Food

The Ship on the Shore

28/01/23

The Shore, Leith

It’s a Saturday night and friends have invited us to dine with them at The Ship on the Shore, a bustling, friendly venue in Leith which describes itself as a ‘seafood restaurant and champagne bar.’ I don’t have anything in particular to celebrate, so I eschew the champagne and settle for a couple of pints of Peroni, but seafood? Hell, yes – lead me to it!

As you might expect, the place is packed but the team here are friendly and efficient so ordering and receiving our food is no bother. We make our selections and settle down for a convivial chat, which – let’s face it – is an important element in most meals.

 For starters, I opt for the salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes. There’s something so innately comforting about fishcakes, isn’t there? And these are splendid examples of their kind, large, perfectly cooked and full of flavour, served with a mixture of mushy peas and tartare sauce. Susan opts for steamed Shetland mussels, another generous portion, nestled in a golden broth of cider, garlic and herbs. As ever, we sample a mouthful of each other’s food. We’re also impressed by the hot and cold Scottish smoked salmon, ordered by one of our companions – so much so that we decide to use a photo of it, because it’s much more photogenic than my main course!

It might not look much, but my seafood pie ‘Royale is perfectly delicious. Some so-called ‘pies’ can comprise a few scraps of fish hiding in mounds of mashed potato, but, happily, this is not the case here. Beneath that crisp, buttery surface there are chunks of smoked haddock and salmon, there are king scallops and big, juicy prawns. Susan’s seafood chowder is also a bit of a wonder: thick, creamy and featuring all the usual suspects plus some less obvious ones. Added to the salmon, smoked haddock and queen scallops and prawns, there are also mussels and squid. It’s like an aquarium in there!

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after such a feast, we wouldn’t be able to face up to pudding? But here’s the thing. I’ve deliberately eaten barely anything all day in preparation for this. Plus, there’s a sticky toffee pudding on the menu and I don’t know what it is about me, some kind of inbuilt reflex, but whenever those words appear on a menu, I nearly always have to try it (though, in this case, I do manage to negotiate replacing the vanilla ice cream accompaniment with a scoop of salted caramel, because… why not?) Suffice to say, that I take the dish on and utterly vanquish it, which is, I think, a testament to my determination. Susan’s berry cheesecake is also pretty sumptuous – and so rich she can’t quite finish it, but we’ll let her away with that one.

Anybody who relishes good seafood will be glad they visited this cheery, welcoming restaurant – and those who ‘don’t do seafood’ should bear in mind that The Ship on the Shore also offers a rib eye steak, and, for the vegetarians, there’s a butternut squash risotto with blue cheese and toasted pine nuts. Seafood fans, though, will have an absolute field day.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Yara

21/01/23

Wilmslow Road, Cheadle

We’ve popped down to Greater Manchester for the night and – of course – we need to eat. We’re visiting family who have recently moved house, and now they’re near Cheadle, giving us a whole new (to us) raft of neighbourhood restaurants to explore. The area is lively and vibrant, and there’s a lot of choice – but our hosts have been to Yara before, and assure us that the hummus alone is worth the trip.

Yara is a Lebanese and Syrian restaurant. It’s big, but it runs like clockwork, the young staff friendly and efficient and clearly well trained. They do sell booze, but you can also BYO, which we do – simply because it’s cheaper, and so why wouldn’t we? We’re provided with an ice bucket and glasses, and left to peruse the menu.

We order separately, but actually share everything. This works well for the starters. We have the hummus dip, of course, which comes with pitta, and decide to try the labneh too. This concentrated yoghurt dip is a creamy, herby delight. We have broad beans and tomatoes in the form of a full-flavoured ful madamas, and a generous portion grilled halloumi, cooked to perfection – nicely charred on the outside and soft in the middle.

