Dean Banks

Dulse

08/01/23

Queensferry Street, Edinburgh

The New Year’s festivities are over, the decorations are packed away (in our case into a tiny box), and we’re into the dreary days of early January – a time when not very much happens. So aren’t we glad we took advantage of some Black Friday deals and lined up a couple of gastronomic treats for early 2023? The first of them is for a Sunday roast at Dulse. It’s here that chef Dean Banks has lined up a eclectic menu, all based around seafood. Seafood for a Sunday roast? Does this compute? More of that later.

We’ve dined in this building before, of course, back when it was L’escargot Blanc, a cosy French restaurant, all nooks and crannies, with an authentic country inn kind of feel. Now the place has been opened out and given a brighter, more contemporary look. Somehow it feels as though it’s doubled in size, which can’t be possible. We order a bottle of the house white – a lovely melon-flavoured Languedoc that rejoices under the name of Baron de Badassiere (which we inevitably dub ‘Baron Badass,’ mainly because there’s nobody to stop us). We sip our drinks and peruse the menu.

For starters we order a delightful trout pastrami – sashimi styled slices of fish bursting with flavour and served with rye bread and a dollop of Katy Rodgers creme fraiche. Each bite is a little taste of heaven, the crispy rye bread a perfect foil for the smoky, succulent slices of fish. There’s also a huge bowl of Singapore mussels, which for me are the star of the show, as they reside in a superb, spicy broth, packed with garlic and chillies, each mouthful offering that delightful catch at the back of the throat. We see now why the waitress advised us to also order the bread loaf with sustainable butter, because chunks of this fabulous grain bread dunked into the broth are just heavenly. The plates are cleared in record time and we’re already brighter than we were.

Now for the main course, the Sunday roast. Picture, if you will, the images that those two words conjure in your mind’s eye and then erase them and think again. In place of the meat course, there’s a whole slow roasted plaice, sliced down the middle but left on the bone, the flesh so delicate that it virtually melts in the mouth. I’ve had plaice many times, but this is a revelation. So too are the accompaniments, which are roast new potatoes, perfectly cooked, with a crispy exterior and soft, buttery inside. There’s a also a couple of wedges of charred hispi cabbage, deliciously crunchy and with a couple of sauces to pour over, one flavoured with saffron, the other, lemon. It’s hard to decide which is the best, but eventually we decide on the lemon. I’ve never had a Sunday roast like this before and, unlike the traditional alternative, when it’s finished I don’t feel stuffed to the gills.

Which is great because there’s a pudding (when is there not a pudding?) and, though both of them sound unprepossessing, each in its own way is quietly impressive. There’s a dulce de leche chocolate pave, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and it’s both perfectly executed and perfectly delicious. Then there’s a plum and apple crumble, which in itself seems like a reinvention, the chunks of fruit cooked al dente, the crumble topping light and (dare we use this word?) sort of… healthy. It’s all finished off with a dollop of cream.

Suddenly, January doesn’t seem quite so dreary. Anybody wishing to partake of some stunning seafood should hurry on down to Queensferry Street at their earliest opportunity. This is a game-changer.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

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