Dominic Jack

The Scran & Scallie

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05/08/16

Stockbridge, Edinburgh

We’re all familiar with the term ‘gastro-pub.’ Sadly, we’re also familiar with the soggy -lasagna-soup-in-a basket standard of fare that generally masquerades as superior pub dining. So welcome to the Scran & Scallie, a joint enterprise between Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack, that genuinly deserves that gastro-pub tag. Situated on a quiet road in Stockbridge, the place has a relaxed feel, the staff are friendly and, for those on a budget, there’s a daily set lunch menu at £15 a head for three courses.

Today, however, was a day for pushing the proverbial boat out, so we opted to go a la carte. Service takes long enough to persuade you that dishes really are being made to order. A basket of crusty bread and butter kept us going while we waited. I started with smoked trout and potato salad, the flakes of trout cooked to perfection, the potatoes just al dente enough, the light dressing perfectly judged. Susan went for a heritage tomato salad, with black olives & consommé, deliciously light and intensely flavoured. Beside me, our companion announced that he was enjoying his chicken liver parfait & pickled cabbage, served with a couple of pieces of crunchy toast.

For the main course, two of us opted for the steak pie, which sounded alluring and looked quite majestic when it arrived, the light-as-a-feather canopy of pastry supported by a great big chunk of marrow bone, packed with a rich salty filling. There’s a portion of chips, chunky, crispy, exactly as good chips should be; and I chose a side of roasted new potatoes with chorizo, which made an inspired addition to the already intense flavour of the succulent meat. Our companion, ever the individual, went for beef sausage & mash, which arrived looking as though it had been designed primarily to illustrate what such a dish should look like – thick, juicy sausages, smooth-as-you-like spuds and a caramelised onion gravy. The only oddity here was the inclusion  of a couple of hefty-looking onion rings; they were  nicely cooked, lightly battered, the onion within still crispy. Perfectly tasty, but did it really belong on this dish? I’m not sure, but hey, it’s a minor niggle.

Be warned, the portions at The Scran  are best described as ‘hearty,’ so be prepared for that belly-slapping, contented feeling you only ever get when everything is exactly as you want it and there’s plenty of it. We were so full, in fact, we very nearly convinced ourselves that we couldn’t possibly bring ourselves to order a pudding, but then we saw the menu and decided to sacrifice everything for our art.

So there was a delightfully light sticky toffee pudding, drenched in a sweet sauce and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream; and a vanilla cheesecake with Scottish raspberries, the cheesecake rich, smooth and flavoursome, perfectly contrasted with the acidity of those fresh raspberries. Yum.

Okay, so TS&S lacks the finesse of say, Castle Terrace, but then, that’s entirely the point. This is superior quality nosh, artfully cooked, nicely presented in a relaxed environment where you can happily enjoy a pint with your food. And it’s excellent. Apart from those onion rings, I couldn’t fault this, not one mouthful of it. If you’re in Edinburgh, looking for a memorable meal without the pretensions, this should be your first port of call.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Castle Terrace, Edinburgh

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13/08/16

Castle Terrace’s reputation precedes it – and it’s a place we’ve wanted to visit for quite a while now; but somehow, we’ve never found the right time to do it. Now, newly relocated to Edinburgh and within a few days of our second wedding anniversary, plus a visit from our favourite nephew, we simply felt we’d run out of excuses. Time to put on what passes for our best bib and tucker and take that five-minute stroll around the corner.

First impressions are encouraging. The dining area is spacious and has a light contemporary feel, not in the least bit stuffy, like some other fine dining restaurants we might mention. The friendly staff begin by presenting each of us with three colourful amuse bouches – handsomely crafted little taste explosions, each with its own unique flavour. The first is the essence of a Caesar salad, the next crab, and the third beetroot and goat’s cheese. It’s a brilliant introduction and we haven’t even ordered yet.

The starters are a little slow in coming so what happens next? They bring us another amuse bouche, by way of apology, this one a brilliantly rendered miniature ‘egg’ made from panacotta, haddock and mango, packing an intense fishy flavour. It’s superb. There’s also a basket of hot bread with butter to spread on it, but we try to resist eating too much of it, wanting to keep our appetites keen.

The starters arrive. We’ve chosen raviloli of brown crab with minestrone of vegetable, served in its own bisque and ballotine of Ayrshire pork with gooseberry jelly and crackling. Both dishes are superb, the bisque on the former so rich and satisfying, you feel you want to wipe up every last drop with a chunk of that lovely bread. The pork is satisfyingly succulent and, if there’s a slight criticism here, it’s simply that the crackling seems a little too ‘wholesome,’ lacking the illicit smack of pork fat that would have made it perfect. But this is a tiny niggle, all things considered, and our livers will probably thank us for it.

Main courses duly arrive and are happily devoured – the Inverurie lamb is tender and juicy and served with a tempura of aubergine and apricot, light, crispy and packed with flavour. The seared wing of skate has a fresh, punchy taste and this is served with a crisp vegetable salad infused with a zesty lemon and lime dressing. The nephew opts for the pithivier of ox tongue with an heirloom tomato and basil salad. This has a crispy pastry top and comes with a dark and delicious jus. It is essentially a posh meat pie and I wondered if some equally posh chips might have been a more appropriate accompaniment, but we hear no complaints from Dylan.

Do we have room for dessert? Well, as this is the first time we’ve dined here, we make the ultimate sacrifice and say ‘yes.’ Pretty soon we’re tucking into a vanilla crème brulee (old school in a shallow dish with a crispy, seared topping) and – for me the star of the show – a dark chocolate and raspberry delice with Earl Grey custard. Imagine, if you will, something that looks like an oversized Tunnock’s teacake, handsomely decorated and made from superior ingredients. Break through the brittle carapace of dark chocolate and you release a flood of rich, raspberry ooze. The custard, which I’ll admit worried me somewhat when I read about it on the menu, makes the perfect accompaniment. Yes, it tastes of Earl Grey tea, but against all the odds, it complements the rich chocolaty dessert perfectly. Who knew?

We’re amazed to read after the event that Castle Terrace recently lost its coveted Michelin Star, but surely it can only be a matter of time before it’s reinstated? Because all things considered, this just might be… (takes a deep breath but says it anyway) the best meal I’ve ever eaten. What else can we give this but the full five stars? If you’re in Edinburgh and feeling flush, go a la carte. Otherwise, at lunchtime there’s a brilliant three course set menu at £29.50 per person, which will linger in the memory long after you’ve finished dining.

5 stars

Philip Caveney