Given that we’ve decided to share, we really ought to pay more attention to what the others around us are ordering for mains, but we don’t, and so end up with four lamb dishes. They’re different, of course, but I wish we’d opted for a chicken and a veggie dish as part of the mix. Never mind. Between us we have a lamb shawarma, a lamb sharhat, a bamieh and a muklabeh c.y. salad. Three of the dishes come with rice, and we’ve also ordered a Greek salad (the feta cheese is particularly delicious). They’re all good, but the standout is probably the muklabeh, despite it being one of the ugliest dishes I’ve ever seen. Its unprepossessing appearance conceals something very special: the aubergines have been slow-cooked so that they’re almost caramelised, and melt in the mouth before giving way to the succulent lamb and rice beneath.

The first two courses are a hit, so naturally we want to see if the puddings can compete. They can. We share some ballorieh knafeh (pastry stuffed with pistachio nuts, butter and honey), a piece of walnut honey cake, a portion of muhalabieh, which tastes like a cross between panna cotta and cheesecake, and – best of all – a selection of different flavoured chunks of Turkish delight.

So yes, we’ve had a lovely time. Sated, we venture out into the icy air, and head home, still smiling, for more drinks and some long overdue family time. A palpable hit.

4.4 stars.

Susan Singfield

Alexandros

30/12/22

Warwick Road, Carlisle

Even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. We are travelling home from North Wales to Edinburgh, by train – on my birthday. A restaurant is booked for the evening of our arrival. What can possibly go wrong?

Well, plenty as it turns out. We haven’t factored in the possibility of near-biblical weather conditions that put an impenetrable flood between us and our home city. At Preston, we manage to fight our way aboard a train heading north but we are warned that it cannot possibly go any further north than Carlisle, a place we’ve never visited.

Once ensconced in a frantically-sought hotel room, we remind ourselves that I’m supposed to be enjoying a birthday meal tonight, so we put out an online shout to various groups asking for recommendations in Carlisle. We get plenty of suggestions but one name keeps recurring. Alexandro’s Greek Restaurant. And, as it transpires, humping our baggage in the direction of our hotel, we happen to walk right past the place. Kismet? Perhaps. At any rate, I venture inside and am able to secure a table for two.

A few hours later, we’re back, suitably fortified by a couple of drinks at the rather swish (but very friendly) Barton’s Yard, just a few steps away. The place is busy – it’s a Friday night after all – and we settle down to look at the extensive menu, while the unmistakable sound of bazoukis twang happily away in the background. Memories of tavernas on remote Greek islands come drifting back to me. We notice that, for thirty pounds a head, we can order a three course mezze – a chef’s selection of all the best dishes on offer. This absolves us of the responsibility of actually making a decision so we order that and settle back in our seats. We don’t have to wait long.

The starters arrive in a cluster because they’re all designed to go together. There’s a delectable trio of dips, freshly made hummus, tzatziki and taramosolata, with a bowl of fresh bread and a grilled pitta .There are kaserokoketes, deep fried croquettes stuffed with mixed cheeses, there’s sarmadakia, vine leaves stuffed with rice and raisins, as well as a bowl of fasolia fournou, a delightfully spiced stew of butter beans with tomato, chilli and oregano. Of course, I’ve eaten all of these before – usually on Greek holidays – but they are perfectly executed and mouthwateringly indulgent. We polish them off very quickly indeed.

The main courses follow swiftly on. There’s a generous platter of barbecued chicken on skewers, succulent and delicately spiced, and a beef stifado, slow-cooked until it virtually melts in the mouth. There’s moussaka (of course there’s moussaka!) but this is better than most I’ve sampled over the years, full of flavour and splendidly aromatic. Then there’s a wonderful Horiatiki – a Greek salad, which features chunks of some of the best feta I’ve tasted on this side of the Mediterranean, and just in case we can find room for it, there’s also a bowl of saffron rice.

We’ve often observed that it’s generally the puddings that let a restaurant down, but happily this is not the case here. The final platter features chunks of baklava, given a festive twist by the inclusion of mincemeat. This is a substance I usually dislike but not so here, because the result is gorgeously gooey and rather splendid. So are the karydopita, slices of walnut and cinnamon sponge soaked in vanilla and lemon syrup and topped with crushed walnuts. Add a couple of scoops of homemade ice cream and a selection of soft fruit and we are struggling to finish, but reluctant to leave so much as a crumb.

