and Turf Concept (Nov 2019)

Posted on: November 22nd, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

“Scottish fish and seafood is by far the best in the world…Aberdeen Angus…it’s the most sought after beef on the world.” Such is bold claim on the menu of Surf and Turf, the new dining concept at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.

For those of a mature age, the term “Surf and Turf” may evoke memories of blackened, well done steaks of dubious origin, and seafood the texture of cotton wool, the mainstay of a well-known Steakhouse chain in the 1960s and 70s.

This could be no further from the truth with the Surf and Turf concept where great care has been taken in sourcing the finest quality Scottish ingredients and constructing an appealing, adventurous menu. Originally trialled at Macdonald Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews, the Surf and Turf menu is the creation of Glenn Roach, regional executive chef for the hotel group.

[Concept Creator Executive Head Chef Glenn Roach]

A runaway success, the concept was also transferred to the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel in August 2019.

Head Chef Dan Mellor who heads the kitchens has 17 years’ experience cooking in Edinburgh hotels, most recently at The Raeburn in Stockbridge where he spent two years. He has overseen the transition from the previous fine dining restaurant to Surf and Turf which started in August 2019. Popular with American guests during the Edinburgh Festival, custom has picked up since then, confirming the concept’s winning formula with guests.

At the heart of the menu are the signature dishes, 21 day aged rump, rib eye, sirloin and fillet steaks sold by weight, 200 grams to a kilo! Adding seafood – lobster, king prawns or scallops – creates a dish where the succulence of beef and freshness of seafood create a harmonious combination of tastes and textures..

But the menu is far more than this, incorporating an exciting range of dishes from simple to luxurious. Mini tacos of chilli beef, avocado, sour cream and chills and lobster arancini appear in the “Bites and Starters” section; a charcuterie platter is an option on the “From the Farm” section; Venison Wellington appears the “Classics” section; and sweet potato gnocchi and wild mushroom risotto are choices on the “Vegetarian” section.

Given the quality of the ingredients and the skill required in cooking, prices are realistic: starters range from £4 to £7; Classics £15 to £50 (Venison Wellington for two); and fish dishes £15 to £17. Sides are £3.50 to £6 and sauces for steaks £3 to £3.50. From the Surf and Turf signatures, a 200 gram rib eye costs £27; paired with king prawns an extra £9.

Many fish and meat dishes require precise timing and adequate resting to maximise flavour and texture. This applies even more to expensive cuts of beef and fresh seafood which command premium prices. In this respect Surf and Turf scores highly, fully respecting the inherent qualities of first class produce. A degree of invention and creativity is also evident in some of the other options, where ingredients complement each other. Presentation is clean, with no overcrowding of the plate.

Although the restaurant has been rebranded, the actual décor and furnishings remain the same. Not that the room needed changing. The spacious wooden floored dining room has an inevitable corporate feel but is no less attractive for that. With a bar at one end, it is dressed in warming tones of brown, grey and cream, with well positioned wall and spotlighting. Comfortable leather banquettes and smart curved backed dining chairs are arranged around well-spaced, marble or wooden topped tables, providing a maximum of 80 covers.

A midweek dinner in November proved an enjoyable experience

A starter of beetroot cured halibut saw delicate slices of flaky white flesh, tinged with the colour of the marinade which did not mask the deliciously creamy flavour of the fish.  Pickled shallots added a gentle acidity which balanced the sweetness of the beetroot puree dots. Celeriac remoulade gave a contrasting texture and charred lime a slight bitterness. Served on a white plate, this was a vibrantly coloured dish of ingredients which complemented each other well.

Another starter of seared scallops was accurately timed to produce a caramelised crust and soft, translucent flesh. The saltiness of samphire worked as a seasoning, balancing the sweetness of the scallops, and giving a crisp texture. Dressed with caviar, salmon roe and curried cauliflower puree, which contrasted in temperature and colour, and finished with a chive oil, this was another well executed, visually attractive dish.

Next came a carnivore’s delight: a main course of a 350 gram of 21 day aged rib eye. With a beautifully seared crust, it was cooked medium rare to retain succulence and optimise flavour. Judicious seasoning and precise grilling and resting to reach the correct temperature did full justice to this popular, well marbled cut of meat.  Served with cherry vine tomatoes, caramelised shallot, skin on French fries, the dish was finished with a deeply rich, piquant peppercorn sauce.

The other main course was a surf and turf combination of three elements. It was pleasing to see the much neglected hake employed here to good effect. A fillet of this soft textured, mild flavoured fillet was correctly cooked and served with a croquette of beef shin and seared king scallop. The croquette had a crisp coating and hot creamed potato filling but needed a little more of the delicious shin. The scallop itself was well executed and rested on a caper and pomegranate dressing which gave salty and sweet flavours. Perhaps dish needed some acidity to balance these and lift the seafood elements. Swirls and dots of spinach puree added visual impact.

