Food

Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux

03/06/19

Princes Street, Edinburgh

We’re here today because… well, we haven’t really got a reason. It’s a run-of-the-mill Monday (we don’t work Mondays). It’s lunch time. Usually, this would signal some kind of soup or salad eaten in our own kitchen, but today we feel like eating out.

So here we are. Brasserie Prince is a relative newcomer (it opened last year, in the renowned Balmoral hotel), but its pedigree is excellent, being a joint venture between veteran chef Michel Roux and his son, Alain. We’re keen to see what they have to offer.

As you’d expect from this cooking dynasty, the focus is on classic French food, with a healthy respect for local produce. There’s an extensive à la carte selection but, as this is an impromptu visit with little to justify it, we decide to stick to the express menu, where two courses cost £19.50 and three £25 per head. The options here look perfectly acceptable.

We order a small glass each of Pinot Grigio, and tuck into the tapenade and crispbreads that are placed on the table. Delicious! Who can resist the salty tang of an olive dip? Not us, that’s for sure.

The pace here is leisurely, which we like, so it’s a little while before our starters arrive. Not too long, just long enough to make the meal feel like an event. I have the Quinoa, sunflower seed and spring vegetable salad with minted soya yoghurt dressing, which is fresh and delicate with a lovely zing. Philip has the beetroot and goat’s cheese salad with red pepper vinaigrette, which is an absolute delight. It’s deceptively simple looking, but the beetroots – both red and golden – are served in a variety of ways (pickled, roasted and crisped) and the goat’s cheese is mellow and creamy. So far, so (very) good.

Philip has the Armoricaine monkfish, Camargue wild rice and tenderstem broccoli for his main. The fish is well cooked, deliciously meaty, and served with a lip-smackingly savoury sauce. My Shetland mussels with white wine and parsley are pretty good, although, coming so soon after last week’s mussels extraordinaire at the Edinburgh Food Studio, perhaps they are destined not to wow. Still, it’s a generous portion – more than I can eat – and the sauce is rich and decadent. I order a side of fries to accompany the shellfish, and these are fine too (although suspiciously akin to the frozen variety…).

We go off-piste for pud, because the à la carte options are just too appealing. Philip has the classic tarte tatin with a scoop of vanilla ice cream; this is faultless, exactly as you’d expect. I opt for the warm lemon madeleines and cherry compote; this unassuming-sounding dish turns out to be today’s star. There are five madeleines (we could easily have shared; we do, in fact, share…), all hot lemony loveliness, the sponge as light as can be, and the thick sweetness of the cherry compote contrasts with it perfectly.

We order a second (small) glass of wine, and sit contentedly for a while, enjoying the ambience and bustle of this friendly, attractive restaurant. It’s formal without being fussy, busy without being loud. All in all a lovely place to while away an early afternoon.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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Edinburgh Food Studio

26/05/19

Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh

Let me begin this review with a question. When was the last time you ate out and were genuinely surprised by the food you were offered? The Edinburgh Food Studio manages to surprise us on many levels and, I’m happy to say, always in a positive way. We’ve been hearing promising word-of-mouth about the place for a while, so when we spot a really timely Groupon offer –  a four course lunch for just £25 a head – we’re straight onto it.

We arrive right on time and take our seats in the large, light, open plan café. The first thing we notice is that the room is dominated by two long wooden tables with chairs arranged along each side, so it’s probably important to say is that, if you’re the kind of diner who demands your own space to enjoy your meal, this may not be the place for you. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and there’s a pleasant, relaxed buzz in the room, people enjoying their meals and maybe a cheeky drink or three. We order a bottle of reasonably priced French Muscadet and the chatty, super-friendly waitress brings us a plate of fresh ciabatta and some whipped, cultured butter.

