Princes Street

Bar + Block Steakhouse


Princes Street, Edinburgh

Whitbread’s Bar + Block is the kind of restaurant that those of us with foodie pretensions like to dismiss: it’s a chain; it’s attached to a Premier Inn. The food is bound to be pre-packaged, we tell ourselves; it’s surely a soulless place. But even we have to admit that this Edinburgh branch, situated on Princes Street with its iconic view of the castle, is very nicely styled. It looks inviting. And, after a morning of shopping (which is absolutely our least favourite kind of morning), we find ourselves drawn to the lunch and early dinner menu advertised in the window. Three courses for £14.95? It’s hard to resist.

The menu is short, but reads well. Philip starts with Korean chicken wings, which are charcoal cooked and generously flavoured with barbecue sauce and chilli. I have the tomato bruschetta, which isn’t perhaps the most exciting choice, but I just love tomatoes, and I like the sound of the the stone-baked flatbread they come on. As expected, it tastes good, enhanced by a sweet balsamic-heavy dressing.

For his main, Philip chooses the steak sandwich with fries. This looks really attractive, and he’s pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meat, which surpasses his expectations for this price point. It’s served on more of that stone-baked flatbread, and garnished with cheese, onions, tomato and rocket. The chips aren’t great – just frozen skinny fries – but they’re piping hot, which makes them edible at least. I have the seabass fillet, which comes with a delicious Greek salad and – yes, you’ve guessed it – a piece of stone-baked flatbread. Apart from the over-reliance on that particular carb, this is a pleasant dish: the fish is well-cooked, the skin pleasingly crispy, and the salad is generously strewn with feta cheese.

Do we have room for pudding? You bet we do. I have the Eton Mess sundae, a pleasing concoction of berries, ice cream, cream and meringue, while Philip opts for a triple chocolate brownie, served warm with vanilla ice cream. Both slip down far too easily.

Add in a couple of alcohol-free drinks (a Peroni and a Rekorderlig fruit cider), and we’re feeling pretty satisfied. Okay, so our assumptions haven’t exactly been disproved: Bar + Block is exactly what we knew it would be. But the service is pleasant, we’ve had a decent lunch, and it hasn’t cost us much. I’m not sure we’ll be in a rush to return, but I’m glad we’ve given it a go.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Dean Banks at the Pompadour


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