Two  competent desserts finished the meal

Sticky date pudding was well flavoured, light and not too rich. The indulgent element was given by the butterscotch sauce which, thankfully, was not oversweet. The accompanying vanilla ice cream was smooth and velvety and the apple crisp gave texture 

Apple soufflé with calvados, cooked in a shallow dish instead of a ramekin, had an airy lightness and perfect texture with no hint of egginess. Added sweetness and contrasting texture was given by finely diced apple and an apple crisp.  A little more calvados would have taken this dessert to an even higher level. In its 20th anniversary year, the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel has adapted its restaurant offering away from fine dining to the more popular alternative of Surf and Turf, with a more informal, relaxed service. Now only it its fourth month, the rebranding has already shown signs of success with a growing clientele. Fine Dining Guide wishes the new concept continued success and will follow its progress with interest.

Chef Interview: Gary Foulkes, Angler Restaurant (November 2019)

Posted on: November 19th, 2019 by Simon Carter

This article is in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will analyse four of their signature dishes against aspects of the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria were explained in an interview with Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides) and are given below.

The first and most important criteria is the provenance of ingredients; all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours. The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.

Gary Foulkes

[Chef Gary Foulkes, Angler Restaurant which has a Michelin Star]

There was no romantic epiphany for Gary when it came to becoming a chef as a career. There wasn’t, for example, a childhood cooking moment, sitting on a grandmother’s knee that enamoured him with the process of preparing food.  It was more a case of serendipity that through a school work experience placement, he was sent to spend a week in a hotel.  Each day would see a different department – reception, bar, housekeeping and so on – the last day was spent in the kitchen.  Gary found the kitchen to be the most interesting of all, exhibiting a real team atmosphere, where the chefs were all focused on what they were doing, while still managing to have a good time.

After leaving school in the mid 1990s, Gary joined the Chester Grosvenor as a commis chef before moving to a Gary Rhodes outpost in Manchester.  Some while later, a journey south saw him invest time at Lords of the Manor under John Campbell, before some time later returning to John’s stewardship as sous chef at The Vineyard near Newbury.  In between, Gary was in London with a stint as a chef de partie under Richard Neat at the Oxo Tower and then for two years as a chef de partie for William Drabble at Aubergine. 

Most recent prior to Angler, Gary found an eight-year home at the iconic The Square restaurant under Phil Howard.  Indeed, The Square tenure was split by some time spent travelling, the return prompted by a call from Phil (Howard) after the departure of his then head chef, Rob Weston, to La Trompette. Gary returned as head chef alongside Phil at the two Michelin star institution.

Gary is not the first chef interviewed by fine dining guide to speak highly of the sheer natural instinctive cooking talent of Rob Weston.  While it was a potentially daunting proposition to take on, Gary quickly adapted to his elevated role at The Square. Gary and Phil remain good friends to this day, speaking regularly.

Angler Restaurant Interior

[Angler Restaurant, dining room, 7th Floor South Place Hotel, London]

Angler Restaurant, as the name suggests, has an emphasis on fish and seafood and is situated on the 7th floor of The South Place Hotel.  Moorgate based and boasting a heart of the city location, the site represents the first departure by D&D Group into hotels and with Angler, the only current Michelin starred restaurant in their group.  Gary Foulkes has headed up the kitchen since 2016 and thereafter successfully retained the Michelin accolade.  The dining room is bright, light, airy and has a welcoming atmosphere with a gentle buzz on a weekday lunch time, ably assisted by the polished front of house operation.

Gary Foulkes now discusses how each of a selection of four signature dishes are created by those Michelin criteria for stars.  This will entail a discussion in terms of cooking technique and balance and harmony on a plate for each dish.  The selection of quality ingredients and provenance is also reviewed in the context of the broader menu offerings. This will be supplemented by a general overview of how consistency across the menu and over time is achieved.

The first dish is the mackerel tartare, oyster cream, apple and shiso.  The dish provides a natural opener to the tasting menu as it is fresh, clean, light, visual and a delicious start to the meal. The mackerel is sourced from Cornwall and like all pelagic fish (mid-Ocean) they are at their best in autumn and winter.  Fish and shellfish are sourced (including lobster) from Cornwall with langoustines and scallops arriving from Orkney and live crabs from Dorset. Where appropriate fish is line caught and this quality makes a substantial difference to taste and texture.  Having long standing relationships with suppliers of fish and seafood is vitally important as it allows a mutual respect and bond of trust to develop.  This ensures that Gary always has the right product at the right time at the right price for his menu requirements.

angler mackerel

[mackerel tartare, oyster cream, apple and shiso]

In terms of cooking techniques, the first process is to brine the mackerel which has the impact of firming up the flesh.  This prevents the tartare from disintegrating on the fork, while providing a similar eating texture to a traditional beef tartare. After filleting and chopping, a binding process of a little crème fraîche, shallots, lemon zest and white soy – the white soy is used instead of salt for seasoning.  This avoids partially curing the fish and therefore helps assure a consistent product. Oyster mayonnaise, seaweed, shiso and apple bring a mixture of iron, tartness and fragrance to lift, cut and bring together a balance and harmony to the dish.