Alexandro’s is a family-run business that nails its objectives with aplomb. The staff are friendly and informative, and the atmosphere is relaxed. I really have no complaints. Should you find yourself in Carlisle with time on your hands, a visit to this fabulous Greek restaurant should be high on your ‘to do’ list. It doesn’t entirely make up for being stuck in the wrong city at an awkward time of year, but it certainly helps.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Kora by Tom Kitchin

16/12/22

Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

We visited Kora a few days after it opened, back in July, and loved it. But then it was in its infancy, and Mr Kitchin was a friendly and visible presence. The perfect storm of Brexit, COVID and cost-of-living crisis means that restaurants are even more vulnerable than they were before, and he was clearly focused on giving this place a decent start. The question is, five months on, with a slightly longer menu and the restaurant staff given more autonomy, is Kora still delivering five star meals?

The answer is: yes. Yes, it is.

It’s a welcoming place, with a cosy, informal vibe; the staff are warm without being overbearing, professional without being stuffy. The diners before us are running a little late, so we have to wait a while for our table, but we’re happy enough to sit at the bar with some wine (a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc), perusing the menu. It’s hard to pick from the delights on offer.

In the end, we both opt for the salmon starter. This comprises two thick slices of smoked salmon, served with a buckwheat galette, spinach, a perfectly poached egg and a buttery hollandaise sauce. It’s mouthwateringly-wonderful: the thick orange yolk cascading over everything; the salmon robust yet still delicate. It’s a great beginning!

My main course is the Sika deer: a venison pithivier with some medium rare roasted loin, both cooked to perfection. I’m worried before it arrives that it’ll be too much, too rich, with all the pastry and red meat, but it’s perfectly judged, so that I feel satisfied rather than bloated. This comes with celeriac, which, although not my favourite vegetable, is beautifully cooked, and complements the meat well. Perhaps it would be better to have something fresh and green to offset all that richness, but this is just a minor quibble.

Philip has the partridge, which comes en croute, with a roasted leg on the side, as well as some salsify. This is succulent, well-spiced and subtly flavoured, the pastry flaky and crisp. He declares it to be ‘faultless’ and relishes every mouthful.

Philip’s pudding is chocolate, i.e. warm doughnut balls, a dark chocolate sauce, and Chantilly cream. It’s one of those dishes that makes you say ‘oooh’ a lot; it feels indulgent and nostalgic in equal measure. My cinnamon is something of an eye-opener, so much more than its description gives away. A real contender for my ‘Off Menu dream meal dessert’, this consists of a cinnamon panna cotta, served with tart, crisp pieces of apple and an apple sorbet, with a small, warm cinnamon bun on the side. I just know I’ll be ordering this again before too long.

We decline coffee, pay our bill, and head off into the cold, night air. Kora is only a ten minute walk from home; what a privilege to live so near a place as stellar as this.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Dine Murrayfield – Wine Club

12/10/22

Murrayfield Place, Edinburgh

We’re already familiar with the Dine in Saltire Court, conveniently situated above the Traverse Theatre, a three minute walk from our apartment – and okay, when I first receive the invitation to this combined wine-tasting and four course meal, I’m under the impression that’s where I’m actually going. No matter, the Murrayfield branch is just a twenty-five minute stroll away and proves to be as delightful as its sister restaurant. One of the friendly waiters informs me that a new branch has just opened in Cannon Mills, so I make a mental note to check that out in due course too.

Pretty soon, we’re sipping a delicious glass of Loimer Brut Rosé and our host for the evening, Mike from Liberty Wines, sings its praises and points out details like the fact that it has a delicate ‘puff pastry’ aroma. (Weirdly, it actually does!) Mike pops up at regular intervals during the evening, telling us more about the joys of Austrian wines, of which – until now – I know nothing. He’s keen to point out that all but one of tonight’s offerings are certified organic and biodynamic, the latter of which he helpfully describes as ‘organic on steroids’. 

