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Restaurant Review: The Elder, Bath (Nov 2021)

Posted on: October 31st, 2021 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Elegant, sophisticated and beautiful is how one might describe Bath’s South Parade. The Elder Restaurant, housed in Hotel Indigo, forms a distinguished part of this range of newly restored Georgian townhouses.

The same epithets could justifiably be applied to the cooking of Gavin Edney, Group Head Chef of the Elder and its sister restaurants, The Woodsman in Stratford Upon Avon and The Forge in Chester. Inspired to open this new restaurant in Bath, Mike Robinson, restaurateur and a leading authority on wild food and game has collaborated with Gavin to produce an appealing repertoire of dishes that adhere to the group’s “Field to Plate” philosophy, with its emphasis on ethical sustainability, wild food, seasonality and locality.

Knowledge of provenance and good relations are essential prerequisites for engaging high-quality producers of meat, fish, game and wild food.  As Robinson says, “We know the farmers, the foragers and the fishermen. Our own Huntsman manages wild deer over large estates.” These ingredients are transformed with great skill and care into the select menu of The Elder.

The main carte features four starters, five mains, four puddings and a cheese option. Prices are realistic given the excellent quality of the ingredients – the provenance of which is acknowledged on the menu – and the skill and creativity of the cooking.

With a CV that includes experience at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, the Galvin Restaurants and most recently head chef at André Garrett at Cliveden, Taplow, Gavin’s reputation as a master in the kitchen is beyond doubt. Meat, game and fish are precisely timed and rested to optimise flavour and texture. Combinations of seasonal ingredients are well-balanced, so the main element is never overwhelmed by the accompaniments. Saucing is a particular strength, enhancing the overall impact of the dish. The presentation is clean and portions are generous.

The venue where his food is enjoyed is a series of four rooms of different sizes and covers, with a maximum for 70 covers combined. The main dining room has 14 covers. The green panels, lined with paintings of horse racing and jockeys give the feel of a traditional gentleman’s club. Leather banquettes, metal candelabra, heavy drapes, wall lights and strip lighting enhance this feel. The wooden tables are undressed but well-spaced. 

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in October to sample the autumn menu.

Homemade granary bread had a crisp crust with a nutty, rich taste and nobbly texture. It was served with Chew Valley butter from a Jersey cow. Accompanying this was a small glass of bullshot, made from beef and venison stock, black pepper and chilli, an unusual but warming opening to a cold evening’s dinner.

The first course featured a tartare of sea bream. The clean taste and delicate flavour of the dense, juicy white flesh was enhanced by the gentle acidity of tomatillo and moderated by the sweetness of the apple. Dashi gave the dish an umami lift and dots of taramasalata a creamy richness. Completed with squid ink and tapioca crisp, which balanced the softer elements, this was a brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed dish.

The following warm seafood dish combined classic and contemporary elements. Plump baked Fowey river mussels with a mild taste and tender chewiness were shrouded in a well-seasoned velouté. Topped with baked sourdough crumb, chives with their mild onion taste and nori dust which added a subtle sea flavoured umami touch, these contrasting ingredients balanced the creamy richness of the velouté. Accompanied by a Falmouth Bay seaweed baguette to mop up the juices, this was another highly satisfying dish.

A main course of nose-to-tail fallow deer perfectly exemplified the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability, wild food, seasonality and its field to plate philosophy.  Venison comes from the Bathurst estate, where the group‘s Huntsman oversees the ethical management of the deer before being processed in the group’s FSA regulated larder. Full justice to the animal was achieved by the accurate medium-rare timing of the haunch and loin which ensured their maximum flavour and meltingly soft texture.

Heartier additions were afforded by a flavoursome faggot of the offal and offcuts and a tasty “Hunter’s pie” of venison mince topped with golden piped mashed potato. Charred Brussel sprouts gave a mild smokiness offset of the sweetness of parsnip stuffed with blackberry compote and fennel pollen, while everything was bought together by lip-smacking red wine sauce flavoured with juniper. The meticulous attention to detail, the clean presentation and the generous portions added to the success of this memorable dish.  After the heights reached by the savoury courses, the anti-climax of desserts, so often a disappointment even in high-end restaurants, did not occur: the same refined skill, care and attention were evident throughout.

A blackberry tart of superfine, crisp pastry encased the poached fruit, salted crushed almonds and a vanilla cream topped with an intense quenelle of smooth blackberry sorbet. The combination of contrasting textures, flavours and temperatures demonstrated the consummate skill of the pastry section.

Equally accomplished was the warm wild damson soufflé. For this much-underrated autumn fruit with its sweet and sour taste, a souffle was a perfect vehicle to demonstrate its versatility. Soft and fluffy in the middle and well risen, it was topped, amazingly, with a disc of shortbread which did not cause it to deflate. Bay leaf ice cream, with its subtle, slightly floral flavour and silky texture, was a well-chosen accompaniment.

Mini doughnuts and good coffee completed an outstanding meal, one enhanced by the seamless, knowledgeable service of Christian who waited at my table.

Having opened after lockdown, with all the problems associated with suppliers, the restaurant is making progress in achieving consistency of product, so vital for success. Clearly, in Gavin Edney, it has a chef of distinction who will see it go from strength to strength. Fine Dining Guide hopes to return to The Elder and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Wedgwood, Edinburgh (Oct 2021)

Posted on: October 13th, 2021 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Located on Canongate, part of the southern section of the Royal Mile, Wedgwood is one of Edinburgh’s long-standing fine dining restaurants. For fourteen and a half years it has satisfied the ever-changing demands of a discerning clientele. The modest exterior belies a spacious air-conditioned dining room of 44 covers. Recently refurbished, the bright and stylish décor, pendant lighting and well-spaced tables provide a smart but informal setting.

Paul Wedgwood’s Modern Scottish cuisine has Asian influences, although less prominent than before, and exploits the foraged ingredients of land and sea.  Spiced monkfish, cauliflower korma, pickled daikon and saffron pickled onions evidence the former. Woodruff in a broth accompanying salt-baked celeriac, sea vegetables garnishing a halibut dish, lavender flavouring a mallard breast, bramble in a salmon starter, sweet cicely in a vegetarian option, and wild mint ice cream clearly reflect his passion for wild food.

The cooking of meat and fish is precisely timed to maximise their inherent flavour. Vegetables are given equal attention to protein.  Many dishes are multi-layered, showing invention tempered by restraint, being harmonious in composition and balanced in taste, texture and temperature. Saucing is carefully judged so as not to overwhelm the star ingredient. Both classical and contemporary techniques are employed demonstrating high levels of culinary skill. Menu descriptions are terse, listing the main ingredients but not indicating the cooking methods, giving a surprise to the diner. The presentation is clean and portions are generous.

Pricing is realistic but represents good value given the quality of the product and the skills and versatility on show. These are two reasons that help to explain Wedgwood’s longevity in an area saturated with restaurants

The main menu comprises five starters priced from £9.95 to £13.50; five mains from £22.95 to £28.95; and four desserts all at £8.95. A cheese plate is also available at £10.95. A six-course tasting menu – “A Wee Tour of Scotland” – priced £60 includes some dishes from the carte. There is also a vegetarian menu at £55 and a popular two or three-course set lunch at £20/£25.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday lunchtime when only the set menu is available. An acid test for any high-end restaurant is that the standard of cooking, albeit usually of more humble ingredients with a limited choice, should be the same here as for the other menus. In this respect, Wedgwood did not disappoint. With three options in each course, including vegetarian dishes, most preferences would be satisfied

A starter of scorched salmon was accurately judged to retain the flavour of the rich buttery flesh. Goats’ curd, with its mild tanginess, worked well as a foil to the oily fish. Freshness was provided by bramble and bramble oil which added sweetness, apple giving a crisp texture and gentle acidic note, and radish adding a spicy edge.

Another starter of venison and pancetta terrine was moist and well-seasoned. Studded with pistachios, which gave sweetness and a contrasting texture, it was balanced by pickled daikon and beetroot, giving acidity and an earthy note. Dressed with garlic crumb, this was a visually stunning dish.

Gently spiced monkfish tail was carefully rendered, capturing the mild, sweet flavour of the dense, meaty flesh. Perched on a bed of crushed potato and braised fennel, and dressed with sea herbs, the dish was bought together by a full flavoured but light crab bisque.

Another main course featured two thick slices of belly pork cooked by the confit method. So often used with duck, it was successfully employed here, resulting in meltingly soft meat, full of porcine richness. White beans in a well-reduced romesco sauce of tomatoes, peppers and almonds proved a robust, hearty accompaniment. Charred sweetcorn added a smoky lift and hispi cabbage gave an element of freshness the dish needed.

For dessert, buttermilk and lemon thyme panna cotta served in a glass cup, had the correct degree of wobble and a well-balanced herbal note. Blackcurrant compote gave a contrasting tartness to the cream, while crushed almonds added a pleasing textural flourish.

The chocolate brownie was a model of its kind, with a crisp crust and a gooey centre. Partnered with a rich chocolate cremeux and a quenelle of wild mint ice cream, these two flavours were an ideal match for this decadent dessert.

Overall, this was a most pleasant experience in a relaxed, informal setting. It was enhanced by the welcoming, knowledgeable and efficient service led by Amanda, the restaurant manager.

Fine Dining Guide had an opportunity to speak to chef-patron Paul Wedgwood

Lisa and Paul Wedgwood

Who inspired you in your cooking career?

Paul Wedgwood’s love of cooking was deeply ingrained at an early age. His father was an excellent experimental home cook. Good food including game was always available, stimulating his interest in a career in cookery. Having qualified from Runshaw College in Leyland with a National Diploma in Hotel Management, Paul won a coveted placement at the renowned Miller Howe in Windermere.  Under the inspirational guidance of chef patron John Tovey, whose sourcing of fresh, local ingredients – some grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden – made him a pioneer in this field. Paul successfully refined his skills, gaining him a full-time job in the kitchen. Later positions in Cumbria, culminating in his being part of the management team which opened The Georgina House in Kendal, greatly widened Paul’s appreciation of the hospitality industry. Thus, he was fully prepared to open his eponymous restaurant in Canongate along the Royal Mile in late 2007. Since then, it has won an array of local and national awards of which Harden’s is the most prized.

How do you explain the restaurant’s longevity of fourteen and a half years?

Paul and his partner Lisa have always responded consistently and positively to customer feedback, hoping to provide the “perfect night out” for their guests. Therefore, the restaurant has evolved, meeting the needs of an ever more demanding clientele who increasingly wish to know the finer details such as the provenance of the produce as well as how it is cooked.