Another thing to mention is that you don’t choose from the lunch menu; rather, you are brought what has been prepared that day and is still available. The first course arrives and it’s instantly clear that both the wine and the bread will make perfect accompaniments for a generously sized bowl of mussels and cider butter. I’ll level with you and admit that I rarely choose mussels in normal situations, because it all feels like a lot of effort for not much return, but these particular ones are spectacularly plump, and melt-in-the-mouth tender, sitting in a tangy broth that just cries out to be mopped up with hunks of fresh bread. I’ll go so far as to say these may be the nicest mussels I can remember having and I’ll also add that, by the time we’re finished, the white bowl they were originally housed in looks like it’s already been through the dishwasher.

Surprise number two comes, apropriately enough, with the second course, which is something we’ve never eaten before. This is Passatelli, with St George mushrooms and new season garlic. Passetelli is rather like pasta, except that it’s made from a mixture of bread, eggs and parmesan cheese. Resting in a delicious savoury broth, its unusual, slightly crunchy texture proves an instant hit and, pretty soon, it’s been devoured.

The third surprise is that the next course is rather special, in that it is 12-year-old rump steak, with aliums & yoghurt. (Please note, the twelve here relates to the age of the cow from which the meat comes, not how long its been stored in a deep freeze!) Thinly sliced and lightly seared, the meat is full flavoured and as tender as the night, sliceable with an ordinary knife. At first, I’m slightly suspicious about the pool of natural yoghurt on one side of the plate but, once dipped into it, the meat becomes even more delicious. ‘Inspired by kebabs,’ the waitress informs us and we have to admit, though on paper it sounds strange, it works a treat.

And so we end, as all things must, with pudding – and we are brought lemon thyme & butterscotch, which sounds fantastic but, once again, my first impression is one of profound disappointment. Can this bland-looking white mound actually taste of anything very much at all? Well, as it turns out, yes it can! The revelation here is when you dig into that snowy heap with a spoon to discover hidden layers of zesty ice cream built over the top of a crunchy, chewy butterscotch base and a tangy lemon cake. Turns out the final surprise is the best one of all (and please note our rather poor photograph doesn’t even come close to doing this dessert justice).

The Edinburgh Food Studio somehow manages to cut through all the pretensions of high end dining, offering brilliantly inventive food with the emphasis firmly on flavour. Will we go again? Well, we’ve already noted on a whiteboard above us a seven-course evening tasting menu, and this is something we mentally file away as a possibility for the next time we’re looking for an excuse to celebrate. Birthday, wedding anniversary… Thursday? We’ll think of something!

So go along, enjoy the atmosphere – and be prepared for some surprises!

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage

19/05/19

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

We often visit Calton Hill; prowling the city is one of our greatest joys. In the three years we’ve lived here, we’ve watched with interest as the scaffold-clad City Observatory has been restored, and the new-build restaurant – sister to the highly-regarded Gardener’s Cottage – has taken shape. Naturally, now that the site has been revealed in all its glory, we’re eager to sample what promises to be excellent fare.

We persuade some friends to join us for Sunday lunch; they arrive before us, and we’re pleased to see they’ve secured a window seat. To be fair, most of the seats fit that description: it’s a small, square room and two whole walls are made of glass. Its cantilever construction means that the restaurant juts out over the edge, and the views across the Firth of Forth are stunning.

We have to wait a while before we’re brought menus; the manager explains that this is because the chef has made some last minute changes, so they’re being reprinted. We’re not in a hurry so it doesn’t really matter, but we appreciate the complementary glasses of Prosecco we’re offered to compensate. A plate of sourdough bread is also very welcome, especially as it’s accompanied by whipped herb butter.

When the menus do arrive, we briefly consider the five-course tasting option before deciding instead on a three-course à la carte. We order red wine by the glass (it’s early), and are happy with the rich tones of the French grenache we choose.

For his starter, Philip has the rabbit with wild garlic and mushrooms. The meat is intensely flavoured, and the accompaniments light and refreshing. I have the egg yolk raviolo with Tunworth and burnt leek. This is a technical delight: the pasta thin and delicate, the yolk creamy, the cheese sauce robust and full-flavoured. The ‘potato hay’ on top provides some welcome crunch.