In comes the appetiser, a pretzel cheese fondue, which features a full size pretzel with rocket and port gel and a generous bowl of hot creamy, cheesy dip, which is absolutely delicious. Too big for a starter? Possibly, though I’m certainly not complaining!

Next up there’s the fish course, a Gulasch sea bream, which turns out to be my star meal of the evening, a mouthwatering stew featuring chunks of potato, carrot and bell peppers and, best of all, a fillet of bream with a delightful crispy skin. The paprika-laced broth causes a delightful catch at the back of the throat. A slice of sourdough is perfect for mopping up the last of it. This course is accompanied by a Südsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc, a subtle but zesty wine with gooseberry and pear notes.

Next up, the glasses arrive charged with Wieninger Pino Noir Select, heralding the fact that a meat course is coming. On paper, the Tafelspiz sounds unprepossessing: boiled beef in a broth of vegetables and spices. Can anybody make boiled beef appetising? It turns out they can. The meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender; there are a couple of perfectly cooked roast potatoes and an accompanying mixture of minced apples and horseradish, which I enjoy despite my initial reservations. What’s more, though I rarely enjoy red wine, the Wieninger’s robust tannin structure with flavours of red and black cherries makes an ideal accompaniment to the dish.

I’ve said it many times before: the pudding is often the crowning glory of many a good meal – but sadly, there’s no pudding here, just an Austrian cheese selection, which – though perfectly agreeable – seems like the one real misstep. Let’s be honest, we began with a cheese dish and Austria has no shortage of great puddings. A fruit strudel would surely be a better companion for the sweet Heidi Schröck Welschriesling that accompanies the final dish. I could also suggest that the courses are all a bit heavy on the carbs and might benefit from the presence of a few greens, but I can’t deny that I find all of this (even the cheese) utterly delicious and, at just £59 per head, exceptional value for money.

Another of these events is planned for the new year. 

Are we going to be there? Hell, yes!

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Tantra

08/10/22

Castle Street, Edinburgh

Tantra has been on our radar for a while now. Its promise of ‘progressive Indian cuisine’ is alluring, and the restaurant looks enticing too: all glass, shiny surfaces and fancy wine fridges. So, when we’re looking for somewhere to meet friends for a long overdue catch-up, it seems like the obvious choice.

The restaurant’s mission is “to change people’s perceptions of Indian cuisine” and “provide a multi-sensory experience”. I think it succeeds. The food is ambitious, delicious – and certainly different from what I’ve come to expect from a regular curry house.

To begin, we share a Tantra Crisp Board, which comprises a selection of crisps and seven different dips. It’s interesting, and the dips are really tasty – but there’s a problem. We need a well-trained waiter to talk us through what we’ve been given, but what we get is a succession of keen, friendly sixth-formers, all of whom are obviously doing their best, but haven’t been taught to explain the dishes. So I can’t tell you what any of the dips are made of, but I can say that I especially like ‘the tomatoey one’, and that ‘the tamarind one’ is lovely too.

Philip’s starter, the Trio Tibetian Mog, is the standout dish of the evening. It’s just three chicken dumplings, but they’re beautifully presented, and delicately spiced. I have the Fuchka Xplosions, which is as theatrical as it sounds. There’s a pattern emerging though: these stuffed-puffed pooris are served with a glass full of corked test tubes, over which liquid is poured to create a perfumed dry ice. It looks amazing, but I don’t know what to do with it. I guess that the test tubes are just there to create the appetising fruity smell, and I eat the pooris as they stand. They’re fresh and zingy, but later I notice diners at a different table pouring the test-tube contents over theirs, and wonder if I’ve missed a trick. I wish someone had told me…

For my main, I opt for a Dum Hyderabadi Gosht (lamb biriyani). One of our friends asks for the vegetarian jackfruit version. They arrive looking identical, and topped with naan. Breaking open the bread reveals a layer of rice and vegetables, so we’ve both eaten a fair quantity before we delve deeper and realise we’ve been given the wrong meals. Luckily, he’s not actually veggie, so we just accept that we’ve got something different from what we wanted and soldier on. I’m happy to report that the Zafrani Echor Biriyani is a delight: vibrant, hot and full of flavour. Just, you know, not what I ordered…

Philip has the Chemmeen [Prawn] Mappas, which proves to be a luxurious, mild, coconut-milk based curry, and the Plain Naan he orders to go with it is light and well-baked too. This meal is perhaps a bit on the small side, which doesn’t matter as we’re sharing and he has half of my biriyani, but a more alert waiter might have advised him to order rice.