How successful is the evening tasting menu?

About 65% to 70% of the evening covers opt for the tasting menu. It used to be only 25% to 30% when the a la carte menu was longer and shown first to the guests. A strategic decision, partly in response to customer feedback, was taken to shorten the carte, which had satisfied most preferences but was admittedly too long, and present the tasting menu first. Eventually, this more than doubled the uptake.

Tell us about your kitchen and front of house teams.

There are nine in the kitchen, three of whom are part time. Given the long hours, they now work a four-day week to promote an improved work-life balance. This has encouraged some chefs to return to work at Wedgwood. There are four full time and two part time front of house members.

Tell us about your interest in foraging

Paul has been a keen forager since his boy scout days. He has included foraged ingredients in his menus since opening, being a pioneer of foraging before it became fashionable.

Do you have a signature dish?

Paul is very proud of his scallops with cauliflower korma puree, pineapple and capers relish, peanut and pistachio dust dressed with micro coriander and its oil. Customers are advised to taste all the elements together to enjoy the harmony of flavours before eating them separately. This hugely popular dish is rarely off the menu before an outcry brings it back

What changes have you noted in the Edinburgh restaurant scene in recent years.

The rise of independent restaurants has been crucial in raising standards and responding to a more educated and demanding clientele. Indeed, they need to be ahead of the game in a constantly evolving gastronomy stimulated by TV chefs. Edinburgh’s thriving tourist industry and its strong gastronomic reputation will ensure a healthy coexistence amongst competing restaurants

Restaurant Review: Heron, Edinburgh (Oct 2021)

Posted on: October 7th, 2021 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Housed in a beautiful Victorian building at The Shore in Leith, Heron has, perhaps, the most enviable location of all the plethora of eateries there.  On a prominent slope, at the junction of Henderson Street and Sandport Place, it overlooks the Water of Leith, with views down to the old docks.

As restaurant manager Glen commented, developments in Leith continue to have real momentum with the openings of distilleries, bakeries, wine and cocktail bars alongside the Michelin starred and other fine restaurants. The projected arrival of the tramline by 2023 will attract even more interest in the area.

Originally conceived in January and opened at breakneck speed in July 2021, it is the first joint restaurant venture of chefs Tomas Gormley and Sam Yorke. The minimalist interior has an uncluttered look with stripped pine floors, pine effect tables and Venetian blinds. The high ceiling in Japanese seaweed, grey walls, and pendant lighting are attractive but indicate a work in progress. Their Tables are arranged on two levels and there is a large concrete bar.

A mixed clientele includes the young, curious locals, those who were clients of Bad Seeds, the chefs’ home dining venture in the lockdown, and industry friends from other restaurants and hotels.

The restaurant aims to serve “farm to table” dishes with ingredients sourced from well known local suppliers. These include Grieson Organic, Phantassie Organic Farm and The Free Company

Both classical and contemporary methods are used in the kitchen, reflecting the relative experience of the two young, yet highly trained chefs. Meat, game and fish dishes are accurately timed both in cooking and resting, maximising their flavour and texture. Dishes look simple in their clean and often beautiful presentation but are often multi-layered and complex. Ingredients are judiciously combined, being balanced in their tastes, textures and temperatures. Invention is moderated by a shrewd gastronomic sense, leading to surprising yet enjoyable results.

Prices compare favourably with similar establishments being fair and realistic given the quality of the ingredients and the skill in cooking.  On a late summer menu, four starters were priced from £9 to £15; four mains from £20 to £34; and three desserts, all at £9. The limited choice allows the current two chefs to focus on producing every plate to perfection.

The menu changes every few weeks and reflects the best seasonal produce. In the current fashion, descriptions merely list the main ingredients of each dish with no indication of cooking methods. However, the front of house staff team is well informed and have no difficulty answering guests’ questions.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in late September and found much to admire in the food, wine, service and ambience.

An amuse-bouche of two Lindisfarne oysters, their essential briny taste enlivened by a dressing of smoky but not overwhelming Mescal, spicy oregano giving a peppery heat, and a drizzle of gazpacho and lime for sweetness and acidity.

Another amuse comprised a generous bowl of three types of East Coast charcuterie: rich robust saucisson sec, aged and dry salami Picante, and a fragrant Tartufo with truffle and porcini.

Whipped butter with brown crab meat accompanied a small sourdough loaf with a crisp crust and tangy crumb.

A starter of mackerel cured in rice wine and Mirin delighted in its lively freshness. This oily fish was balanced by compressed apple cubes and apple sorbet giving sweetness and acidity, and horseradish cream and wasabi crumb giving a background heat. In colours of silver, green and white, this was a brilliantly conceived and visually stunning dish.Wine: Riesling Federspiel, Weingut Prager, 2017

Another starter of veal sweetbreads was accurately pan roasted to produce a caramelised crust and soft, creamy flesh. Garnished with wood sorrel, these delectable morsels of offal rested on a bed of earthy, silky-smooth celeriac puree.  Garnished with girolle mushrooms the dish was finished with an intense veal jus. This rich, luxurious, almost decadent dish, classically executed, has proved extremely popular. Wine: St Joseph Blanc, Selection d J S Chase, 2014

Our two main courses came with side dishes

Classical cooking was also evident in the first main course. A flavoursome sirloin steak was cooked medium rare and dressed in a deep, glossy Bordelaise sauce. Cubes of bone marrow and Parmesan cubes added richness and a moderate salty crunch. An innovative carrot dauphinoise was also topped with the same crumb. Freshness and a foil the richness was given by a side salad of Isle of Wight tomatoes, basil oil and red onion. Wine: Saintayme St Emilion, Grand Cru 2014

A breast of partridge was precisely cooked and rested to optimise its moist flesh and mild gamey flavour. Topped with pumpkin seed and sage crumb to give texture, and stuffed with its leg meat, foie gras, oats and smoked raisins to give an added surprise, this complex dish was dressed with a smooth, sweet pumpkin puree and a piquant Barberry sauce. Served on the side was a freshly baked brioche stuffed with a parfait of the bird’s liver and topped with pancetta and thyme. This tour de force of game cookery impressed on all fronts: the initial concept; the timing and attention to detail; and the simple, clean presentation of a complex, multi layered dish.  Wine: Savigny Les Beaune Premier Cru, Domaine Savigny 2008

Desserts, often the Achilles Heel of fine dining establishments, did not disappoint in maintaining the high standards of conception and execution.

An impressive autumnal dish showcased the humble damson in three ways:  a light creamy glazed cheesecake; a velvety smooth and intensely flavoured sorbet on crushed shortcake; and a damson gel.

Equally accomplished was the chocolate delice: a mousse of dark chocolate came with a peanut financier, caramel jelly, topped with an exemplary peanut brittle and a quenelle of silky buttermilk sorbet, the gentle sourness of which balanced the richness of the sweeter elements.

Good coffee ended a memorable meal, one enhanced by the welcoming, seamless service under the direction of restaurant manager Glen Montgomery, whose distinguished CV includes Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and the Balmoral Hotel. With a career also as a sommelier, he was able to match wines to dishes with consummate ease as well as describing the wine and dishes in meticulous detail. His professional yet unstuffy approach contributed to the relaxed ambience room of the dining room.

Fine Dining Guide had an opportunity to speak to the chefs. Both have impressive pedigrees: Tomas Gormley (26) was head chef at The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage, after working at Edinburgh’s 21212 and Le Roi Fou, and before that Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles; Sam Yorke (23) worked under chef Dominic Jack at the now closed Castle Terrace Restaurant, then transferred to Tom Kitchin’s Bonnie Badger in Gullane.

Describe the journey from ‘Bad Seeds’ lockdown fine dining takeaway to Heron

Their first meeting to discuss the idea was on January 8th. They continued with Bed Seeds until 8th March, then work on the Heron site progressed from March to July. With the help of those of Sam’s family, who were in the relevant trades, Heron opened on 15th July. The pace was clearly fast, with further developments in store. With a current capacity of 40 covers, there are plans for dining in the lower area and casual dining at the bar, increasing the number to 50.  The arrival of a third chef in the last two weeks will facilitate this and help extend and fine tune the offering. Both chefs commented on how well their restaurant has been received, adding there is room for all types of eateries to co-exist happily in the area.

How do you combine use of artisan suppliers and organic producers with fine dining consistency?

Failures by suppliers could neither be predicted nor planned for. Fortunately, most of their suppliers have been reliable. As they try to change or adapt the menu frequently, continued dependence on the same suppliers does not happen. There have been no major problems since opening.

Do you have any signature dishes?

The sweetbread with celeriac puree starter has been on the menu since opening so could be considered a signature dish. Of the main courses, lobster tail with ginger and chilli ravioli, now off the menu, was also popular. Currently, the partridge dish has proved a winner.

As joint chefs, how are any differences in approach or concept reconciled?

As joint chefs it may take some time to settle on a dish. However, they tend to agree on most things but like to bounce ideas off each other. 

What can you take from your relative backgrounds?

Both spent lot of time in classical French led kitchens as reflected in their current repertoire. Sam worked under a head chef who was more strictly classical, old school with discipline, structure and organisation. In similar fashion, Tomas devleoped his skills with Andrew Fairlie, while considering himself as more experimental.

What is your view of social media?

Tomas is the expert here. The coverage has been most encouraging so far.

What is your ultimate ideal for this restaurant?

The aim is to busy every night!

Restaurant Review: Aurora, Edinburgh (Oct 2021)

Posted on: October 2nd, 2021 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Aurora at 187 Great Junction Street is not in the fashionable part of Leith but on a busy main road lined with small shops and eateries of all kinds. It does not have a waterfront view. It is certainly not the place where you would expect to come across a fine dining restaurant. Its frontage is easily missable and a peek through the window would reveal a narrow, high ceilinged room with minimal decoration and lighting.

And yet Aurora is making waves in the crowded Edinburgh restaurant scene, serving a seven-course tasting menu that could compete with its more established rivals. It has attracted both regular locals and those making a special trip.

This 18-cover restaurant has stripped pine floors and undressed pine tables lit by bulkhead lighting. Wine racks on high shelving are illuminated by spotlights. A few abstract prints decorate the blue walls and succulent plants line the front window sill. Clearly, with the unremarkable décor, furniture and fittings, the focus is all on the food. And what food it is! But first some background on the chef-patron…

Now aged 33, Kamil Witek’s culinary background is far from typical of most chefs. Indeed, he became a chef by accident. In Poland, he entered university with the ultimate aim of becoming an actor. Having realised this may not be the most stable and lucrative profession he turned to the chef world.

