Lewis Vimpany, recently promoted to head chef by chef-patron Stuart Ralston, has enjoyed cooking from an early age. However, like many, it would be a series of serendipitous events that led him down a successful career path. From college, Lewis went straight to Number One at the Balmoral Hotel. Under the inspirational leadership of head chef Billy Boyter and his deputy Brian Grigor, he cooked with the freshest and finest ingredients. This proved a pivotal moment in his career, cementing his passion for the industry with a determination to succeed at the highest level. Through these early experiences, Lewis was aware of his natural cooking creativity whilst he took on board as many classical and new cooking techniques as possible.
Lewis moved to Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles which offered greater order and structure, embedding Lewis more into the world of fine dining. With an almost military discipline, including changing chef whites twice a day, it set the standard expected at the two Michelin star level.
Lewis was to be reunited with Billy Boyter at the Cellar in Anstruther five months after its opening. The good working relationship and friendship already developed in Edinburgh, contributed to the restaurant achieving its first Michelin star.
A desire to try something different and attracted by its gastronomic reputation, Lewis spent six months at the Vue de Monde in Melbourne. Under the direction of Shannon Bennett and Justin James, a fresh new world of produce and cuisine was unveiled.
Returning to Ireland at Aimsir, Lewis worked with local produce in a demanding kitchen. Indeed, sugar was the only imported foodstuff. Again, he was part of a team that achieved Michelin acclaim, this time two stars after just four and a half months.
Having previously enjoyed eating at Aizle, Lewis joined the restaurant’s kitchen brigade as senior sous chef in October 2020 before being promoted to head chef in the last quarter of 2022.
The Front of House vibe reflects the relaxed atmosphere of the kitchen. Inclusivity for customers is encouraged by the lack of a dress code. Enjoyment of the dining experience by the mixed-aged clientele of business people, professionals, foodies and regulars is paramount. As only dinner is served, the brigade lacks the pressure of two daily services and can give greater attention to the evening. Pre-dinner tastings by Lewis and his sous chef, guarantee consistency of quality.
Lewis’ cooking is unashamedly complex. Dishes are often labour intensive and multi-layered, an expression of his seemingly inexhaustible creativity. Not that his dishes are heavy, as a certain lightness of touch is evident throughout the menu. Balance of flavour and texture across the whole menu and in each dish are prominent features, reflecting harmonious combinations of ingredients – including foraged and fermented ones. The quality of produce is impeccable, with a Japanese influence also present in some dishes. Presentation, sometimes beautiful, on designer crockery of different materials is clean and artful without being contrived.
Pricing – £105 for the multi-course tasting menu – is realistic given the skills demonstrated, the quality of ingredients and the high standards of service.
A flight of matching wines is £75 with a soft drink pairing at £35. All these compare favourably with other restaurants of a similar level.
In line with the surprise aspect, guests are provided with an ingredient list with no indication of cooking methods before the meal. On leaving, they are given a “Menu” listing the main ingredients of each course but again no reference to cooking methods.
The seamless service, under the capable direction of General Manager Rebekah, is welcoming, extremely knowledgeable, and attentive without being obtrusive. This puts guests at their ease, enhancing the overall dining experience.
Kombucha, a fermented green tea with its herbal, refreshing qualities acted as a cleansing aperitif.
Three “snacks” presented together demonstrated technical skill and meticulous attention to detail. A pickled beetroot tart topped with whipped tofu and XO sauce combined sour and sweet with rich umami flavours. The croustade of beef tartare with seaweed kataifi offered crisp and soft textures with succulent richness. The third offering, presented in a nest of cones and foliage, comprised a deeply flavoured light espuma of Isle of Mull cheddar combined with cream and mascarpone. The accompanying sweet potato crisps were too delicate to be dipped into the espuma, which had to be eaten separately with a spoon.
The “First Amuse” featured a pannacotta of North sea crab, layered with wafer thin slices of pickled kohlrabi, garnished with sea purslane and spiked with lemon gel. A gently tangy yogurt foam enveloped this highly innovative dish with its gently sweet and sour flavours and creamy, light textures.