The second dish is Newlyn cod, caramelised parsley root, line caught squid and chanterelles.  Gary is self-described as pedantic in all aspects of sourcing, preparation and cooking and so requires 6-8kg cod for the purposes of this dish.  The cod is filleted, brined and air dried as the texture is vitally important.  Should the cod fillet arrive at the table already split (with gaps in the flesh,) it is a sure sign of overcooking.  The approach is to have it flake on the customer’s knife. The squid is scored then sits in grapeseed oil for half an hour before cooking. The dish is a stable all year-round concept with the garnish rotating throughout the seasons. In winter it is a caramelised parsley root with chanterelles but in summer it would be cauliflower purée with girolles or in spring with peas and morels. 

Angler Cod

[Newlyn cod, caramelised parsley root, line caught squid and chanterelles]

As a fairly robust fish, cod is a great vehicle for flavour, so will tolerate a broader span of accompanying harmonious flavours, that will equally provide equilibrium on a plate.  The extension of this observation is that it naturally facilitates seasonality.  In terms of provenance, the world may have become a smaller place, but seasonality is still a key factor in Gary’s thinking. This philosophy is given the additional mantra of seeking out the best, not just the local.  “If I want a white peach, I’ll source it from Italy but in terms of fish, I genuinely believe British fish is the best you can get,” observes Gary.

angler turbot

[Wild turbot, razor clams, Japanese mushrooms and katsuobushi.]

The third dish is the Wild turbot, razor clams, Japanese mushrooms and katsuobushi.  Gary spent time travelling in Japan. On one evening, he tried the most amazing dashi and the chef kindly gave him the recipe.  When Gary came back as head chef at The Square the turbot dish was introduced using key elements of this discovery.  Over the years, the recipe and cooking times have been tweaked to perfect the Turbot dish as it stands on the menu today.  The Turbot are sourced at 3-4kg to give a thick fillet. The fish is wrapped in Kombu and steamed at 78 degrees to provide a pearlescent finish. The flavour enhancement impact is beautiful in combining a form of richness and mild salty infusion. Some dashi is set using a vegetable gel to allow a layer of what looks like skin to sit over the top of the presented fillet.  A poached Japanese mushroom broth is combined with slow cooked razor clams and a black squid ink noodle.  A jug of dashi is offered on the side to finish the dish at the table.

Regardless of volume of customers, every guest should receive the same product.  To allow consistency to come more readily, there are specific recipe books and processes – including taste filters by Gary and his sous chef Mark – right down to the vinaigrette with the scallops.  A recipe is always specific, not the juice of two lemons but the exact grams or precise measures that may be required.  There is no hiding place in a brigade of 10 chefs and pre-preparation is also vital to consistency.  Adaptations to any menu or recipe have a collective creativity and a process to their adoption.

angler sable

[Blackcurrant sable, wild thyme, Brillat Savarin cheesecake cream and vanilla]

The Blackcurrant sable, wild thyme, Brillat Savarin cheesecake cream and vanilla dessert is another dish that has a basic framework with elements rotating throughout the seasons. Gary might provide the original ingredients that a dish might contain then a collective and iterative effort ensues in reaching the end product. In summer it was white peach and lemon verbena, in spring it was strawberry, black olive and Greek basil and so on.  Gary is particular about creating a wow factor with desserts as he says, “Nobody has a dessert because they think it’s healthy for them, they have it because they want something delicious,” and “Fruit, an element of cream, richness, crunch and zingy-ness are all elements to a great dessert” reflects Gary.

Overall, Angler restaurant has formed a significant gastronomic landmark in the city, in the able hands of Gary Foulkes, serving an ever growing, discerning and appreciative clientele.  A point of note is that two key mentors have held the accolade of two Michelin stars, with the food sampled at Angler worthy of such comparisons.  While Gary has clearly grown as a chef thanks to his travels both globally and within the Michelin firmament, his individual creative style leads to a polished finished article.  No doubt Gary Foulkes, his kitchen and welcoming front of house teams will continue to push forward and fine dining guide looks forward to returning soon.