As a youngster, Kamil visited Edinburgh and was originally impressed by its lively and colourful culture, especially during the festival, when the city reminded him of his home in Krakow. He moved permanently to Edinburgh seven years ago, first as senior sous chef at The Apartment, then as sous and head chef at Salt Café in Morningside. There he acquired new skills and was given complete freedom to develop the menu, making a name for himself as a promising high-end chef. He eventually decided to open Aurora as a small all-day dining café four years ago.  While this concept only took off at weekends, the monthly evening tasting menu proved very popular, so the menu slowly switched to tasting only.  During lockdowns, popular takeaways and weekend-ready meals paid the bills, outside of that the new tasting concept was operating six months prior to the first lockdown, six months between lockdowns, and during the last three months. Business has been good, so while success is always a relative measure, so far so good.

By his own admission, it is difficult to describe his style of cooking. It is certainly “modern and global”, taking inspiration from different art and cultures, so through his tasting menu he likes to take his guests on a “global journey.” Kamil treats his team of six, three in the kitchen and three front of house, as a family, having worked with some of them in Krakow and at Salt. 

The tasting menu changes four times a year with the seasons. Aurora has been lucky in retaining many of its original customers who have remained loyal through its various changes. As the tasting menu has choices in five of its courses, customers can return to enjoy the same menu but choosing different items. Foodies are coming from greater distances but the core of his clientele remains those who came for breakfast four years ago.

When asked to name a signature dish, Kamil considers campfire potatoes, charred on the outside and soft inside, which proved popular for seven years at Salt and Aurora.  His smoked butter uses the same idea of the scout campfire aroma.

When considering the sampled food offering, it is bold in conception and accomplished in execution, displaying precision in cooking, employing a variety of techniques both classic and contemporary. Meat and fish cookery is accurately timed, enabling their true flavours to shine. Saucing is a particular strength, judiciously applied to highlight the main ingredient.  Influences are international but combinations of ingredients are always harmonious, with balance in tastes, textures and temperatures. Equal care is given to vegetarian options, with a variety of popular and less well-known produce being used. Attention to detail is meticulous. The plating is clean, the presentation is beautiful and portions are generous.

Pricing of the seven-course menu at £52, which includes an amuse bouche and petit fours, is a steal for cooking of this skill using top-notch ingredients. The ubiquitous listing of ingredients for each dish, with no indication of cooking methods, is also evident here.

The wine list is mainly Old World with ungreedy markups.  A flight of matching wines is £48, More interesting is the non-alcoholic matching selection priced at £30 created by manager /sommelier Cezar. The use of herbal essences, botanicals, non-alcoholic bitters, kombucha, vermouth, homemade lemongrass lemonade, calamansi, and lapsang souchong tea all featured in the flight we chose.

Fine Dining Guide visited Aurora on a weekday evening in September and was overwhelmed by the brilliance of the seven-course summer tasting menu.

A stunning amuse bouche featured a deep-fried potato flour parcel encasing fried egg yolk and topped with truffle shavings. This heavenly combination of crisp pastry, warm liquid centre and the heady fragrance of the luxurious fungus, to be consumed in one mouthful to avoid a mess, proved an original, opener.

A warm sourdough loaf was partnered with potato skin butter smoked under a cloche.

For the second course, a well-seasoned, sweet tomatillo gazpacho and refreshing cucumber sorbet with smoked almonds was enveloped by a cloud of cucumber foam which needed more umph to elevate the dish. It proved to be a minor flaw in the whole menu.

On the second course, a “Butterfly Salad” included radicchio and Chinese leaves, blanched to reduce their bitterness; cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and cannellini beans; and six plant-based sauces including red wine balsamic, herb olive oil and beetroot jus. This colourful plate had soft and crisp textures with well-balanced dressings.

As an alternative on the second course, a plump scallop was seared to produce a caramelised crust and soft, sweet flesh. Toasted rice flakes gave a contrasting texture while passion fruit puree, wasabi aioli and dried shrimp paste added sharpness, a gentle heat and an umami note.

The third course featured an accurately timed pan-fried fillet of cod, resulting in delicate, moist and translucent white flakes of fish. It was served with a herbaceous plankton sauce, pickled daikon for contrasting texture and lemon oil and yuzu pearls for acidity. This dish fully demonstrated the versatility of the chef using classic and molecular cookery.

The fourth course comprised alternative pasta dishes.

The wild mushroom open raviolo was a cornucopia of fragrant fungi. Layered above the silky pasta were artichoke cream, sauteed morels, chanterelles and shavings of summer black truffles. A sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts finished this earthy, aromatic dish of contrasting tastes and textures.

Zlikrofi, a Slovenian raviolo, was different in tone and shape and thicker than Italian pasta. Stuffed with potato and guanciale pork, and topped with Italian Montasio cheese, parsley sauce, fermented garlic powder, and powdered grisinii sticks, this was a more robust, hearty alternative to the open ravioli.

For the fifth course, we both chose the suckling pig. It had been cooked sous vide for 24 hours, pulled and crisped up. This tender, flavoursome porcine treat simply melted in the mouth. It worked well with the three accompanying sauces: a rich chicken jus, a sweet pineapple puree and punchy tiger milk of fish paste, chilli and lime. Potato glass chips, charred spring onions, and purple heritage carrot added crisp texture and a gentle smokiness to this original and accomplished dish.

A pre-dessert of beer foam and a tangy lemon gel satisfyingly refreshed the palate

Desserts showed the same degree of invention and flair as the preceding dishes.

A pear poached in rhubarb and elderflower Edinburgh gin had a soft, yielding texture and pronounced flavour. It was partnered with a velvety smooth quenelle of fennel and ginger ice cream and was topped with honey tuile, providing a light, crisp garnish.

Equally delicious was the light but rich dark chocolate mousse with tonka bean. Partnered with mixed berry ice cream, both were encased with crisp meringue shards flavoured with garum masala. This whole dessert proved to be an inspired combination of different textures and temperatures, with a sweet, sharp and mildly spicy flavour.

Excellent petit fours of passion fruit marshmallows, pistachio macaroons and chocolate truffles completed a memorable meal, one enhanced by the welcoming, efficient and unobtrusive service of Marta and Cezar who explained the drink pairings he had created with enthusiasm.

Kamil Witek has clearly made the right decision in only offering a tasting menu. From a business perspective, it is the most efficient and least wasteful form of fine dining catering. More importantly, it allows him to demonstrate his creative genius and refined skills with assured consistency.  He hopes to someday expand to a bigger site in Leith, prior to lockdown he had half an eye on the new Little Chartroom site. Should the opportunity arise again, he wants to stay in Leith, where the most vibrant, growing and interesting part of the city offers the most significant opportunities. Fine Dining Guide hopes to return to sample another seasonal menu at Aurora and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Noizé, London (Sept 2021)

Posted on: September 20th, 2021 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Noize Exterior

Noizé is named after a village in the Loire valley where, at an early age, proprietor Mathieu Germond absorbed the rustic and convivial atmosphere of food and wine from his grandparents. These essential features characterise his restaurant which opened in October 2017.   Having decided at the age of 13 to follow a career in hospitality, Mathieu was well travelled by the time he came to London and to the gastronomic heights of then Michelin two-starred The Captial Hotel under Eric Chavot.  However, most London dining foodies are familiar with Mathieu as the long-serving front of house leader of Pied a Terre, a restaurant where he skillfully developed bonds with the clientele that would survive the test of time.  His understated manner, belies an effortless charm and passion, together with an enthusiasm for wine and service, that set him apart as one of the leaders in his field. Now Mathieu takes pride in the relaxed informality of Noizé, reviving the joys of an a la carte menu devoid of canapes, amuses–bouche and pre desserts.

The wine list, leaning on Mathieu’s extensive knowledge and experience, is hugely impressive. It features the best of both worlds, with over 50 labels under £50 but also comprises a wine connoisseur’s paradise, as the mark up is fixed cost plus, so the better the wine, the better the value to the point where some are below retail price for the vintage offered. This is a steal in London terms. It is hardly surprising that wine lovers and those in the trade are frequent visitors to the restaurant.

Proprietor Mathieu Germond (Left) & Chef George Farrugia (Right)

Chef George Farrugia, who has been at the helm for just six weeks, has injected new vitality into the kitchen. Rejecting law as a career after graduating in the subject, his first experience of a professional kitchen was in a Greek restaurant in Manchester, where he grew up. He progressed to Koffmann’s at the Berkeley Hotel where he gained his classical training. When Eric Chavot set up his eponymous brasserie in Covent Garden, George was part of the team that helped it gain a Michelin star. He stayed there for four years as sous chef, consolidating his skills before moving on to leading positions at the Chelsea Arts Club and then Bob Bob Ricard. His role immediately before arriving at Noizé was at Fenchurch Sky Garden where his own style was allowed to blossom.

Fine Dining Guide visited Noizé on a weekday evening in September, meeting its owner and chef, and finding much to admire in its ambience, food, wine, and service.

Located on the corner of Whitfield Street and Scala Street, in a site once occupied by Oliver Dabbous’ eponymous restaurant, the severe grey industrial chic of the two-level wooden-floored interior has been toned down. Turquoise walls, red and grey velvet upholstery, and linen tablecloths give a more refined feel. Well-spaced tables are lit by opaque globes. The basement level, including a table for six in a recess that can be curtained off, has a slightly more relaxed quality than the smaller ground floor level. Overall, however, the ambience is informal with a reassuring buzz from contented diners.

George Farrugia leads a brigade of three full and one part-timer, two of whom followed him from Sky Kitchen. Given his Cypriot roots and the influence of his French wife, Mediterranean flavours emerge from dishes using seasonal British ingredients. A northern influence, such as black pudding and the use of deeply flavoured jus, is also evident in some dishes. All his was demonstrated in his appearance on the 2020 series of The Great British Menu, which highlighted his status as a rising star.

Cooking techniques are both classical and contemporary. Poaching to order, pickling, curing and pan frying are much in evidence. The timing of meat, offal and fish dishes is precise, allowing their true flavours to shine. Saucing is judicious in quantity, never overwhelming the main ingredient. Dishes are well balanced in terms of tastes, textures and temperatures. Ingredient combinations are harmonious, and presentation is clean, avoiding the urge to overdress the plate.

A blackboard menu emphasises the casual and rustic nature of the restaurant’s offering. Portions are generous in the French brasserie tradition and pricing is realistic without being greedy. Compared with similar establishments in the West End, Noizé is a relative bargain which helps to explain its success.