The “Second Amuse”, visually simple but complex in preparation and execution, elevated the humble lamb breast to unctuous, meltingly delicious heights. The meat had been brined, pressed, slow cooked overnight at 70-80 degrees, pressed again and soya glazed until sticky. The garnishes of sunflower seed pesto and foraged herbs gave contrasting texture and floral flavour to the soft sweetness of the lamb. A cup of wild mushroom consommé, into which the diner was advised to stir the accompanying bouquet garni for a fragrant herbal hit, balanced the richness of the lamb
The “Bread” course featured a miniature Parker House loaf, glazed with forest
Honey. The brioche like texture of the sweet crumb was deftly partnered with soft butter cultured with koji. For greedy diners like myself, there might have been a little more of the delicious bread, if only to mop up the sauces of the following courses.
The “Starter” course featured silky smooth Baron Bigod cheese, in the traditional Brie de Meaux style but produced in Suffolk, whipped with Jerusalem artichoke, pickled shallots and decorated with edible flowers. Visually stunning, this surprisingly light dish combined soft creamy richness balanced by earthy flavours, sharp, crisp textures and delicate floral notes.
The multi layered “Fish” course involved a variety of complex processes. A Orkney hand dived scallop was perfectly timed on the barbecue to retain its sweet succulence. North Sea langoustines were treated with equal respect, both being partnered with a risotto of Koshihikari rice, crab bisque and topped with a crab sabayon and crispy leeks. Overall, this was another stunningly presented dish, perfectly balanced in textures and crustacean tastes.
The “Main” course featured two cuts of Inverurie lamb. The saddle was accurately cooked and rested to a blushing pink. It was served with a charred little gem lettuce filled with ewe’s curd dressed with edible flowers, and a wild garlic emulsion. The richness of the meat was balanced by the freshness of the vegetable and herb combination. This part of the dish was brought together by a light sauce lamb jus, parsley and wild garlic. On the side, but of equal deliciousness, was a layered ramekin of slow cooked lamb shoulder, croutons, and broad bean espuma with potato, buttermilk and wild garlic. Overall, this dish was a tour de force of lamb cookery.
The optional – and mercifully light – “Cheese” course comprised semi hard tete de moine, shaved to oxidise the cheese to release more flavour producing soft, wafer thin girolle like shapes. Truffle infused honey and seeded crackers provided suitable accompaniments.
The technically accomplished “Pre” dessert comprised a rhubarb compote, a velvety smooth rhubarb sorbet, a custard “snow” made with liquid nitrogen, and crowned with a delicate sugar tuile.
The equally refined and spectacular “Dessert” of contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures, showcased a rich chocolate mousse with Pedro Ximenes gel together with silky miso ice cream, balancing sweet with a vibrant umami flavours. Delicate shards of caramelised baked milk skin, which mirrored the shape of the serving bowl, sheltered the iced desserts below. Both this, and the pre dessert, fully demonstrated the sophisticated skills of the pastry section of the kitchen.
For those who still had room, there were exquisite hand-made chocolate bon bons: Banana and miso, Yuzu and white chocolate, Ethiopian coffee bean, and Compass box whisky spiced caramel. These delectable morsels were models of their kind. Snappy peanut praline and intense raspberry and lemon thyme pate de fruit completed the mignardises offering.
Overall, this was a truly memorable meal, worthy of the accolades Aizle has already garnered. Often top of the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards for best fine dining restaurants across the UK, it has also won Best Fine Dining at the Edinburgh Restaurant Awards. More recently it has featured in Estrella Damm’s Top 100 list at this year’s National Restaurant Awards. Without doubt, the thoughtful, highly accomplished cooking at Aizle, using first rate ingredients and demonstrating skills and creativity at the highest level, deserves long overdue Michelin star recognition. Fine Dining Guide wishes Lewis and his team every success and will follow their future progress with added interest.