For my main, I have venison with hispi cabbage, apple and fennel and a side of salt-baked root vegetables. The meat is soft and tender, and the accompanying flavours subtly complement it. Philip’s skate with razor clam, asparagus velouté and sea veg is beautifully presented and well-cooked, the flesh falling cleanly from the bone. The clam lends the dish a salty tang.

My pudding is rhubarb, rosemary and yesterday’s bread. It’s delicious: a dainty, elegant way to finish a meal, even if ‘yesterday’s bread’ is hard to discern (it’s in the ice cream, apparently). Philip’s salted caramel, clotted cream and chocolate is rather less impressive, the only mis-step on our menu. It’s pleasant enough but it doesn’t taste of very much other than a general creamy sweetness.

There’s a bit of an issue when we come to pay, when the simple transposition of two numbers means we’re overcharged by a whopping £108! Still, this is easily and speedily resolved, and we leave sated and content. This is clever and intricate food, well worth the walk to the top of the hill.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Grazing by Mark Greenaway

11/05/19

The Caledonian, Rutland Street, Edinburgh

We were excited to learn that Mark Greenaway was taking over the space vacated by the Galvin brothers in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Greenaway’s food holds a special place in our hearts: we ate at his short-lived Stockbridge Bistro on our (very low key) wedding day, and rather marvellous it was too. We also enjoyed his flagship restaurant on North Castle Street, and – when that closed – kept an eye on the local press to see what he’d do next.

And Grazing is it. This new project is a more casual affair, with a hearty-sounding menu and a breezy, friendly atmosphere. It’s Saturday night, and we’ve been busy all day. We’re hungry and looking forward to an enjoyable evening.

Things get off to a promising start with the arrival of some stout and treacle bread and duck skin butter. The lightness of the bread belies the density of the flavour, and we’re both mightily impressed. We eat it far too quickly, and the waiter brings us more. We endeavour to approach the second portion with more circumspection; we don’t want to fill up before we’ve sampled the menu.

We both go for the same starter, because it sounds so enticing. Who could resist a crumpet with smoked trout and a poached egg? Not us! And it is absolutely fabulous: packing a real punch, yet somehow delicate. This is the kind of dish that gets people talking. (But only once they’ve cleared their plates.)

For the main, we decide to try one of the ‘grazing for two’ sharing dishes, the fish pie. This comes with two sides. The ugly potatoes sound delicious, but – we reason – there will be mash on our pie, and we don’t want double-spud. So we opt instead for Kentucky fried cauliflower and green beans with hazelnuts and goat’s cheese. The green beans are delicious, complemented well by the crunch of the nuts and the creamy, salty cheese. I’m less keen on the cauliflower, but then I rarely enjoy breaded/battered/deep-fried things, so it’s probably more me than it. Philip likes it well enough, and polishes it off.

Our reaction to the fish pie is a bit mixed. There’s no mash topping; it’s a naked pie. We should have ordered those potatoes after all; it might have been nice to be warned. The chunks of fish are large and perfectly cooked; there’s egg in there, and the white sauce is rich and piquant. But it doesn’t feel very indulgent; it’s not that we need a bigger portion, exactly; we just need to feel like we’re being spoiled. And this is somehow meagre, a little mean. A shame.

For dessert, Philip has the sticky toffee pudding soufflé, which is the standout dish of the evening. I wish I’d chosen it too. It looks magnificent, and has the substance to back up its style. It’s a light take on a stodgy dish, all the datey, caramelly, sticky joyousness without the heavy carbs. It comes with a hot caramel sauce and honeycomb ice cream, and is a knockout.

I’ve ordered the brown sugar cheesecake, mainly because it comes with tomato, and I’m fascinated to see how this works. In reality, it’s a little disappointing: there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I can’t really taste tomato (presumably it’s in the syrupy sauce drizzled on my plate); the cheesecake is pleasant, but not memorable.

There’s a decent wine list, from which we select the a French Touraine sauvignon blanc. It’s fresh and clean tasting, exactly what we want.