Our other friend orders the Spiced Lamb Rack, which deserves a mention just for being so pretty. She says it’s very good (and I certainly like the sound of the pistachio crumb), if a little difficult to cut.

We all eschew pudding. The dessert menu is intriguing and inventive but we’re full, so we decide to do without. The bill arrives. It’s surprisingly reasonable given the standard of the cuisine, working out at about £40 a head, including drinks (between us, we imbibe two glasses of wine, two Tiger beers, two non-alcoholic lagers and a diet Coke).

So it’s a thumbs up for the food, and a thumbs down for the service. This isn’t a slight on the individual waiters, but on the way they have been trained. Half of the joy of a fancy meal comes from a more holistic approach to the dining experience, and – although we like what we eat and have a lovely time with our friends – something is lacking here (and I don’t just mean the tap water that never appears, despite us asking twice).

3.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Kora by Tom Kitchin

07/07/22

Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

The Southside Scran was always our go-to place for great quality seasonal cooking – and, when it closed its doors just before lockdown after a disastrous flood, we were very sad to say the least. We couldn’t walk up to Bruntsfield without casting hopeful looks towards its shuttered premises as we went by. After what seemed an eternity of waiting we finally spotted a sign bearing a brand new name and started counting down the days. Indeed, we’d have been here on its opening night if the dreaded COVID hadn’t stepped in with a disastrously-timed delaying tactic.

Finally, my isolation period is over and we are able to take our seats in Kora, which has a fresh new look and now offers tempting bar snacks for those who aren’t looking for the full dining experience. We are greeted at the table by Tom Kitchin himself, who tells us a little bit about Kora’s ethos and presents us with two glasses of fizz and a delightfully spiced broccoli tempura, as an example of the aforementioned bar snacks. This new venue, he tells us, is all about seasonal cooking, about creating a relaxed and informal place to dine. He’s put together a young and enthusiastic team to help him deliver his new creations.

For starters I sample the day boat squid which comes with delicious crispy jambon, runner beans and girolle mushrooms. To describe it as ‘tasty’ would be doing it a disservice. It is absolutely delicious, right down to the final succulent mouthful. Susan’s courgette flower tempura, stuffed with ricotta, and accompanied by olives, tomato and chickpeas is just as assured.

The main courses are faultless too. I’ve gone for the crispy Ayrshire belly pork, a generous chunk of tender meat with a gratifyingly crunchy topping, lying on a bed of cabbage and black pudding. Mmm! Susan has the Errington goat’s cheese tart with sweet red onion and pine nuts. Accompanied by glasses of cold Sauvingon Blanc, the course is an absolute delight, and it’s hard to imagine how these dishes could be bettered. They are note-perfect.

The puddings can sometimes be the element that lets a meal down, but not so here – my Blasgowrie gooseberry fool with oatmeal granola certainly has the wow factor and looks every bit as good as it tastes – as does Susan’s praline – which is actually a island of soft meringue floating in a sea of custard. There’s really nothing here to fault and we leave feeling that the Southside has a worthy successor. Kora is another wonderful venue to add to Tom Kitchin’s impressive collection.

Will we back? Most definitely!

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Green Island Bistro

12/06/22

High Street, Rhuddlan

Take one small-ish Welsh village (population <4000). Add six hungry people seeking lunch. Factor in a vegan, a vegetarian, some lactose intolerance and a wheelchair. Expectation: we’ll need to drive somewhere. Reality: the answer is on my parents’ doorstep. Almost literally.

