Bristo Place, Edinburgh
It hardly seems possible, but a quick glance back through the diary confirms it: we haven’t visited a proper restaurant since March.
Yes, that’s right. March.
Oh, yes, we’ve been in socially-distanced cafes and we’ve had swanky restaurants deliver food to our door to be heated up and consumed at home, but really, enough is enough. Another lockdown’s looming and we’re determined that it’s high time we dined out, so we cast around for places where we can possibly eat al fresco in November. In Scotland. Then we remember that the Hotel Du Vin does have a very pleasant courtyard and, what’s more, it is even equipped with patio heaters should the weather prove too brisk.
So here we are, at a table in said courtyard, nibbling at warm bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and discussing the unfolding horror story that is the American presidential election. Meanwhile, we lament the fact that today our discussion cannot be lubricated with something containing alcohol, but hey, them’s the rules – and you can’t have everything. The staff are friendly and attentive, and ensure that they observe social distancing at all times. We feel very relaxed.
For my starter, I choose sautéed mushrooms on toasted sourdough and it turns out to be a good choice. The generously sized mushrooms are soaked in a rich Madeira sauce and virtually melt in the mouth, while the crispy toast provides a perfect contrast. Susan has a baked St Marcellin cheese fondue which is rich and creamy and is accompanied by new potatoes, cornichons and croutons. It only takes a mouthful of our respective starters to make us appreciate how much we’ve missed doing this and, happily, we’ve chosen a good place to break our fast because both meals are pretty much note perfect.
Next up for me is haddock and king prawn gratin, baked in a cream sauce and glazed under breadcrumbs with thick, stringy layers of Gruyère. It’s a gooey, aromatic treat, generously stuffed with chunky prawns and accompanied by sides of frites and cauliflower cheese. Susan opts for mussels frites, a big bowl of moules marinère steamed in white wine, cream, shallots and garlic. Despite me selflessly helping her to eat it, the portion is too generous to finish.
After this, we’re feeling pretty full but we’re not ready to leave, so we have coffee and more chat, just to ensure that we’re absolutely certain there’s definitely no room for pudding.
And of course, in the fullness of time, it turns out there is room, and who knows when we’ll have this opportunity again? So I order an apple and blackberry crumble, the fruit still with a little bite left in it and served with an indulgent hot custard. Susan finishes off with a perfectly executed crème brûlée, the top scorched just enough that it breaks with a satisfying snap when tapped with a spoon. Voila!
By the time we head for home, the evening is already descending and we find ourselves thinking of all the incredible meals we’ve enjoyed since we first moved to Edinburgh. For now, we can only cross our fingers and hope that one day soon, those happy times will return, and that visits to places like Hotel Du Vin will once again be commonplace.
But right now, this was really just what we needed.