Royal Terrace, Edinburgh
It’s my birthday. Actually, it’s my birthday tomorrow, but Paul Kitching’s Michelin starred restaurant isn’t open on Sundays, so we’re celebrating a day early. We’re booked in for a one-thirty lunch, and enjoy the walk through the city and across Calton Hill.
21212 is a ‘restaurant with rooms’ – a quirky boutique hotel, with a clear emphasis on the food. We don’t see the rooms, because we’re just here to eat, but the whole place is charming: a tall townhouse, with a pretty garden and beautiful decor. The dining room is formal, but there’s a relaxed atmosphere nonetheless. The service is friendly and unstuffy, informed but not intrusive.
The conceit here is simple: the numbers in the name refer to the choices on offer for each course. So there are two starters available, then a soup, two mains, cheese, and two puds. The kitchen (screened off by a glass wall) is small; perfecting a limited number of dishes makes absolute sense. We opt for the full five courses, because what’s the point in coming here unless you’re going to embrace the experience? We apply the same logic to the drinks menu, and go for a package of matched wines. And, for good measure, a glass of rosé cava to kick things off.
Olives are swiftly brought to our table: eye-watering, so-strong-they’re-almost-unpleasant olives that work well with the pink fizz we’re sipping. Then there’s bread, a brioche topped with a medley of Mediterranean vegetables – tomatoes, courgettes, etc. It’s delicious and utterly irresistible.
To start, I have pigeon cree, which is not, in fact, pigeon at all. “It’s made from the stuff you feed pigeons,” explains our waitress – thus summing up the idiosyncratic nature of the entire menu. Pigeon cree, it emerges, is a kind of barley risotto, studded with seeds and… um, blueberries. There’s also a mozzarella bonbon and some cubes of intensely flavoured pork, neither of which I’m certain feature prominently in a pigeon’s diet. No matter: this is a stellar dish, each mouthful a little adventure.
Philip has ‘Kidnapped’ in Scotland, which is haggis, served with salmon caviar and a beetroot pancake. Again, it’s not a combination we’ve ever heard of, let alone sampled, but it’s weirdly rather wonderful.
Next up for us both is rainy allotment soup: a curry base with white cabbage and pasta, topped with a carrot and saffron froth. It’s delicate and creamy, and we’re both enchanted by it. This course also comes with the standout wine of the day: a sparkling chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. I’ve already got my parents on the case, trying to source some more for us while they’re in France.
My main is bass and peas, which turns out to be sea bass topped with a scallop, with egg mayo and peanuts on the side. There’s a mustard crisp too, and radishes, and a sauce whose ingredients I can’t recall. This is complex food, with daring combinations. I eat every morsel. I’m enjoying the challenge.
Philip has chicken ‘surprise’ – but I’m not sure which element constitutes the surprise as, predictably, none of it is predictable. There’s a succulent piece of perfectly cooked chicken, with hazelnuts, pear mayo, and – wait for it – honeycomb. It’s all superb.
The cheese course (‘A Fine Brexit Selection’) comprises twelve small cubes of a wide variety of cheeses, served with crackers and dried pears. The pears are an inspired addition, but the crackers provide the only off-note of the day. True, there are two delightful slivers made from the bread we tasted earlier, but the rest are of the shop-bought kind, and disappointing in comparison with everything else. Still, it’s a minor quibble, and we make short work of the plate. The creamy Langres is our favourite.
Before pudding, we’re brought a little cow-shaped jug of malted banana milk, which is poured into tiny paper cups, and drunk like it’s a shot. We’re cynical, but it tastes great. The disposable cups are an odd choice, though… surely reusable tableware makes more environmental sense?
For pud, we both have yellow, pink, white. As ever, the title reveals little, but we’re confident by now that we’ll be wowed by whatever this is. And we’re right. There’s a little glass of strawberry something-or-other to drink, and a portion of rice pudding, layered with lemon sauce. There’s a strawberry meringue on top: it’s a medley of sweet and tart, creamy and fresh. A very good way to end the meal.
The wines all work well too, a series of excellent suggestions, complementing each course effectively.
Will we come back? Oh yes – once we’ve saved up our pennies again. If you haven’t tried Paul Kitching’s cooking yet, I urge you to give it a go. I can promise that you won’t be bored!