Dean Banks

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