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.