All in all, our experience of Grazing is a bit hit and miss. I’m sure it’s possible to have a 5 star meal here, if you chance upon the right dishes. We’ve had a lovely evening, and I’m sure that we’ll come back. But we’ll know what not to order, too.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Oink

05/04/19

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

We’ve been looking forward to Edinburgh’s inaugural Open Streets day, keen to see the Old Town transformed into a traffic-free zone, with activities a-plenty to entice us onto the Royal Mile. It’s a great idea: a once-a-month trial in a limited area, to see what the impact of such emission-reducing policies might be. The benefits can be trumpeted, to convince the sceptical; any negatives can be addressed. Hopefully, in time, it can be extended, to ensure better air quality for us all, making the city centre a healthier, more active place.

So far, we’ve had fun. It’s all pretty low key, but there’s a pleasant, chilled-out atmosphere. There are regular-sized people playing giant chess next to St Giles, and tiny kids navigating bikes on the Grassmarket. We play badminton – badly – in the middle of the street, and take photographs of a bubble show.

Which is all well and good, but now it’s lunch time, and we’re hungry.

We’ve walked past Victoria Street’s Oink on many occasions, commenting on the ever-present queues, and the clever simplicity of the idea. But we’ve never eaten here. We only have meat once a week, so we’re extra choosy when it comes to it. Today, a hog-roast roll seems most appealing, so we join the line and wait our turn.

There’s no other option, and that’s the beauty of the place. Owners Adam Marshall and Sandy Pate are farmers, and the meat comes straight from Marshall’s farm. There’s a pig, whole, and there’re rolls; that’s why we’re here. There are some limited choices: white or brown bread; apple sauce or mustard mayonnaise; sage and onion or haggis stuffing; crackling or… no crackling. Served quickly, without fuss, wrapped in a sheet of foil, and off we go.

We don’t go far. We’re barely out of the door before we’re tucking in. We’ve both chosen white bread (because, let’s face it, this was never about health), and the rolls are soft and light, a perfect home for the rich pulled pork. I’ve gone for sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce and – of course – some crackling. The latter is hot and sticky and very naughty; the sweet apple sauce complements the succulent meat. Philip’s opted for the stronger flavours of haggis and mustard, which he says are wonderful. He doesn’t say much else; like me, he’s concentrating on devouring this gromfy treat. We’re in no doubt now as to why this place is always busy. It deserves its success.

Usually, we don’t allow ourselves to have takeaways, because of the single-use plastic and the mounds of waste. And yeah, the foil wrapping here is single-use too, but at least it’s properly recyclable, and there’s only a small piece of it. Even so, next time we’ll try to be more prepared and bring our own beeswax wraps to the party. Because there will be a next time; there’s no doubt about that.

Maybe at the next Open Streets day, in June.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

The Eco Larder

27/04/19

Morrison Street, Edinburgh

Okay, so we don’t usually write about shops here at B&B. We don’t like shopping; the ‘food’ heading is for restaurant reviews (we do like eating out). But The Eco Larder is such a fabulous little store that we just can’t help ourselves. We want to extol its virtues.

And it’s our blog. We can stretch that ‘food’ category to include a shop if we want to. Right?

Run by the lovely Stephanie and Matt, The Eco Larder is a not-for-profit business, a social enterprise, with the laudable aim of eliminating plastic packaging. It’s encouraging to see zero waste shops like these springing up around the country, and The Eco Larder really is a bit special. We’ve all but ditched the supermarket in recent months (apart from an occasional trip to stock up on tinned food and alcohol); instead, we’re taking a weekly walk down Morrison Street, containers at the ready.

The shop is small, but bright and clean, and stocks an impressive array of goods. As well as our dried foods (pasta, rice, seeds, fruit, nuts, pulses, legumes, herbs, spices), we’re also buying our household items here, refilling old bottles with washing up liquid and hair conditioner. They sell loo roll and toothpaste, olive oils and vinegars, fresh bread and organic vegetables, reusable straws and sanitary pads. Honestly, they’ve got it all. As you’d expect, the prices vary. Some things seem expensive; others are very cheap. But overall, our weekly food bill is similar to what it was before; it’s changed the way we eat.