Four Snacks at £5 each are offered. The three sampled proved deliciously moreish, but our appetites were constrained by the thought of three courses to follow:

Gougeres had light, crisp choux pastry and a flavoursome oozing cheese filling.

Soft, boneless chicken wings, glazed in a piquant BBQ sauce, came perched on celeriac remoulade

Succulent veal and gently spiced harissa croquettes made the most of braised and shredded offcuts which were coated in a crisp crumb and deep-fried.

Five Starters ranging from £9.50 to £13 offered a good range of choice, showing the versatility of the kitchen

Beef carpaccio, pre-cured like Bresola, proved a taste and textural delight. Delicately seasoned so as not to overwhelm the meltingly thin sliced meat, the dish was dressed with gently pickled Enoki mushrooms, shreds of toasted sourdough and a sprinkling of hazelnuts for contrasting texture, and dotted with truffle aioli as a final flourish.

A generous portion of confit salmon simply melted in the mouth. Its softness was balanced by crisp squid ink tuiles. Soft boiled quail’s egg and potato salad added richness while pickled fennel and horseradish sauce gave the astringency the dish needed.

A special of veal sweetbread more than justified its price supplement. Coated in a blackened spice rub, this delectable prized piece of offal was accurately seared to produce a caramelised crust, whilst retaining its rich flavour and creamy texture. Baby leek and caramelised apple were appropriate garnishes, the dish being brought together by a sauce of confit onion, crisped sweetbread membrane, madeira, veal and chicken stock, with grain mustard being added at the end for a floral punch. Unashamedly rich, this dish was made even more decadent by an accompanying bowl of silky smooth pomme puree.

Five Mains from £19 to £26 were offered.

As with the starters, dishes look deceptively simple but involve a series of techniques and stages.

 A breast of pre poached Guinea fowl had been rested then pan roasted to order. Topped with dehydrated quinoa which had been blanched, dried and fried, it produced a crisp coating that balanced the succulent, moist flesh. Potato and black pudding terrine, wild mushrooms, spinach and Jerusalem artichoke provided earthy, bold flavours to enhance the mild, delicate flavour of the bird.  A light jus completed this dish perfectly.

A fillet of halibut was poached to order to avoid overcooking and to retain its smooth, delicate piscine texture and mild, sweet taste.  White coco beans provided substance with contrasting texture and earthy flavour, the dish being bought together by a complex broth of mussels, Datterini tomato and vegetable pesto.

A special main course of pigeon featured precisely timed breasts to maximise flavour and texture, preventing them from becoming an experience more akin to liver. Accompanied by its soft confit leg, beetroot puree, potato cake and a rich jus, this was classic cooking at its best.

Five Desserts were priced from £8.50 to £12.50. There are also various cheese options.

A signature dish of ultra-creamy rice pudding featured delicate poached pear and, for contrasting texture and flavour, puffed black rice. This dish also reflects George’s northern roots.

Rum baba was classically rendered, its savarin base being light and generously infused with rum syrup. Pineapple carpaccio gave a textural sweetness and Chantilly a creamy richness.

Chocolate de Crème comprised layers of bittersweet ganache, pistachio crumb and a deeply flavoured pistachio ice cream sprinkled with crystalised pistachios. This rich, indulgent dessert successfully married contrasting tastes, textures and temperatures.

Good coffee and truffles ended an enjoyable meal, enhanced by the seamless, informative and unobtrusive service of waitress Severine and sommelier Phillipe.

Clearly, George Farrugia has made an impressive start, confirming Noizé’s place as a worthy contender in a highly competitive field. Short of another lockdown, the restaurant will go from strength to strength, justifying its already solid reputation for good food, wine and service. Fine Dining Guide will return to sample other dishes and will follow its fortunes 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.

SouthsideScran_Turbot

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.

Pub Review: The Plough Inn, Cold Aston. (October 2019)

Posted on: October 28th, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The Plough Inn lies in the centre of the beautiful Gloucestershire village of Cold Aston. Accessed from a single track road off the A249, between Stow and Cirencester, the honey coloured stone walled, slate roofed buildings and wide open spaces typify the near idyllic attractions of Cotswold village life. Little wonder that roughly 30% of current residents are second homeowners.

This is where owner Oxford graduate and management consultant Thomas Hughes and his partner Josie have chosen to raise a family and establish a business which gives full expression to their passions of food, drink, hospitality and design. Thomas’s previous experience, including leading roles at the Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach and at Peter de Savary’s Cary Arms and Spa in Devon, has clearly stood him in good stead.

The Hughes took over in 2017, adding to the extensive renovation which had already taken place under the previous ownership. In particular, the three renovated and decorated ensuite double bedrooms have allowed Josie to demonstrate her talents in this field. 

Dating from 1687, The Plough Inn retains many of its older features. In the front half of the building there are heavy oak doors, flagstone floor, mullioned windows, an inglenook fireplace, and a low beamed ceiling with candle and wall lighting. Renovation in the brighter back dining area beyond the bar includes wooden flooring, French windows, skylights, spotlighting and splashes of designer wallpaper. These contemporary touches harmonise with the historic charm of the Grade 2 listed building. Well-spaced striped pine tables accommodate up to 85 diners, whilst the outside terraces, complete with Rattan furniture and parasols, allow for al fresco dining.

[Chris Hopkinson Barman; Thomas Hughes owner; Jonathan Grey chef]

Thomas Hughes and his chef, who has worked with Michelin starred John Burton-Race, have designed an attractive food and beverage offering which has already attracted a loyal following, including those from the two neighbouring villages which lack a hostelry. Being close to Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach, The Plough can also gain custom from those who prefer village to town pubs.  

A sophisticated beverage selection is much in evidence. As a Free House, a wide range of craft beers and real ales is on offer.

The wine list has a good selection from Old and New Worlds which avoids greedy mark ups. The range of spirits, especially gin, is impressive. Also of interest are the “Nightcaps” such as the White Russian of Black Cow Vodka, Kahlu and cream.

The provenance of high quality local ingredients is a priority: Cotswold leg bar eggs, local wild mushrooms, Rollright Chipping Norton cheese and Gloucester Old Spot pork all featured on the current menu. 30+ day aged ruby red steaks and other meat products are sourced from Martin’s Meats and Ruby and White where animal welfare is important. Fish is supplied daily from the renowned Kingfishers of Brixham. There are reliable local suppliers of seasonal game and vegetables.

Bar snacks such as chicken wings with harissa glaze (£5.50) or Padron peppers with olive oil and salt (£4.00) are available to those who prefer a lighter bite.

The seasonally changing carte is competitively priced, offering a good range of traditional pub classics with more innovative dishes. Vegetarians and pescatarians are also have an embarrassment of choice.

On the current Autumn menu eight starters priced £7.50 to £9 feature popular dishes such as Devilled kidneys and Steak tartare alongside the more adventurous Palourde clams with nduja, smoked lovage and spring onions. There are seven mains, £12.50 to £18, two salads, £15-£16, two steak dishes, £17 to £24, with a choice of sauces, and two sharing dishes, cote de beouf or whole sea bass with accompaniments, £60 and £35 respectively. Five desserts come at £6.60 each with ice creams and sorbets at £2 per scoop. Three English cheeses from a choice of five are priced at £9.00. At weekends two or three specials are added to the menu.

A good value weekday lunchtime fixed priced menu offers two courses or three courses £15 or £17 respectively.

In addition, there are special deals: Steak nights on Tuesday (steak frites for two and a bottle of house red for £30); Winter Warmer Wednesdays (e.g. pie, coq au vin, beef bourguignon for two and a house drink for £30); and Dirty Thursday ( a sharing BBQ platter – all home produced – and a can of craft beer for £15 per person).

Given the quality of the ingredients and the expertise of the kitchen, the pricing is keenly judged and weighs favourably with similar establishments in this highly competitive field.

The skills shown in kitchen are high. Dishes are precisely timed and balanced in their ingredient composition, taste and texture. Sauces benefit from stocks made from scratch and meat dishes, in particular, benefit from the use of a “Bertha” charcoal fired oven, which is also used as an in-house smoker. Overall, this is honest, robust cooking with a degree of flair.

A warm greeting from owner Thomas Hughes on our Friday lunchtime made us feel most welcome. Throughout the meal, the service was friendly, informative and unobtrusive.

A charcuterie board starter was generous in quantity and attractive in presentation. Suffolk chorizo had a gentle smokiness and not overpowering spice; the sweet earthy flavour of venison salami was enhanced by an appropriate amount of fat; pulled barbequed pork  was rich and indulgent; celeriac remoulade added a lively mustardy crunch; and cornichons gave a tart, mildly sweet freshness. Served with toasted sourdough and good quality butter, this was a meal in itself.

Simpler, but equally delicious was a dish of sauteed Chanterelles on toasted sourdough topped with a Cotswold Legbar fried egg. The meaty textured mushroom with its velvety consistency had a rich, earthy flavour with a hint of pepperiness. The creamy, dense flavoured egg yolk served as a sauce whilst the toasted bread gave contrast in taste and texture. The shaved black truffle did not overwhelm, but the dish did not need this expensive ingredient.

The cooking of a flavoursome Tomahawk pork chop in a main course was accurately timed in the Bertha oven to retain its moisture and succulence. A wholegrain mustard sauce cut the richness of the meat. Bubble and squeak, tender stem broccoli and green beans were well judged accompaniments to this hearty, comforting dish.

A schnitzel of guinea fowl breast ran the risk of becoming too dry if not treated with care. As it was, the cooking was well judged, leading to a soft, moist interior and crisp crumbed exterior. The gentle gaminess of the bird was lifted by a butter and caper sauce which gave richness and a moderate piquancy. Parmentier potatoes were well-seasoned and seasonal greens properly cooked to al dente texture.

Two contrasting desserts were selected

Warm sticky date pudding, moist and fluffy, floated on a rich butterscotch sauce partnered with a velvety smooth vanilla ice cream. This indulgent dish of contrasting tastes, textures and temperatures has proved an irresistible dessert in many restaurants, and here was no exception.

Cotswold gin and tonic cheesecake was an innovative take on a popular dessert. It might have been improved with less gelatine and more acidity, the small pieces of fresh lime being insufficient to boost the taste. Although the shards of meringue gave contrasting texture and sweetness, the main element of this dessert needed a lift.

Despite this hiccup, our visit to the Plough Inn was an overall success. The buzz of contented diners on a busy Friday afternoon was a testament to the popularity it has already gained.  A great deal of investment and hard work has been ploughed – excuse the pun – into this exciting addition to the Cotswold dining scene. Fine Dining Guide hopes to visit again to sample other items – perhaps on one of the special nights – and may even book an overnight stay. In the meantime, we will follow its progress with interest.

The Boxing Hare, Swerford, September 2019

Posted on: September 23rd, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The Boxing Hare in Swerford is a relatively new and exciting addition to the north Oxfordshire dining scene. Having opened only two years ago, it is located on the A361 between Chipping Norton and Banbury, in a region of highly competitive dining pubs. Its chances of long term success are ensured by the distinguished pedigrees of its owner and head chef. Restaurateur Antony Harris has 30 years’ experience in central London, notably at the Canal Brasserie (1987) and the highly acclaimed First Floor Dining Room and Private Dining Rooms in Notting Hill from 1998. Equally successful is head chef Nick Anderson, who was given his first head chef role by Antony some 30 years ago. His career, after working four years with Antony in the 90s, included the winning of three AA rosettes and two Michelin stars. Moving to Oxfordshire, he spent seven years cooking in Hampton Poyle before being reunited with Antony in 2017, when both were seeking new challenges. They saw encouraging opportunities in the Masons Arms which they rechristened the Boxing Hare, a name chosen by Nick and which, unlike many country pubs, is unique in the UK, (except for a pizzeria in Belfast!)

With ample parking space and spacious gardens with scenic Cotswold views, the handsome red bricked building, embellished with a giant white hare above the door and a huge model of the animal on the pathway, is entered through a cosy bar. The main low ceilinged, oak floored dining room features handsome panelling in the darker raised level and Cotswold blue green tones in the lower level window area. Well-spaced, undressed pine tables accommodate 80 diners when the restaurant is full. Discrete lighting and monochrome prints of the grounds of Blenheim Palace by Peter Seaward adorn the walls of this room and the smaller dining area adjacent to the bar and kitchen. Rather than pumping major expenditure into creating a luxurious ambience, the owner has retained the charming, rustic atmosphere of a country pub: warm and inviting, relaxed and informal. The focus is very much on the food.

[Left Antony Griffith Harris and his partner Stacey C Elder, alongside chef Nick Anderson and his partner and sous chef, Kate Anderson, right]

Locality and seasonality are paramount in the sourcing of top quality produce. In particular, ribs of beef are bought from nearby Paddock Farm and dry aged for 50 days in two cooling cabinets. Indeed, speciality steaks are a very popular choice on the menu. Autumn sees a variety of game dishes offered, with deer sometimes supplied by local farmers. However, quality may necessitate buying from further afield such as Scottish girolles, Creedy Carver Duck from Devon or Jamon from Spain.

Sharply honed skills are shown in the harmonious composition and execution of dishes. Balance of flavours, tastes and textures are much in evidence. Accurate timing, whether in preparing a la minute, as with the steak dishes, or in long slow cooking, as with slow roast pork belly is precisely gauged. Saucing is another strength, whether in a red wine jus for duck confit or mustard sauce for smoked haddock. Desserts, the speciality of Kate, sous chef and wife of Nick Anderson, are equally accomplished. Presentation of dishes are clean, avoiding any contrived, and portions are generous.

With only four in the kitchen, the menu offers a surprisingly wide choice. Unlike other places, a good value prix fixe menu, £15 /£19 for two / three courses features smaller portions from selected choices from the carte rather than separate dishes. The main menu has 3 appetisers. Seven first courses, 13 main courses including, three steak options, and seven desserts.

In a September menu, a variety of tastes are catered for, from humble comfort food to ambitious, luxurious creations.  Choices include a range of British and French classics, such as sausages and mash, fish and chips, Provencal fish soup and duck confit. There are some Italian and Spanish influences – witness Burrata Pugliese with Isle of Wight with heritage tomato and olive oil salad, basil oil, pecorino and summer truffle, and Jamon de Teruel DOP, rocket, shallots, shaved parmesan and Arbequina olive oil. Essentially, the Boxing Duck cooks what people like to eat, shunning outlandish or fashionable dishes which have minority appeal and a limited lifespan.

Prices are sensibly realistic given the skill in cooking and the excellent ingredients. First courses range from £7.50 to £12; mains from £14.50 to £40, with a 300 ounce cote de beouf at £68 for two; and desserts £2.50 per scoop of ice cream or sorbet to £8 for chocolate fondant. Cheese is priced individually at £4 or £9 for three.

Given the varied nature of the clientele, from butchers and farmers to the well-heeled guests of the nearby Soho Farmhouse and families who flock to the popular Sunday lunch, both the wide choice menu and the attractive pricing are well-judged to maintain customer loyalty.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a midweek evening in September, finding much to admire in the cooking and service. Although tempted, we decided to avoid the steak dishes and sides, which probably did not need starters or desserts, opting instead for three courses which show the breadth and depth of the cooking skills.

The first courses did not disappoint and augured well for the following courses

Twice baked soufflé, with its rich, mature cave aged cheddar, parmesan crust and accurate seasoning, had a perfectly balanced flavour and light, soft texture, with not a hint of egginess. Blanched spinach added contrast in taste and texture with a degree of freshness, whilst the sauce was mercifully not too creamy, unlike another famous version. This dish, perfected by sous chef Kate, was indeed, a tour de force of vegetarian cookery.

Classic Provencal fish soup was fittingly thick and deeply flavoured. Accompaniments of croutons, grated gruyere and a brilliant saffron and garlic rouille, invited the diner to float the anointed bread on the soup creating an even richer, more indulgent mouthfeel.

Both these starters could be viewed as acid tests for an accomplished kitchen: tests passed here with flying colours!

Duck confit is ubiquitous in many pub menus, but rarely executed as well as here. Creedy Carver duck was properly salted and marinated with star anis, fennel seeds and other spices for extra flavour. Slow cooked in fat to produce succulent flesh falling off the bone and finished in the oven to crisp the skin, it was a model of its kind. Partnered with gratin dauphinoise and fresh peas and broad beans, the dish was bought together by a deep red wine jus reduced to a smooth, rich consistency and pronounced flavour.

Smoked haddock and mash was another accomplished dish. The fish, sourced from Alfred Enderby in Grimsby, had been gently poached in butter to add richness and balance the gentle smokiness of the delicately flaking fish. The potato mash and spinach were well seasoned whilst the poached egg enhanced the wholegrain mustard sauce which finished the dish.

For dessert, chocolate fondant is one where there is nowhere to hide. Perfectly timed to produce that much anticipated oozing centre, the salted caramel sauce helped balance the richness and sweetness. Chocolate and almond crumb gave contrasting texture as did a silky smooth, well flavoured vanilla ice cream.

Peach Melba is a dessert which, over the years, has often been adulterated with superfluous garnishes. Here it simply presented in stemmed glass dish, allowing the three main ingredients to shine: soft poached peach, the same velvety vanilla ice cream and a sieved, smooth and not overly sweet raspberry coulis.

Cheerful, welcoming and knowledgeable service was at pains to put us at our ease and enhanced the whole experience.

The Boxing Hare is certainly worth a second visit, perhaps to try a signature starter of Cotswold gin and beetroot cured sea trout, or a 50 dry aged steak, or iced peanut butter parfait with honeycomb and caramelised banana or all three! Fine Dining Guide will monitor its fortunes with interest, confident that its reputation will increase as time progresses.

Restaurant Review: Condita, Edinburgh (Feb 2019)

Posted on: February 27th, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

 “Small is beautiful.” This maxim could well apply to Condita with its lack of reception and bar, two in the kitchen, three at front of house, six tables, only two dining options, and a wine list of 20 bottles.

Condita Restaurant, Edinburgh

The exterior and location are distinctly low profile: the unremarkable white frontage bearing the name Condita, with blinds obscuring the view from outside, gives little indication this is a restaurant, except for a small notice in the window. Its Salisbury Place address in the Newington district, south of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town, lacks the advantage of a central location or the gastronomic reputation of Leith or Stockbridge.

These limitations are seen as virtues by owner Mark Slaney who opened Condita in November 2018. Certainly, a reception and bar are impracticable given the small size of the room. Two tasting menus make economic sense, minimising food waste. The need to book in advance reinforces this. A short, mainly organic and biodynamic wine list from artisan producers, also reflects the owner’s experience in his parents’ restaurant and as a commercial wine buyer.  Six tables facilitate a high staff to guest ratio, giving well-focused personal service and enables the kitchen to function at optimum level.  The understated exterior belies the eclectic décor and gastronomic delights inside, whilst the location in an area bereft of fine dining establishments, offers a much needed neighbourhood restaurant of quality. Indeed, with detailed records kept of diners – an advantage of a small restaurant – repeat custom is already evident, including one couple visiting three times in the three months since opening.

Conor Toomey and Mark Slaney (Pic: Neil Hanna)

Not that Condita only aims at a local clientele. By engaging Conor Toomey, a chef with a highly distinguished pedigree, it will inevitably attract discerning foodies from further afield. Conor built his reputation as Michael Wignall’s sous chef at the Latymer restaurant at Pennyhill Park in Surrey, which held two Michelin stars, and as head chef at Storrs Hall hotel in Windermere, Cumbria and Amberley Castle in Sussex.  Most recently, he led the kitchens at the Michelin starred restaurant at the Isle of Eriska hotel in Oban.

His current position, far removed from those large, corporate establishments, allows him greater freedom to develop his repertoire in line with Mark’s strategy of championing artisan producers and keeping the operation small. Although it is still evolving, Conor’s cooking, based on classical roots but using contemporary techniques, has already reached stellar levels. Highly technical and complex, it employs organic seasonal produce, including fruit and vegetables from a Victorian kitchen garden in the Borders. As Conor says, “It’s all about the ingredients.” Dishes involve harmonious tastes, textures, temperatures and colours, with care taken to avoid over elaboration.  Invention, moderated by a clear understanding of how to maximise natural flavours, are much in evidence. Precise timing, with judicious seasoning and saucing, showcase seafood, meat and game at their best, reflecting great respect for the raw material. Attention to even the tiniest detail is astonishing. Beautiful presentation, on a variety of porcelain, slate and stone, is clean and precise without being too contrived.

An element of fun is also evident. The only clue to the eight or five course surprise tasting menu is a single strip of card with hand drawn images of an ingredient for each course. These may comprise the main or a minor component – the diner is left guessing. Added to the mystery is the addition of “snacks” which may arrive between courses and be larger than a course itself!

