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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.