There are treats in store too. We especially love the freshly squeezed orange juice, and not just because it’s fun using the machine. The nut butter is delicious too, and no palm oil (or salt, or sugar) to make this pleasure a guilty one.

The recent addition of a milk vending machine is the icing on the (fair trade) cake. Those of us who live in city centre flats don’t have the option of milk delivery, and it’s rankled, seeing those endless plastic bottles filling up our recycling bag. But now we can take a bottle to The Eco Larder and fill it up with organic semi-skimmed. What’s not to like?

Shopping at The Eco Larder is actually pleasurable – a far cry from the stress of pushing a trolley around Aldi or Waitrose. Matt, Stephanie and their volunteer crew are all friendly and helpful; it’s a calm, gentle experience, and one we both look forward to.

So if, like us, you’re dismayed by the amount of waste you’ve been generating (and you’re in Edinburgh), why not take a walk down Morrison Street and try it for yourself?

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Scorrybreac

10/04/19

Bosville Terrace, Portree, Skye

We’re holidaying on the Isle of Skye, and we’re awed by its beauty. Our remote cottage has an uninterrupted view of Staffin Bay, and we’re happily spending our days walking the hills and cliff tops, our evenings barbecuing and drinking wine. But we love to eat out too, and so we spend a little time researching what’s available. Friends have recommended The Three Chimneys and Kinloch Lodge, but both are a little too far away; neither of us fancies a ninety-minute drive either side of dinner. And google has another suggestion.

Scorrybreac is a tiny restaurant in Portree, a manageable forty minutes down a winding mountain road. Situated above the harbour, its simple furnishings and minimalist menu bode very well indeed. This looks like just the kind of place we like. Indeed, it’s the kind of place a lot of people like, and friend google makes it very clear that advance booking is a must. We witness the truth of this advice from the comfort of our window seat, as disappointed potential diners are turned away in droves.

It’s a family affair, run by the Munro brothers, one of whom shoulders the entire front of house responsibility. Hats off to him: he’s friendly, taking time to answer questions and enthuse about the food, whilst still maintaining a brisk and efficient approach. In a place this small (there are only eighteen covers), the simple three course/three options menu makes perfect sense. And, at £45 a head, the pricing seems sensible too.

The wine list is short but nicely varied, but – as I’m driving – we don’t get to try it out. Philip has a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, which he says is good and ‘lemony.’

We’re given a bowl of smoked popcorn to graze as soon as we sit down and, soon after ordering, an amuse bouche appears. It’s a carrot and turmeric purée, topped with larch pines, which is an interesting touch. Next to arrive is a slice of warm soda bread with whipped caramelised butter. Yum. I’m impressed, and I haven’t even started my meal yet.

To start, we both order the monkfish carpaccio, which comes with beetroot, orange and crème fraîche. It’s the freshest tasting dish imaginable, the fish all melt-in-the-mouth loveliness, and the accompanying pea shoots adding a welcome zing. We’re informed that the oil on the plate is Douglas fir, and its piny flavour is something new to us. It’s good, complementing the dish perfectly.

For his main course, Philip has the lamb rump with wild garlic and Jerusalem artichoke. The meat is rich and soft, the flavours bold and intense. I opt for the cod with mussels, cabbage and vanilla. It’s beautiful: really light and delicate, although it does become a little watery after a few minutes.

We order everything on the pudding menu, and share what we receive. There’s dark chocolate, caramel and malt ice-cream, which turns out to be a cremeux type thing, almost viciously bitter, but artfully tempered by the ice cream and honeycomb. Then there’s sea buckthorn, meringue and almond, which is a slice of deliciously moist cake served with an orange mousse and a light Italian meringue. These are plate-lickingly good, although we refrain from actually doing so. Just.

To finish, we have cheese: generous slices of brie, blue cheese and smoked cheddar, with chunky oatcakes, fruit and (a simple but genius touch) honey.

Scorrybreac is a little treasure of a place, and definitely worth booking if you like fine dining without a fuss.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield