The fine dining scene in Edinburgh is alive and well, with an embarrassment of choice for discerning foodies. In the 2012 guides, five restaurants hold a Michelin star, seven have three or more AA rosettes, and nine are marked 4/10 or higher in the Good Food Guide. Clearly the city now has a gastronomic scene to match its spectacular setting, historical monuments and cultural achievements.
Foremost in this exciting development is Martin Wishart, whose eponymous restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2001 – the first in the city to be awarded that coveted accolade. It also boasts four AA rosettes, and is consistently awarded 8/10 in the Good Food Guide. Amongst the other concerns in his expanding gastronomic empire are a cookery school, a restaurant in the Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomand and, more recently, The Honours Brasserie in the city centre. Martin has received many accolades, but the ultimate recognition for his achievements came in 2011 when he was named Chefs’ Chef at the AA Restaurant Awards.
Restaurant Martin Wishart is to be found in Leith, the redevelopment of which has given new life to Edinburgh’s declining port. Located on the quayside, its unremarkable exterior on the ground floor of a grey stoned building belies the elegant sophistication within. The furnishings and décor – well spaced tables, comfortable leather seating, mirrored walls, wooden Venetian blinds, sumptuous curtaining, plush carpeting and stylish lighting – all give a soothing, relaxed feel. The room, however, is to undergo major refurbishment in January 2012, although regular diners can be assured that the new look will reach the highest standards in materials and design.
Creativity in composition and consistency in execution, are essential hallmarks of Martin Wishart’s cooking. Blessed with top quality, seasonal – largely Scottish – produce, and using classical and modern techniques gained in the kitchens of top British, American and European chefs, his innovative dishes delight the eye and excite the palate. Harmony of flavour, balance of texture and purity of taste always take centre stage. Saucing is a major strength, with foams and smears kept to a minimum. Cooking techniques are mainly traditional and classical with pickling, smoking, roasting and braising all featuring strongly.
The labour intensive, multiple component dishes are fully demonstrated in the winter carte of five starters (four featuring shellfish), five mains (two being fish), and seven desserts. Diners who have difficulty choosing can opt for the six course tasting menu with alternatives in two of the courses. There is also a vegetarian tasting option. Great care is taken to show the provenance of the ingredients on all the menus.
Fine–dining–guide visited in early December, finding much to admire in the tasting menu with its celebration of exquisite Scottish produce.
A beetroot macaroon with horseradish cream, which melted in the mouth, and salsify, pickled cabbage and peanut mayonnaise, which contrasted in taste and texture, were refined canapés to accompany a glass of champagne.
The freshly baked rolls – black olive, white with poppy seeds, and granary with pumpkin seeds – were flavoursome, with crisp crusts and firm crumb
A trio of amuses bouches featuring chestnut soup with hazelnut oil, pickled mushrooms and yellow corn puree combined savoury, sour and sweet elements which succeeded in tickling the taste buds.
Jerusalem artichoke veloute had a deep earthy flavour and a smooth, velvety texture. It was lifted by the addition of pan fried veal sweetbreads, with caramelised crust and creamy interior, and given a final surprise with a layer of rich chestnut puree at the bottom of the bowl. The matching white wine had a good intensity and freshness, with a crisp finish which worked well with the dish. (Wine: Pernault Vergelesse, Dom Rollin, Burgundy, France 2001)
Next came ceviche of Gigha halibut with mango and passion fruit. This proved to be a triumph of taste and texture. The robust, meaty fish, cubed for the marinade, was not overwhelmed by the sweet fragrance of the soft mango or the astringent, lingering after taste of the passion fruit. Indeed the harmony of flavours was perfectly balanced. A small meringue gave a contrasting crisp texture to what has become the chef’s signature dish. Wine pairing for this would be difficult, but the sommelier made a brilliant choice with a Muscat, the clean, dry, intense lime acidity and light body providing the perfect match. (Wine: V.D.P. D’Oc Muscat Sec, Domaine de la Provenquere “Les fruits defundus,” 2010)
An abundance of riches was crammed into the following small dish of white truffle risotto, Isle of Mull scallop and parmesan. The scallop, huge even by Michelin restaurant standards, was cooked to perfection, retaining its succulence under a golden crust. The rice had the correct degree of creaminess, enhanced by the deep but not overpowering saltiness of the parmesan and the earthy fragrance of a generous shaving of white truffle. The dry white wine, with delicate, elegant palate was another good pairing. (Wine; F.M.C. Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 2009)
Following this was another innovative dish. Loch Ryan Native Oyster was layered under green apple jelly, sauerkraut in the form of spherical beads – one of the few signs of molecular techniques – and topped with caviar d’Aquitaine. This masterly combination worked well in its marriage of unusually paired flavours, clean tastes and contrasting textures. Visually, it was stunning. The wine had a suitably fresh, crisp palate and dry mineral finish. (Wine; Weingut Braudlmayer, Reisling, 2009)
Kilbrannon langoustines were breathtaking in their delicately soft sweetness. A scattering of “crumbs” of parsnip and white chocolate – another ingenious molecular technique -complemented the crustaceans well, whilst a sauce of verjus and smoked butter – neither too powerful – gave additional flavour. The Viognier had a well balanced acidity, ideal for shellfish. (Wine: Viognier de Rosine, Stephanie Ogier, France 2009)
The meat course featured a beautiful loin of Ayreshire hare, roasted medium rare to maximise its gamey flavour and soft, juicy texture. A richly flavoured civet and celeriac pastilla, red cabbage, port braised parsnip and dauphine potato proved to be excellent garnishes. A rich game jus brought this tour de force of a dish together. The dark berry fruit and tobacco flavours of the Merlot wine was a fine partner for the robust, earthiness of the food. (Wine: Shafer Merlot, Nappa Valley. California, USA 2005)
Two desserts revealed the undoubted strengths of the pastry section.
A glossy cylinder of tempered Valrhona dark chocolate, reminiscent in shape of the teardrops of Nouvelle Cuisine, was filled with a delicious chocolate cremeux and garnished with a well made ice cream and chocolate shortbread. This was well matched with a dark, syrupy Maury, with its palate of smoked raisins and liquorice. (Wine: N.V. Maury 15 years prestige , Mas Amiel, France.
A less rich alternative saw poached Comice pear with ice cream, praline, caramel, and roasted hazelnuts. This was a refreshing dessert with contrasting fruit and nut flavours with soft and crunchy textures. The rich but light sweet wine was the final inspired choice for the sommelier. (Wine: Noans La Tunella Friuli, Italy 2008)
Good coffee and delectable petit fours completed a memorable meal.
Other aspects of the restaurant were also first rate. The impressive wine list, which won AA restaurant wine list in 2006, had a predominant French section and a wide selection of New World and European vintages by the glass from which Sommelier Patrick Cooper expertly selected the flight of wines. Finally, the welcoming, knowledgeable and seamlessly efficient service, overseen by the utterly professional and charming restaurant manager Jean-Christophe Froge, enhanced the whole experience.
As Edinburgh’s leading fine dining establishment, Restaurant Martin Wishart continues to go from strength to strength, building on seemingly inexhaustible energy and creativity of its chef patron. He and his well drilled team are producing food of two Michelin star quality, so it remains a mystery why this distinction is yet to be achieved. Clearly, it can only be a matter of time before it is awarded. We all await the 2013 guide with interest.