Prices – £80 for eight courses, £50 for five –  are realistic, given the quality of the ingredients and expertise in cooking. They also compare favourably with London restaurants of a similar standard.

A visit on a weekday evening in February finally revealed Condita’s high ceilinged, white walled interior, adorned with cascading hand-painted paper drapes designed by Rachel, Mark’s artist partner. In keeping with the food and drink philosophy, the décor moves with the seasons, the silver and black design reflecting the tone and mood of winter. Well-spaced polished wooden tables, which usually seat two or four but can be extended for six, are arranged in lower and raised areas with spotlighting and candles giving discreet lighting.

Initially, from a choice of three autumnal beverages, we chose a non-alcoholic pear juice. We declined a wine flight with each course, opting instead for just three tasting glasses.

Mussel

A playful first course featured a Shetland mussel poached in seaweed, resting on cod roe mousse, encased in a delicate “shell” of thin potato. This was a delightful composition of fresh tastes and contrasting textures.

Haddock

Similarly inventive was the second course of poached haddock, where the mildly sweet flakes of soft white flesh were sandwiched between crisp sheets of chicken skin. Smoked creme fraiche and egg yolk puree added richness, whilst pickled seaweed gave the required degree of acidity. The presentation of this dish, on grey slate garnished with tree bark and leaves, was stunning.

Next came two “snacks.”

Snacks

Slow cooked ox tongue and tail (above left), meltingly tender morsels of deliciousness, showed how excellent use could be made of humble, neglected parts of the animal. Enveloped in a potato foam of ethereal lightness, the effect was rich, but not heavy, fittingly appropriate for a snack.

A glazed chicken wing (above right) cooked on a Japanese barbecue had a gentle smokiness which complimented the richness of the smoked eel hidden inside. This marriage of modest and extravagant ingredients worked particularly well.

The vegetarian course saw different preparations of celeriac: salt baked and puree, both of which accentuated its sweetness; in a lively, crunchy remoulade; and as delicate crisps. This well-conceived and deftly executed dish demonstrated the versatility of the ugly looking vegetable.

At this stage, and presumably to stop diners gorging themselves ahead on a multi course menu, we were presented with a warm sour dough loaf baked daily by sous chef Spyros. With a crisp crust and firm, mildly lactic crumb, it was a model of its kind.

Pheasant

Expecting another vegetarian course, this time showcasing salsify, we were surprised and delighted to be served pheasant. A notoriously difficult bird to master, it was cooked to perfection with moist, crisp skinned breast and a flavoursome pastilla of its leg meat and offal. Salsify, with its creamy white flesh, added a crunchy texture and a taste similar to oyster. The dish was bought together by a light, well balanced thyme and bay jus, which complimented the gentle gaminess of the pheasant.

Venison

Misled again by the “menu” into expecting celery as a main component, we were spoilt with a second game course! The loin of venison was accurately timed to a blushing medium rare, maximising its deep flavour and smooth, firm texture. A disc of black pudding provided a softer, earthy element that worked well with the venison. Golden beets and apple puree gave sweetness and acidity to balance the richness, scurvy grass added a peppery note, and celery offered a crunchy freshness. Finished with a light jus, this inventive dish was a tour de force of game cookery.

The cheese course of brie, fresh and pickled pear, pear gel, hazelnuts and wafer thin flatbread, showed yet another imaginative approach to simple, seasonal ingredients.

Desserts, often the anti-climax of tasting menus, did not disappoint, being equally if not more accomplished than the savoury courses.

Parsnip Dessert

Parsnip in a dessert has been tried elsewhere, but rarely as successful as here, where the parfait and puree were of exemplary consistency and smoothness.

Rhubarb Dessert

Even better was a composite dessert featuring forced rhubarb with white chocolate, almond custard in edible silver, white chocolate panna cotta, and rosemary crumble. Although unapologetically rich, the herbal and sharp elements from the rosemary and rhubarb ensured it was not too sweet.

Black coffee with home-made Garibaldi biscuits and beetroot and raspberry teacakes completed a memorable meal. The gastronomic experience was enhanced by welcoming, knowledgeable and unobtrusive service involving the whole team: Rachel conducted the meet and greet and served the pre-prandial drinks; Marisol, our waitress, served some of the courses, assisted by sous chef Spyros and Conor himself; and Mark took our order and presented the wines – a floral and honeyed Fiano, a rich and spicy Le Mani, a full bodied red Pignatello and a sweet Jurancon – with a succinct description of their provenance and characteristics.

Condita Team: Marisol, Rachel, Spyros, Conor and Mark

Condita comes from the Latin to “set up”. The evidence after just three months opening in the low season for restaurants is most encouraging, well on the way to meeting Mark’s vision of “making people happy” with an intimate dining experience of fine food and wine. Overall, the team have now established a restaurant of which they can be justifiably proud. Fine Dining Guide wishes Condita well and hopes to return to sample a different seasonal menu. We look forward in eager anticipation to its inclusion in the respected national restaurant guides.

Restaurant Review: Bistro Deluxe by Paul Tamburrini, Edinburgh (Feb 2019)

Posted on: February 25th, 2019 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Paul Tamburrini
Bistro Deluxe by Paul Tamburrini

Bistro Deluxe by Paul Tamburrini at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel is a welcome addition to the rapidly expanding high end restaurant scene in Edinburgh. Located near the base of the Royal Mile, adjacent to the Scottish Parliament, it fills a much needed gap in Edinburgh’s Old Town which is  which largely bereft of fine dining establishments. At least SMPs have a neighbouring restaurant of quality away from the bustle of their own establishment. However, it is attracting attention from a much wider field of discerning foodies.

Interior

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. Dominating the view as you walk in is the PT motif of the eponymous chef.

Paul Tamburrini’s impressive CV includes leading positions in prestigious Scottish restaurants. He was executive chef at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow, then head chef at Cameron House, Loch Lomond, and, most recently, chef director at the Honours Brasserie in Edinburgh. His association with Michelin starred Martin Wishart is therefore well established, so it was only a matter of time before Paul set up under his own name.

Chef Paul Tamburrini

Paul’s confident cuisine is inspired by renowned French chefs Guy Savoy, Michel Bras, and Frédéric Anton but bears its own creative hallmark. Sourcing of the finest, mainly Scottish, produce is the essential prerequisite for dishes with sometimes unexpected yet compatible combinations. Variations in taste, texture, temperature and colour give interest to precisely timed, finely tuned cooking. Plates are not overcrowded, sometimes with only three ingredients, allowing the main one to shine, and letting flavours to speak for themselves. Presentation, on a variety of porcelain and earthenware, is clean and precise.

The a la carte menu, which moves with the seasons, has six to seven choices in each course in addition to oysters, five steaks from the Josper Grill, and two sharing dishes – rack of Scottish lamb and cote de beouf. This is a sensible balance between the creative and more established, safer offerings. Pricing is realistic, given the quality of the ingredients and the skill in cooking. Appetisers range from £7.50 to £12.50, mains from £17.50 to £25, and desserts from £8 to £16, the latter being a tarte tatin and panna cotta ice cream for two.

A wide range of Old and New World countries feature on the 80 bottle wine list, with prices mainly between £20 and £50.

A visit on a quiet evening in February lacked the exciting buzz of a busy weekend service but was no less enjoyable for that. Moreover, without major distractions, we could concentrate on the food, which certainly did not lack sparkle.

A tasting menu, featuring smaller portions from the carte, delighted in its range of deftly prepared courses.

Foie Gras and Potato Mousse

We began with simple yet sophisticated starter: a seared tranche of foie gras with warm potato mousse. The delectable piece of buttery offal was partnered with an ethereally light, silky potato mousse. Although both elements were rich and fully flavoured, the overall effect was not heavy, indeed, we were left wanting more! Overall, to marry the extravagant with the humble was an inspired idea which worked well, reflecting an assurance in the cooking. (Wine: Weitgasse Gruner-Veltliner, Mantelhof)  

Beetroot

Next came a pressed terrine of baby beetroot, which, unlike many inferior versions, was not too gelatinous. Vibrant in colour with a good balance of sweet and earthy flavours, it was accompanied with a yogurt foam topped with dried broccoli crumbs which gave contrasting textures and tastes.  (Wine: Semillon /Sauvignon Blanc, Fraser Gallop Estate)

Orkney Scallop with Cauliflower

Orkney scallops are one of the treasures of Scottish seafood. Here, the cooking did full justice to this highly prized bivalve.  Accurately timed to produce a seared crust with soft opaque flesh, it retained its essential sweet flavour and succulent texture. Along with a smear of – now ubiquitous – cauliflower puree, the scallop was paired with caramelised cauliflower florets of contrasting texture and dressed with a fragrant, but not overpowering curry oil. These elements complemented each other well and with only three ingredients on the plate, there was nowhere to hide, not that was there was any need with this dish. (Wine: Weitgasse Gruner-Veltliner, Mantelhof)

Ox cheek and mash

Equally accomplished was a course of ox cheek braised in red wine. The meltingly soft texture and deep flavour of the meat, the result of long slow cooking, was enhanced by the addition of mushrooms, baby onions and lardons, giving a bourguignon effect.  Smooth, smoky mash proved the perfect accompaniment, soaking up the rich sauce, more of which was offered separately. (Wine: Pinot Noir, Garzon Single Vineyard)

Key Lime Pie

Finally, key lime pie proved a suitably light, tangy dessert to end the meal. The lime curd had a good balance of sweet and sharp flavours, whilst coconut sorbet provided a refreshing counterpoint. Shards of meringue gave height and crispness to this well-conceived and attractively presented dessert of contrasting tastes, textures and temperatures.

Good coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal. It was enhanced by the welcoming, knowledgeable, efficient and unobtrusive service led by manager Adshead who also selected the flight of wines and gave a succinct description of each. His extensive experience at other top Edinburgh hotels ensured the service would be seamless.

Paul Tamburrini’s restaurant has entered a highly competitive market in the gastronomic capital. Given the strengths demonstrated on our visit, its chances for long term success are strong. Fine Dining Guide will revisit to sample other dishes from the menu and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Roux at Skindles, Dec 2018

Posted on: December 24th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

rouxatskindles

Maidenhead, a prosperous Berkshire town on the banks of the Thames, has long existed in a gastronomic vacuum. Its entries in the restaurant guides have been few and far between. Even the recent improvements to the town centre have culminated in the opening, on a prime site, of another chain eatery. This has been a major anti-climax to the town’s culinary fortunes or is that misfortunes?