Green Island Bistro opened in October 2020, an inauspicious time to launch a new venture, what with COVID and all its attendant chaos. But owner Sarah Turner clearly welcomes a challenge. Sure, plant-based diets are all the rage, but still – are there really enough vegans here (even part-time ones) to make this work? It turns out the answer is a resounding yes, as evidenced by the tiny eatery’s Best Café/Bistro in North Wales award.

Things get off to a good start early in the morning, when Sarah sends me a detailed message in response to my query about wheelchair access. It’s the kind of thoughtful approach that lets you know this is someone who really cares about customer satisfaction and wants to get it right. She includes photos of both exterior and interior seating, and a close-up of the small step that leads inside. Dad’s impressed, and reassured that his needs will be met.

Tucked behind Rejuva beauty salon, next door to the King’s Head Pub, Green Island Bistro has space for just sixteen covers inside, but there’s a sweet little courtyard too, which can seat the same number again. It’s not especially warm today though, so we opt to go indoors. The reception is relaxed and friendly; we’re immediately at ease.

Only one of us is actually a vegan, so the rest of us are expecting to feel the weight of compromise, but the short menu looks interesting, and we all find something that sounds good.

Both I and my sister-in-law opt for the daily special, which is a seitan kebab – and really enjoy it. The flatbread is clearly home-made, and the seitan (which I’ve never tried before) has a lovely savoury flavour, and a pleasingly firm texture. There’s also a spicy sauce, which adds a welcome hit. Philip and my mum have the hoisin duck flatbread, and are delighted with it. Philip says he can’t taste the difference between this and ‘real duck’ – and he likes the way it’s presented too, on an impossibly long board. My brother – our favourite vegan – has the cheese platter. He acknowledges that he’s taking a risk because some vegan cheeses are beyond the pale, but these four are all delicious. I sample one to check, and he’s not wrong. It’s like a cross between cheese and hummus, and a real pleasure to eat. That just leaves dad, who has a baked potato with vegan cheese and beans. They’re all simple dishes, but they’re perfectly executed, and we’re happy with what we’ve had.

Of course we have pudding, sampling a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream, a chocolate fondue, some lemon drizzle cake and a gluten free carrot cake. The cakes and the fondue are beautifully made and presented. We’re not super keen on the ice cream: it tastes nice, but we don’t especially like the texture. Still, it’s a very minor quibble, all things considered.

We have some drinks too. I have my first ever espresso martini. It won’t be my last. The menu also boasts bottled beers, a few nice wines, and a range of coffees and soft drinks – and we put a fair few away between us.

We’re impressed. Green Island Bistro ticks all the boxes, and we’ll certainly be back for more.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Grazing by Mark Greenaway

14/05/22

The Caledonian Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh

After sampling a note-perfect tasting menu at Dean Banks’ Pompadour, we’re keen to try a similar offering from Grazing by Mark Greenaway, which is located in the same building. The Pompadour’s offer was for lunch time, while this is available in the evening, so along we dutifully trot at the appointed time to find the place busy and bustling, which – after so long in the doldrums of the lockdown – is gratifying indeed.

The staff are charming – particularly the bubbly waitress who handles our table – and we opt to try the matched wines. We’re in good spirits.

Things get off to a great start with Greenaway’s signature treacle and stout sourdough, accompanied by whipped butter. (Yes, I know it’s only bread and spread but, seriously, it’s absolutely gorgeous.) We also have the crab toast, which is served in a shell and features melt-in the-mouth crab meat with shellfish butter and almond cream. It’s light, delicious and we make very short work of it.

Up comes the first wine, a Californian chardonnay. We’re normally ABC people (Anything But Chardonnay) but, when sipped with the next course, a salt cod croquette, the astringent flavour really cuts through the intense tomato fondue and goat’s cheese that accompanies the fish. This course is faultless.

Next up there’s a wild mushroom and hazelnut ragu and this too is just fabulous. It’s topped with celeriac, which neither of us is wild about, but this version tastes terrific and a glass of Riesling-style wine proves to be the ideal match. So far, so impressive.

But the main course – slow roast chicken – proves to be a little bland. It comes with haggis crumble and roscoffe onions, the latter a little undercooked and chewy. It’s not terrible, you understand, but after such perfection, it feels like a false note. The pinot noir we drink with it helps to boost the flavours a little.

