Edinburgh is a great walking city par excellence. Whether in the Old or New town, or in the revitalised port of Leith, the best way to discover new eateries is on foot. I am constantly surprised by new openings or by old ones accidentally overlooked. Even along the Golden Mile, that well- trodden path for locals and tourists alike, there is joy in finding a restaurant of distinction.
One such gem, undiscovered by fine dining guide until recently, is Wedgwood, which opened in 2007. Nestled amongst a row of terraced outlets in Canongate, the lower, less crowded section of the Royal Mile, its modest shop front exterior belies the accomplished cooking and excellent service within. Owned by chef Paul Wedgwood and his wife Lisa who acts as front of house, it represents the culmination of a dream to provide fine dining cuisine in relaxed, agreeable surroundings.
Lack of pretension characterises the décor, furnishings and lighting in the ground floor dining room, which has a modern chic look. This is enhanced by the eclectic wall and overhead lighting. In two rooms, accommodating 20 and 18 covers respectively, well-spaced, polished wooden tables and high backed leather chairs make for comfortable dining.
Achievements to date have given Wedgwood an indisputably high ranking in the Edinburgh dining scene. In 2010, 2012 and 2013 it was named Scottish Restaurant of the Year in the under £35 category by the Scottish Licensed Trade News (SLTN). Other accolades have included being voted the UK’s Best Up and Coming Restaurant by Harden’s Restaurant Guide, and listed as one of only four Edinburgh restaurants in the Fodor’s Choice Distinction Award.
Paul’s cooking techniques are classically based, with little evidence of contemporary faddish technicalities. Accuracy in timing, consistency of flavour, and workable combinations of tastes and textures are paramount. His mentor and inspiration, for whom he worked, was John Tovey, chef patron of Miller Howe in Windermere, the destination restaurant of the 1980s. The same generosity of spirit and attention to detail pervades his cooking. A constantly evolving menu, changing with the seasons and being fully overhauled four times a year, reflects the glories and bounty of Scottish produce.
The lunchtime set menu, with a choice of four in each course, is a snip at £16.95 for three courses, £12.95 for two. Prices are more realistic for dinner, when the a la carte menu offers a much wider choice. A large percentage of the clientelle are regulars, reflecting Wedgewood’s increasing popularity amongst discerning foodies.
Visiting on a busy Mother’s Day lunch, I was surprised to see there was no special promotion. This clearly indicated the confidence in maintaining the popular set lunch offering. However, I was delighted at the flexibility, having arranged it earlier by phone, of being able to sample some dishes from the evening carte.
Whether at lunch or dinner, and unlike many popular restaurants, tables at Wedgwood are not turned, which encourages relaxation and enjoyment. Indeed, time is necessary to consider choices as the carte offers an embarrassment of riches, with an innovative take on classical dishes. In this respect the marketing of “Deciding Time” – a glass of champagne with a selection of canapes – has proved popular amongst those who have trouble choosing.
For those who opt out of this indulgence, warm ciabatta with smoked rosemary olive oil proved a lighter and highly agreeable alternative.
My first course featured three plump langoustines, precisely timed to preserve their essential sweetness and succulence. They were perched on sauerkraut laced with apple and raisins, sandwiched between slices of Granny Smith. This gentle combination of sweet and sour flavours and soft and crisp textures balanced the seafood perfectly. Although the accompanying langoustine aioli needed more punch, this was more than compensated for by the other star on the dish – three unctuous pig’s tail croquettes, coated in panko crumbs to maximise their crispness. Overall, this original, beautifully presented surf and turf combination could not fail to impress.
Other unusual dishes amongst the ten starters that have been well received include the intriguing Lobster Thermidor crème brulee and Pressed lamb’s tongue with coffee roasted carrots.
For the main course, I opted for a rabbit dish. Notoriously difficult to cook, the meat is prone to dry out unless treated sensitively. Here, Paul’s classical training stood him in good stead. The whole loin was covered in a farce of its offal before being wrapped in pancetta, seared in the pan and finished in the oven. The moist, delicately flavoured result – accomplished only using sous vide methods by lesser chefs – was a tour de force of accomplished cooking. To add deeper flavour and contrasting textures, a “stew” of chorizo, wild mushrooms and butter beans proved an hearty, robust accompaniment. A drizzle of pesto added a lively herbal note whilst a rich, but not over reduced red wine jus brought the whole dish together. Here was a dish, full of Mediterranean influences, of which the chef can be justifiably proud.
Again there was much to choose from in the list of nine main courses. A particular favourite fish option is the sesame and soy glazed sea trout with crispy scallop roe, pak choi and lobster and black bean nori roll.
Dessert proved difficult to choose. Finally, I opted for the lightest, given the generosity of the previous courses and did not regret it, despite my usual greedy appetite! Coconut pannacotta had a velvety smooth texture and nice degree of wobble. This worked well with warm spiced pineapple and an intense beetroot sorbet which added a deep, icy note. Shards of meringue and a good old fashioned rugged English style macaroon – how rare is this seen nowadays? – gave contrasting crispness. Set on a dark plate, this was another stunningly presented, well conceived and skillfully executed dish.
Overall, this was a most enjoyable meal, enhanced by the welcoming and informative service. Lisa, who detailed the cooking of the rabbit dish, is a charming and engaging front of house, leading a young team who are efficient but unobtrusive. Having left the wine to the discretion of the host, the German Riesling and Austrian spiced red proved excellent partners for the savoury courses.
I do have regrets about dining at Wedgwood. The first is not having discovered it sooner, to see how it evolved since its inception. The second is that – unusually – I lacked a dining partner so could not sample some of the other offerings. Given the chef’s twist on classic dishes, what, for instance, was his take on” Black Forest Gateau” or “Very sticky toffee pudding” or Cheddar and onion bread and butter pudding as a starter?
Nevertheless, a meal at Wedgwood is to be savoured and enjoyed. Its relative longevity in a highly competitive industry in which many do not survive, and the accumulation of accolades, are a testament to its success. Fine Dining Guide will doubtlessly visit again and follow its progress with interest.