However, neighbouring towns and villages – Marlow, Henley, Cookham, Burchetts Green, White Waltham, Paley Street and, of course, Bray – have filled the gap; that is, until this October, when Roux at Skindles opened its doors.

Skindles Raj Chef

Located on the east side of the Thames, adjacent to Maidenhead Bridge, and at the entrance to a prestigious Berkeley homes development, it stands of the site of the legendary Skindles Hotel, which had become derelict by the mid-1990s. The handsome three storey yellow bricked building finished to a high specification houses a spacious reception, brasserie and terrace on the ground floor; a cocktail bar and balcony on the first; and the Chairman’s Room for private dining on the second floor. The brasserie itself has a raised area with banquette seating opposite the open kitchen and a brighter area, the floor to ceiling windows of which give views of the terrace and Thames. Undressed, well-spaced tables have a capacity for 80 covers.

Skindles_Exterior

Roux at Skindles is the joint project of Michel Roux Senior, OBE, and his son Alain, Chef Patron. Their aim is not fine dining – the surrounding area is crowded with Michelin Stars, including the Roux’s triple starred Waterside Inn – rather to showcase classic and contemporary French brasserie cooking at reasonable prices in comfortable, convivial and relaxed surroundings. In typical French tradition, children are welcome with the provision of special menus. Breakfast, afternoon tea (May to September), lunches and evening bites are also available in the Cocktail Bar, allowing guests flexibility of choice.

With Maxime Walkowiak as General Manager and Rajkumar Holuss as Head Chef, both with considerable experience at the Waterside Inn, the impeccable Roux stamp is firmly embedded from the start. It is also seen in such dishes as “grandpa Benoit Roux’s country pate with sourdough” on the menu.

The well-judged carte allows a good choice for diners without putting undue pressure on the kitchen. Nine starters are priced from £8.50 to £14; ten mains from £15 to £27; (sides £3.50); and six desserts £5 to £8.50. There are also daily specials and a festive course set menu, (£36) with four choices at each stage. Skilful cooking and simple presentation do full justice to top quality ingredients. Classics include fish soup, snails with parsley and garlic butter, moules marinieres and coq au vin, whilst Merrifield duck pie and goat’s cheese soufflé are amongst the more innovative creations

The following comments refer to dishes sampled on two lunch time visits.

fish soup

Fish soup had good colour and a pleasing depth of flavour. Served with croutons and rouille, which added substance and garlicy richness, this brasserie stalwart was suitably hearty and warming.

Skindles_ClamChowder

Less robust but equally satisfying was a daily special of clam chowder. This smooth and creamy soup showcased the delicate sweetness of its seafood ingredient.

Skindles Goats Cheese

For those who find goat’s cheese too cloying, a starter of warm goat’s cheese soufflé should win them over. Light, fluffy and full of flavour, it was twice baked and mounted on a tomato coulis enriched with a little cream. Reminiscent of the Roux’s soufflé suissesse, but less rich, the combination of tastes and textures was most satisfying.

Skindles Snails

Less successful was a starter of 12 Burgundy snails which needed more garlic and parsley butter for dunking – an essential ritual of this popular dish.

Skindles Monk Fish

A special of the day main course saw two Monkfish fillets accurately timed to retain their mild lobster-like flavour and firm texture. A rich, earthy sauce, based on lentils and chestnuts worked well with the fish.

Skindles Coq au Vin

Coq au vin featured two flavoursome thighs – surely the sweetest part of the bird – properly garnished with lardons, mushrooms and baby onions. Silky, fresh tagliatelle pasta helped to mop up the intensely reduced red wine sauce.

Skindles_MerrifiedPie

Another successful main was Merrifield duck pie, with a golden dome of crisp puff pastry – similar to a pithivier without the spiral markings – and a well-seasoned duck farce filling. Suitably partnered with sauce Rouennaise, a red wine Bordelaise sauce enhanced with duck livers, this rich combination was balanced by the freshness of sautéed sweetheart cabbage.

Skindles Chocolate Fondant

For dessert, warm chocolate fondant proved a winner. Precisely timed to produce a decadent, oozing centre, it sat on a pool of coffee sauce, both elements happily being not too sweet.

Rum baba with yuzu cream had a light texture but would have been improved with a touch more rum in its sugar syrup.

The wine list sees prices rise quite steeply, although there is a good selection by the glass.

A meal at Roux at Skindles impresses in its range of technically accomplished dishes, and its knowledgeable, attentive yet unobtrusive service. Attractive pricing and the vibrant buzz of contented diners in a full restaurant, as was the case in both of my visits, will also encourage repeat custom. Overall, this new and much awaited addition to a previously arid dining scene, cannot fail to be successful. Fine Dining Guide will certainly return and monitor its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Le Roi Fou, Edinburgh (October 2018)

Posted on: October 15th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

le roi fou

I had to cancel my first reservation at Le Roi Fou (The Crazy King), at short notice. A few months later, during the Edinburgh Festival, I was perusing the menu outside hoping there was a spare table for walk-ins when a familiar voice greeted me by name. It was Jon Hemy, ex manager at The Pompadour, who, unknown to me, had moved to this smaller operation. Not only was there a free table, but he also remembered my previous cancellation. Now that’s what I call personal service!

Few new restaurants in Edinburgh have made such an immediate impact as Le Roi Fou. Within a year of opening it gained the 2017 Best New Restaurant at the Scottish Food Awards. 2018 saw three more accolades: Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year (Edinburgh News), Classic Cuisine Chef of the Year, (again from the Scottish Food Awards), and Winner of the Eating and Dining Awards (List Magazine). An encouraging mark in the 2019 Good Food Guide has consolidated these achievements

Located at Number 1 Forth Street in the Newtown district of Broughton – a stone’s throw from the York Place tram terminal – on the site of a former hamburger restaurant, Le Roi Fou is the joint venture of chef Jerome Henry and Isolde Nash, his creative director. Their aim is to promote a “joint appreciation of art, culture and food…in a bijou restaurant for bon vivants”

The brighter part of this“Restaurant des Artistes,” with window tables either side of the entrance, leads to a high tiled wooden bar and the more intimate “salon” at the back with its grey green walls dressed with fine art, and subdued lighting. Throughout, banquette seating, walnut chairs, fine napery and gold velvet curtains give a stylish, luxurious feel in an atmosphere which is relaxed and informal.

Heading a small team in the kitchen is French-Swiss born Jerome Henry. His is a bold move away from his twelve years’ experience in London: five years as head chef at Les Trois Garcons, a celebrity haunt in trendy Shoreditch, then seven years at Anton Mosimann’s Private Dining Club in pricey Belgravia. With such a distinguished CV, expectations would inevitably be high, and in this respect he does not disappoint.

A seasonally changing a la carte menu currently offers a wide choice of twelve starters (£7.50 to £17.50), ten mains (£15 to £31), and desserts and cheese, (£5 to £9.50). While vegetarians and pescetarians are well catered for, it is also pleasing to see such iconic dishes as oysters Rockefeller, seared foie gras and steak tartare. For a true gastronomic experience, there is a five course tasting menu (£50) with an optional cheese course (£9), and flight of wines for £40.

Prices are eminently fair, especially for lunch and pre theatre sittings – three courses for £24.50 – considering the quality of ingredients, the skill in cooking, and the generosity of spirit. Portions are generous even in the tasting menu with courses of a la carte proportions.

John Henry’s accomplished cooking is deeply rooted in the classics, free from faddish techniques and presentation – no smears, foams or spherification! Top quality raw materials are treated with respect, combinations showing a well-considered balance of tastes, textures and temperatures. Timing in meat, game and fish cookery is precise, allowing the natural flavours to shine. Saucing is a particular strength, elevating dishes such as lamb’s kidneys and sweetbreads with a grain mustard sauce. Occasional contemporary influences can be seen, say in a chimichurri sauce with calf’s liver or white miso and aubergine sauce dressing a scallop dish. Presentation is clean without being showy.

The select and mainly French wine list, overseen by sommelier Sam Webber, avoids greedy mark ups, with pleasing options by the glass. The flight of wines to accompany the tasting menu has inspired choices which complement the dishes perfectly.

My August tasting menu began with a amuse bouche of pleasingly light and crisp comte gougeres with a savoury dip.

A second amuse featured two oysters Rockefeller, the aroma from the toasted shells complementing the flavour of the warm spinach and herb crumbed topping enveloping the plump bivalves. The buttery, briny juices of this decadent dish were greedily mopped up with the excellent focaccia bread.

A giant hand dived scallop was grilled to produce a gently charred crust which contrasted with the delicate sweetness of the opaque flesh. Partnered with braised octopus, with its soft, texture and clean taste, the dish was bought together by a velvety sauce of confit Isle of Wight tomatoes at room temperature to maximise its flavour. This was a real triumph of seafood cookery in its combinations, timing, textures and temperatures.  Wine: 2016 Loureiro, Dócil, Projectode Dirk Nieport, Lima Valley, Vinhos Verde, Portugal

Then followed three “tasting” dishes which, given their generous size, would easily pass for main courses elsewhere.

Equally accomplished as the previous course was a generous tranche of halibut, streamed to retain the moistness of its thick white flesh. Cucumber and radishes added freshness and texture whilst a salsa verde featuring pistachios and rocket gave a deep herbaceous lift.   Wine: 2016 Pouilly Fumé, David & Hervé Millet, Domaine De La Loge, Loire, France

Cooking rabbit has been the downfall of many a good chef, but here it was handled with consummate skill. Braised and wrapped in pancetta, the meat was succulent in texture and mildly gamey in flavour. Sweetcorn in puree and kernel forms added different textures and sweetness, to contrast with the tangy bitterness of wilted cavolo nero. A light, flavoursome jus bought the dish together. Wine: 2015 Syrah, Alain Graillot & Ouled Thaleb, Tandem, Morocco

leroigrouse

The final savoury course showcased a finely judged breast of new season grouse. Being only a fortnight into the season, the gaminess was – thankfully – muted whilst the texture had the melting softness of butter. Girolles and pearl barley added earthy elements to a dish finished with a sublime bread sauce and a rich jus with great depth of flavour.  Wine: 2004 Chateau Musar, Gaston Hochar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

leroi_strawberry

With such robust savoury dishes, a light, delicate dessert which encapsulated the tastes of summer was offered as the final course. This took the form of beautifully sweet Blacketyside Farm strawberries with fragrant elderflower curd, a silky smooth strawberry ice cream and shards of crisp meringue.  Wine: 2016 Bugey, Cerdon, Renardat Fache, Method Ancestrale, France

Without doubt, this was one of the most impressive tasting menus I have eaten, and such a refreshing change from the dainty, insubstantial sous-vide courses, with their smears, blobs and foams encountered elsewhere. Flavour was paramount, with refined classical techniques doing full justice to the well sourced ingredients.