Next, there’s cranachan ice cream, which is sweetly vibrant but neither of us is mad about the little doughnut which encloses it. It’s served cold and has a chewiness about it.

We’ve added a cheese course to the basic offering and, when it arrives, it turns out to be the evening’s biggest disappointment, a postage stamp-sized affair comprising a couple of soggy crackers and some tiny nodules of cheese in a tangy source. It’s tasty enough, but is gone in a single bite like an amuse bouche – but we’re not feeling particularly amused, considering we’ve paid a £9 per person supplement. Happily, a glass of champagne arrives to lift our spirits.

Finally, there’s a second pudding, a chocolate and stout cake served with malt ice cream and honey. Again, we’re not bowled over by a ‘sweet’ that tastes predominantly of beer – and, lest we forget, Grazing is the home of what is probably our all time favourite dessert, a sticky toffee pudding soufflé, the closest thing to heaven on a plate that I’ve personally encountered. This boozy creation frankly isn’t in the same league. Our final drink of the evening is a robust port, which does at least help to disguise that slightly odd flavour.

A game of two halves then. Three absolute winners, followed by a series of steadily declining misfires. One thing is for certain: when it comes to tasting menus, consistency is key – and in the ‘Battle of the Caledonian,’ Dean Banks wins by a knockout.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Dean Banks at the Pompadour

30/04/22

The Caledonian Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh

Once upon a time, we’d have saved a lunch like this for a special occasion. But, in this uncertain decade, we’ve learned not to put things off. Who knows when another lockdown might be imposed – or, indeed, what else might occur? So we’re seizing the day, and making the most of opportunities as they arise.

Today’s opportunity appears in the guise of a special offer: a nine-course lunchtime tasting menu for £55 each. We’d budgeted for more eating out than we managed on our recent holiday to Shetland (we were there pre-season, and the few restaurants that were open had very limited availability), so the timing seems fortuitous. And it’s only a five minute walk from our apartment. We’re in!

We’ve eaten in this room before, back in 2017, when the Galvin brothers ran it. It’s a lovely space: all light and air, with huge semicircular windows and pastel hues. Not much has changed since Dean Banks took it over last year: the only visible difference is the addition of a model boat and a few fishy statues, hinting at the prominence of seafood here.

The service is formal but friendly. There’s the option to have an extra course – lobster – for an additional £35, but we decline. Nine courses should be plenty, right? We do, however, decide to go for the matched wines, because – why not? It’s £45 for five glasses, all carefully selected to complement the food.

Everything – and I mean everything – is note perfect, from the delicate saucisson sec & wild garlic tart to the intensely orangey (well, sea-buckthorny) dulse shortbread cream and everything in between. The corn and sunflower coblet might well be the nicest bread I’ve ever had, and it’s served with three butters: sesame, miso and salted. The miso is a particular hit, so much so that we’re planning on trying to make some at home. The north sea hake is ridiculously pretty, so that we almost don’t want to disturb its construction by biting into it, but then, of course, we do, and it’s delicious. There’s a Scottish-Asian theme throughout, with local produce enhanced by flavours such as gochujang and kimchi. It’s all perfectly balanced and delightful. The beef cheek is the richest dish; if it were any bigger, it’d be too much, but it’s expertly judged, and just the right amount. Pudding is spectacular: a matcha parfait with mango, yuzu and a black sesame ice cream. The latter is wonderfully weird: nowhere near sweet enough to be eaten alone, but a superb counterpoint to the fruity creaminess of the parfait.

If I have a quibble, it’s about the words ‘nine course’. And it’s not really a quibble because I don’t want anything more than I’m given, it’s just that amuse-bouches, bread and petit fours aren’t normally counted as ‘courses’, are they? I’ve had six-course menus before, and these have featured alongside. But still, what’s in a name? Our lunch smelled just as sweet.

We’re smiling as we leave, slightly squiffy on all that lovely wine. What a pleasant way to spend a Saturday!

5 stars

Susan Singfield