Leith

The Kitchin

16/06/21

Commercial Quay, Leith

A 50th birthday celebration is a great excuse to push the boat out – and the fact is, we’ve been trying to visit The Kitchin ever since we first moved to Edinburgh, some five years ago. We’ve managed to dine at all the other Tom Kitchin restaurants over that time: The Scran and Scallie, The Southside Scran and even The Bonnie Badger out in Gullane, but, mostly because of our complete inability to organise booking months ahead of time, we’ve never been able to find a suitable slot at his flagship venue. Until today.

It’s the sixteenth of June and we’re sitting at a table in The Kitchin, sipping our welcome glasses of champagne. The place is swish and comfortable and, though busy, it’s socially distanced enough for us to feel relaxed. We’ve walked the three miles from home to Commerical Quay, so we’ve managed to work up a decent appetite en route. On the other side of a glass partition, we can see Tom himself, hard at work on his latest masterpiece. We’ve opted for the Chef’s ‘Surprise’ menu, which means that we won’t know what we’re having until it arrives. The waiter gives us ample opportunity to rule out any ingredients we have an aversion to, but the fact is, we like most things and part of the thrill of dining at this level is to hand over control to the seasoned professionals on the other side of that screen.

We’ve also opted for the matched wines. This is going to be pricy, but hey, you’re only fifty once, right?

We start with an amuse bouche – a Swedish potato and seafood cake, which is essentially a little mouthful of salty heaven and a great way to get the old taste buds woken up. Goes well with the champagne too.

This is followed by a pea and lovage velouté, intensely flavoured but light as you like and we cannot resist mopping up that rich, green sauce with handfuls of freshly made soda bread. ‘Go easy on the bread,’ I keep telling myself, but I just somehow can’t make myself do that.

A glass of wine arrives (I’m not going to list all the wines, suffice to say that they are expertly paired with each dish), and then we’re presented with scallops in puff pastry. These are cooked in their shells and sealed with a ring of pastry, so they have to be opened up by the waiter, revealing melt-in-the-mouth tender scallops floating in a vibrant, citrus-infused sauce. If there’s a standout for me in this list of knockout dishes, this may just be it. But happily it proves to be a close-run thing.

Another glass of wine arrives, and then our next dish. This is pork cheek with truffle and asparagus, ladled with béchamel sauce and it’s every bit as good as it sounds. Truffle can be overpowering but not so here – there’s just enough of it to lend an extra burst of flavour, while the pork cheek is tender and expertly spiced.

The next dish is John Dory with fennel and it’s a bit of a revelation, this one. For one thing, I’ve never eaten John Dory before and I have to say that I enjoy the experience; the white flaky fish is deliciously seasoned. Also, I’d be the first to admit that fennel has never been my favourite food, but this is cooked in a tangy lemon sauce and is absolutely delicious. I vow that the next time I cook with fennel, I’m going to try a similar approach.

A switch to red wine signals what is no doubt intended as the main course in this menu, lamb rib, loin and jus – though, like all the other dishes, it is perfectly proportioned, because we still have a way to go on this food odyssey. An earthy Lebanese wine makes the ideal accompaniment to the succulent meat, which is ladled with a rich, marrowbone gravy. In a vain attempt to be critical, I observe that the first mouthful of lamb is chewier than I anticipate, but that’s the only criticism I manage to summon up. The second and third mouthfuls are fine.

We’re expecting our pudding around now, but out comes an extra one, just because they can, and this is an oat mousse with strawberry jus, light, intensely flavoured and just the thing to cut through the lingering notes of the meat dish we’ve recently finished. Think of it as a delicious palette cleanser.

Now comes the actual pudding and seriously, this is just perfection in a bowl, an apple crumble soufflé that features all the flavour of the traditional favourite, but is so light and fluffy that it almost threatens to float away from our spoons. The apple is just tart enough to cut through the sweetness of the soufflé and I have to resist the impulse to applaud. This is up there with B & B’s all-time favourite pud, Mark Greenaway’s sticky toffee pudding soufflé.

Just when we’re telling ourselves that we can’t possibly eat another thing, out comes a little lemon birthday cake with a candle on the top, and we happily share it, before ordering some coffee.

There can’t be any more… can there? Well, yes there can, actually, because here’s a dainty chocolate almond financier and I challenge anyone to turn a blind eye to that when sipping a latte! I know we couldn’t.

So, that’s it, we’re finally done. We’ve been here for something like two and a half hours, we’ve eaten some extraordinary food, we’ve drunk quite a bit of wine (so sue us) and we can honestly say this is a meal so special, so unique, we’ll never ever forget it.

And that’s the object of the exercise, right?

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Restaurant Martin Wishart

16/06/18

54 The Shore, Leith

We’re here because it’s my birthday, and I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend it than eating fancy food with my lovely husband. It’s raining (of course; it always rains on my birthday), so we get the bus to The Shore rather than walking from Edinburgh along the Waters of Leith as we’d originally planned. No matter: we’re feeling festive and happy and looking forward to our lunch.

The restaurant is achingly tasteful: all muted colours and hushed tones, managing to strike a pleasing balance between ‘relaxed’ and ‘formal’ – it feels special here, but there’s a convivial atmosphere nonetheless. The amuse bouches we’re presented with upon arrival really set the tone: they’re savoury macarons, bright pink (beetroot) and green (pistachio), filled with horseradish and chipotle cream respectively. They’re light and crisp, unusual and appealing, a delightful way to start things off.