The whole experience was enhanced by the welcoming, knowledgeable and unobtrusive service overseen by John Hemy. Given the scale of the operation, the adage that “small is beautiful” definitely applies to dining at Le Roi Fou.

Fine Dining Guide will certainly return sample more of Jerome Henry’s exquisite cooking. No doubt 2019 will bring further accolades in the guides, especially from Michelin and the AA, which have yet to grant Le Roi Fou the recognition it deserves.

Restaurant Review: Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux, Edinburgh (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 4th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Two empires meet at the stately Balmoral Hotel in the first co venture of the Roux and Forte dynasties. Alain Roux and his father Michel Roux O.B.E. of the three Michelin starred Waterside Inn, Bray, have joined forces with the Forte family, in particular Lydia Forte Rocco Forte Hotels’ Bar & Restaurant Development Manager and Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte Hotel’ Director of Building and Design and sister of Sir Rocco Forte, to establish Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux. Its opening in June marked a watershed in the culinary progress of Edinburgh, being the first serious attempt to recreate an all-day dining venue inspired by Parisian models such as La Coupole and Le Train Bleu.

princes brasserie

Whilst not as ornate as either of these French counterparts, Brasserie Prince with its marbled bar, large windows, brass fittings, banquette seating, antique mirrors and chandelier lighting bears all the hallmarks of classic brasserie fixtures and fittings. However, renowned restaurant designer Martin Brudnizki and Olga Polizzi, have integrated regional materials and colours into the design. Wood panelled walls, leather dining chairs and woollen cushion covers are used judiciously, whilst the blues and greens of the banquettes and armchairs in the library mirror the predominant colours of the Scottish landscape.

princesbar

The green and white stripes of the outside awnings are repeated at intervals on the dining room ceiling, to break up its long length. Overall, a brighter, fresher feel is evident throughout.

The Auld Allaince meets in the food offering which features French bistro classics in a seasonally changing menu, employing the exceptional produce of Scotland and France. . Anticipating possibly a large French clientele, the menu is printed in English with French on the back. As Signature Chef, Alain Roux has created an extensive range of dishes, from seafood platters from the raw bar, sharing plates and light bites such as Croque Monsieur or hard boiled eggs mimosa with anchovy from the long bar, to three course meals in the main restaurant. Of particular interest are the “Grand-Mere Specials” of the Roux family, (all at £17.50) which vary throughout the week, from Tripes de Saint-Mande on Monday to Beouf Bourguignon on Sunday. Starters which include Grandpa Benoit Roux’s country pate with sourdough cost between £8.50 and £18.50. Main courses from the carte (£16.60 to £21.50) include bistro standards – albeit elevated to a higher level – such coq au vin with tagliatelle, steak tartare and Bouillabaisse. Desserts and cheese (£6 to £19) showcase favourites such as dark chocolate mousse and truffled Brie de Meraux

Prices can be challenging, but are also realistic given the quality of the produce, the skill in cooking, the comfort of the venue and central location in an iconic hotel, There are also bargains to be had at this level: a three course lunch special including the Grand Mere dish of the day, a starter and dessert from the carte and a glass of wine costs £32. Some dishes accommodate more modest budgets such as a hearty and filling Normandy soup at £9 – a popular choice on the day I visited – or Parisian gnocchi gratin at £9.50. It must also be remembered there is no requirement to order multiple courses; indeed a light lunch might consist of just one starter or small dish from the menu. Some might baulk at the £3 charge for bread, but given its quality and quantity – greater than other establishments adopting the same practice at the similar or even higher prices – this is unjustified.

prines team

Maxime Walkowiak (above, left) from the Waterside Inn was seconded to oversee the transition from Hadrian’s to the Prince Brasserie Taking over as Director of the Dining Room is Hubert Laforge whose extensive experience of the exclusive world of five star hotels will enable him to reconcile the standards of luxurious accommodation with the more relaxed and informal ambience of the brasserie. Managing varying expectations will be a challenge.

The welcoming, knowledgeable and unobtrusive service by (above, centre) liveried front of house staff encourage an informal, relaxed ambience. A large brigade in the kitchen, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner is headed by Phillip Hickman from the Waterside Inn is able to cope with a maximum of over 200 covers. The acid test is always on a busy service where standards of cooking and service have to be maintained.

On a weekday visit during the Edinburgh Festival in August, I opted for half a dozen oysters from the carte (£12.50) followed by the lunch special.

A basket of sourdough and baguette, exemplary in their crisp crusts and firm crumb, arrived with unsalted butter and good olive oil. In addition there was a surprise amuse bouche of blinis with a guacamole dip.

Properly presented on a bed of ice with of lemon, red wine vinegar, shallot and pickled cucumber, the oysters with their creamy texture and briny aroma oozed the taste of the sea. A ritualistic dish, anointing the bivalves with the garnishes was a true gastronomic indulgence.

prince oyster

My choice of starter, given its rarity even on brasserie menus in France, was a foregone conclusion. Sauteed frogs’ legs Provencal exuded the heady garlic and parsley aroma of its persillade, of which there could have been a little more. A squeeze of lemon lifted these delicious morsels of finger food with sour dough used served to mop up the garlicy, buttery juices.

prince frogs legs

The Grand Mere Special of the day was lamb cutlets Germaine, with couscous, sorrel and mint sauce. Three generous partly French trimmed cutlets – a thin layer of fat was retained for flavour – were well seasoned if a slightly over done. Sorrel and mint added piquancy to the intense veal based sauce which the couscous helped to soak up. Accompanied by a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon included in the lunch promotion, this was an highly enjoyable dish.

princes lamb

For dessert, a little theatre was employed in the serving of a signature mille feuille from the trolley. Slicing the delicate buttery leaves of puff pastry sandwiching a well flavoured vanilla crème patissiere required a swift, deft approach, which was perfectly achieved.

Double expresso completed a memorable meal, one enhanced by the seamless service and congenial atmosphere. Visiting Brasserie Prince was a joy, as it is with all Roux restaurants. Fine Dining Guide will doubtless visit again on a future visit to the Scottish capital to sample different dishes from the embarrassment of riches on offer. We wish this new venture every success and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Black Pig and Oyster, Edinburgh (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 4th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Black Pig and Oyster is an exciting new addition to the Edinburgh dining scene. Specialising in Spanish cuisine, in particular dishes featuring the celebrated Iberian Black Pig, its tapas, street food and small sharing dishes alongside an a la carte menu make it ideal for both casual and special occasion dining.

bp interior

Located on the Commercial Quay in Leith, and housed in what was originally a whiskey warehouse, it finally reopened in May this year after being flooded from the dentist above. The contemporary glass and steel frontage belies the warm, inviting décor of the interior. The original arched ceiling of red brick has been retained, giving it a cavernous feel, emphasised by stone pillars and up lighting. Parquet flooring, large, well-spaced tables and leather-backed chairs give a cool, sophisticated look to the dining room which can take up to 80 covers. At one end of the long room, adjacent to the wine cellar and with a clear view of the kitchen passe, is the chef’s table for to ten diners.

Clearly, considerable investment has gone into this venture which is very much a family run operation. Owners Bryan the chef and wife Michelle leading front of house, are assisted by son Jack on the pastry section and waitress daughter Yasmine. Overall, there are four in the kitchen and four front of house.

The ambitious menu is extensive, with a variety of tapas, street food and sharing options, popular at lunch time. Although the main carte contains vegetarian dishes, it emphasises the carnivorous and pescatarian elements. Five Iberian Black choices (£25-£28) include smoked and schnitzel versions. Five Butcher’s Finest dishes, (£18-£25), include wild mushroom and garlic chicken and crispy lamb with Picos blue. Shell and Fish ((£18-£25) include halibut and prawns and Iberian fish supper. Four desserts, (£6.95-£7.25) range from tempered chocolate brownie to Mojito panna cotta. An artisan cheese board is also offered at £8.95. Prices are fair given the quality and quantity of the raw materials, the skill in cooking and the comfort of the venue.

An agreeable wine list is prefaced by an interesting range of cocktails such as Madeiran Punch (Couvosier, lime and orange juice at £7.25) and De-Licious (Baileys, Frangelico, Crème de Menthe and fresh cream at £7.50)

A visit on a weekday evening during the Edinburgh Festival enabled me to same dishes from the carte. The ambience was relaxed and informal,

bp oysters

Loch Fyne oysters came in three preparations – natural with pickled shallot and sherry dressing, deep fried in a crisp and transparently thin tempura batter, and grilled with mahon cheese to reflect the Spanish theme of the restaurant. These gave satisfying contrasts of taste, texture and temperatures, a promising start to the meal.

bp scot pie

Next came a regional classic, Scotch pie, but not the flat, soggy unappetising specimens often encountered elsewhere. Here, the burnished water crust pastry was deliciously thin and crisp, encasing a well-seasoned mutton filling. Standing proud, it was topped with a flavoursome haggis bon-bon and paired with a smoked tomato chutney, which helped to cut the richness of the pie.

bp surfturf

The main course was “Black Pig Surf and Turf” which showcased some of the best ingredients the restaurant has to offer. Two thick slices of Presa, the leanest cut of the acorn fed Iberian Blackpig from the lower back of the animal, had a steak like texture and rich, porcine taste, although any charred element was lacking. Equally enticing were the three giant grilled prawns, dressed with garlic butter which were accurately timed to enhance their succulent sweet flesh. The best part, however, was sucking the heads, where most of the flavour is! This combination would have been improved if the pork and prawns had been gently charred which would have boosted their flavour. Strangely, the lemon garnish was charred. Aioli and sauted potatoes completed this generous dish.

bp eton mess

“The not so messy Eton mess” was the creation of son Jack, who has trained under a winning patissier of Crème de la Crème. A suitably light dessert to end a heavy meal, it featured toasted and dehydrated shards of meringue, cream, cubes of Chambord jelly, and fresh raspberries and strawberries with their coulis attractively arranged around the edge of a dark plate.

Overall, dinner at the Black Pig and Oyster was a most pleasant experience, enhanced by the unobtrusive and knowledgeable service overseen by manager Marian. It deserves to be successful, not just because the misfortunes forcing it to close temporarily, but, more importantly, because of the accomplished cooking based on first rate Scottish and Spanish produce. Fine Dining Guide will return to sample some of the smaller dishes and will follow its progress with interest.