Hotel du Vin


Bristo Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts a wealth of fine dining venues and Hotel du Vin, part of the Malmaison group, has been around since 2006. It also has a more fascinating history than some of the competition. Back in the day it was known as ‘Bedlam,’ the city’s biggest lunatic asylum. (The poet Robert Ferguson was one of its most celebrated inmates.) These days, of course, it’s all a bit more sedate, with a pleasant rustic feel, though that colourful history is commemorated in a private dining room which boasts a spectacular mural featuring two of Edinburgh’s most infamous inhabitants, Burke and Hare.

We first ate at Hotel du Vin back in the day, when we were first discovering the city, but long before we started reviewing our dining experiences. We have family visiting, so we decide to revisit the place, taking advantage of a bookatable deal that offers three courses and a glass of wine for just £20.95 per head.

For starters, Susan and I both opt for the seared Galician octopus, which is a rather splendid affair, succulent fishy tentacles resting on a bed of inky braised lentils with salsa verde. It’s rich and savoury and a great appetiser. There’s also Woodhall’s family black combe air-dried ham (looks fab but doesn’t photograph well) and a watercress and spinach soup, which is served with a poached egg and a dollop of sour cream. All of these are sampled and all are pronounced utterly delicious.

For her main course, Susan tries the Normandy chicken cobb salad, a beautifully arranged dish featuring tangy Roquefort cheese, avocado, tomatoes, brioche croutons, soft boiled eggs and pancetta. It looks and tastes absolutely splendid. I’m in a ‘gromphy’ mood, so I go for the black and blue burger. Now, I can guess what you’re thinking – a burger is a burger is a burger, right? Not so. This one features a succulent 200 gram pattie nestled between a light-as-a-feather black sesame seed brioche. The meat is liberally coated with Roquefort cheese and mushroom ketchup and is accompanied by a cone of crispy, salty french fries. Mmm. Best of all, it comes with crunchy dill pickles on the side (and when one of our guests announces he doesn’t like dill pickles, I’m in there like a shot!). Oh yes, there’s also a grilled Cornish mackerel served with trout roe and Waldorf fregola grossa. Everything is cooked to perfection and nicely presented – there’s really nothing here to find fault with, and trust me I look really hard.

Of course, there must be puddings and three of us cannot resist the description of a treacle tart, served with (how good does this sound?) custard ice cream. Yes please! And very nice it proves to be, thick, not too dry (because we all know that can happen, right?) and accompanied by a scoop of something that tastes very like deep-frozen heaven. The fourth member of our party investigates the peach melba – melt-in-the-mouth poached peaches with fresh raspberries, meringue and (nice touch this) jelly and ice cream! It’s a delight, but hey, it’s not treacle tart and custard ice cream, if you catch my drift.

All-in-all, this is splendid grown-up food, perfectly prepared and served in pleasant and convivial surroundings. The white wine offered is a chardonnay and though this would usually invoke a negative mark, it proves to be perfectly drinkable (though a sauvignon blanc would have been more agreeable to us ABCs).

It’s a tiny niggle. We were very happy with our Hotel du Vin experience and I can’t help feeling that, unless you’re extraordinarily fussy, you’ll enjoy it too. Make sure you pop your head into the Burke and Hare room to check out that artwork – unless of course you’ve actually booked the Burke and Hare room, in which case you can sit there and ogle it to your heart’s content.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney


Chez Mal Brasserie at Malmaison


Leith, Edinburgh

We’re here because some of’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