The wine list is extensive – there are pages and pages of it – and, if I’m honest, a little intimidating (despite being very practised imbibers, we’re a long way from connoisseurs). We decide to play it safe and order a New Zealand Marlborough sauvignon blanc, because we’ve never tried one of those we don’t like, but the sommelier steers us away from this towards an Argentinian Torrontes, which he says will better complement our food. He’s right – it’s ideal – and, as it’s considerably cheaper than our original choice, seems like a genuine recommendation rather than a cunning piece of upselling. Bravo!

We both opt for five course tasting menus: Philip’s is the ‘standard’ one with meat and fish for £75, mine the vegetarian for £70 (I’m not actually herbivorous; I just like the look of what’s on offer here). Everything we’re served is eye-catchingly presented; the precision is astonishing. And the flavours are all so intense, so perfectly matched… well, I guess they don’t give Michelin stars away for nothing, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

There are too many little plates of loveliness to describe them all here; suffice to say we’re impressed with every course. The standout from my menu is the sweetcorn and polenta, served with crème fraîche, chilli and lime, which tastes like sweetcorn to the power of ten, and really elevates that humble cereal, although the aubergine caponata with feta and herb gnudi is a close contender – and I don’t usually like aubergine at all. The gnudi in particular are a revelation, pleasingly chewy and salty against the zing of the vegetables. Philip’s especially impressed with his ceviche of Gigha halibut with mango and passion fruit, which he says is particularly light and fresh. He’s also pretty taken with the oyster blade of Black Angus beef, which is served with peas, broad beans, black garlic and a rich roast onion sauce.

But the devil is in the detail, as they say, and it’s the details here that add up to make this such a marvellous experience. The butter for example, which accompanies the twists of white or olive bread, is a homemade one, flavoured with salt and seaweed; we can hardly get enough of it. No supermarket butter will ever pass muster again. And the petit fours that come with our coffee are little gems: a tiny donut bursting with caramelised apple, a salted caramel truffle I’m still drooling over now.

So, no mis-steps, no niggles. Just a long, leisurely lunch (we’re here for two and a half hours), with friendly service and some spectacular cooking. Happy birthday to me. And back out into the rain.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Chez Mal Brasserie at Malmaison

28/05/17

Leith, Edinburgh

We’re here because some of bookatable.co.uk’s deals are just too good to ignore, and this one – three courses and a glass of Prosecco at the Chez Mal Brasserie for a mere £19.95 – seems like particularly good value for money. It’s in Leith too, which is an added draw: it’s a rare part of our adopted hometown that we’ve yet to explore. So we plot a route on google maps, lace up our walking boots, and set off through the city and along the Waters of Leith. Eight kilometres and ninety minutes later, we arrive at Malmaison, feeling more than ready for this little treat.

Its location is wonderful: a cobbled street on the waterfront. The building dates back to 1883, and its maritime history is echoed in the quirky artwork that decorates the bare stone walls. Service is friendly, and our Proseccos arrive quickly. The Spring fixed-price menu offers four options per course, all of which sound interesting (and, even without the bookatable deal, it’s still only £24.95). We order promptly – being hungry makes us decisive – and select a bottle of French languedoc to accompany our meals. The wine is soon delivered, and is sliding down very nicely… but something seems to have gone awry. Where is our food?

Just as we’re getting to the neck-craning stage (did the people at the next table come in after us? They seem to be on their second courses already), a waiter appears with some complementary bread and apologises for the delay, citing a mix-up in the kitchen. We’re glad of the bread, which is absolutely delicious, and served with both a rich salty butter and an olive oil/balsamic combo. But we do devour it a little too enthusiastically (did I mention that we’re hungry?), perhaps spoiling our appetites for what’s to come.

The starters appear soon afterwards, and they’re good. Philip’s grilled masala spiced mackerel with sweet potato and lime pickle and a cumin raita is especially tasty: the robust fish perfectly enhanced by the sharply pickled veg. My spring lamb Benedict is also nicely done, but there’s a reason it’s usually made with ham, and that’s the saltiness. The lamb and egg together, especially atop the brioche toast, are perhaps a little too rich, with nothing to cut through it all.

Philip’s main is a chicken Milanese, which is a breaded chicken breast with a Burford brown fried egg, truffle mayonnaise and rainbow chard. It’s indisputably well-cooked, and there’s not much here to criticise, but neither is there much to laud. It’s, well, okay. Quite nice. Y’know. My pan-fried river trout is a bit better: the fish is beautifully cooked with a crispy skin, and the pea and broad bean purée accompanying it is lovely. But it still feels like it could do with… I don’t know what, just to elevate it into something better, something more.

The puddings are delicious though; hats off to the pastry chef. We share two. The first is a warm Valrhona caramel chocolate brownie, a rich, sumptuous temptation, which is served with the most more-ish ice cream I’ve ever tasted, a brown butter pecan concoction. Yum. Second is a rhubarb trifle, the creamy vanilla custard and rhubarb jelly offset perfectly by sharp, almost sour pieces of the eponymous fruit, and a spicy ginger crumble. These make for a very satisfactory end to our evening, and we wander off into the Leith evening, ready to walk off our excess.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield