The Bonnie Badger

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

The Bonnie Badger

10/02/19

Main Street, Gullane

It’s nearly Valentine’s day, and that’s all the excuse we need. Tom and Michaela Kitchin have opened up a country hotel a few miles away in Gullane, and we’re really keen to try it. So when a promotional email pops into my inbox, I am very tempted by the Luxury Winter Break package advertised therein. Philip needs very little persuasion: he’s a fan too. We’re lucky enough to live just five minutes’ walk away from not one, but two, of The Kitchin Group’s fabulous restaurants, Castle Terrace and the Southside Scran, so we’ve a fair idea what we can expect.

Gullane is a forty-five minute drive from our home in Edinburgh; it’s a sunny day and the roads are quiet. These feel like good omens, and they are. The coastline is gorgeous, and there are deer in the road; this is a pretty village, a world away from the city bustle. We park up outside the attractive grey stone building, and head inside.

Our package includes a welcome drink and a mini afternoon tea, and these make the arrival process an absolute pleasure. We sit in the garden room, looking out at a wood fire, drinking Prosecco (me) and lager (Philip), and tucking into home-made baked goods of the highest calibre. There are scones, served with cream and thick fig jam, and little squares of lemon drizzle and carrot cake. We make short work of it, then head to our room.

We have a ‘superior room’ in a cottage behind the main building, and it is utterly charming. One wall is all French windows, which open up onto a private garden space; inside, there’re all the usual touches: a big bed, a fancy shower, thick towels and bathrobes. The hairdryer is a GHD (good choice), and there’s a Nespresso machine, although we don’t use this, because we don’t like the single-use plastic pods. It doesn’t matter: we’re being so well catered for on this short break that we don’t miss an extra cuppa.

We head out to the sea, which is a short stroll from the pub, and it’s utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. Gullane Bay is one of the cleanest beaches we have ever seen, and we’re there as the sun begins to set, climbing the dunes and walking along the sand. We can’t keep the smiles off our faces, not that we’re trying very hard.

Then it’s back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, which is served in The Stables restaurant. Our package includes a bottle of house wine; we go for the white, which is a French blend of Roussanne, viognier & grenache blanc – and very light and tasty it is too.

To begin, Philip has the smoked ham terrine and quail eggwhich he declares a triumph, while I have the Orkney King scallops, served with cauliflower and raisins. These are soft and delicate and perfectly cooked, with the raisins adding an unexpected but very welcome sweetness to the dish. We’re off to a flying start!

For my main, I have the Highland Wagyu sirloin steakwhich is cooked on ‘the big green egg’ (a barbecue of sorts, outdoors) and is as succulent as you’d expect, served with chips and roasted vegetables. Philip’s fish pie is also rather marvellous, robustly flavoured and generously filled with smoked haddock and prawns. He also orders sides of chorizo potatoes and honey-glazed baby carrots; the potatoes are a spicy, garlicky delight, and the carrots – though tamer – are rather lovely too.

For pudding (of course we have pudding), Philip plumps for the treacle tart, which he opts to have with vanilla ice cream. The tart is as sticky and sweet as it should be, but lighter than the stodgy stuff we used to love at school – and a good thing too after the meal we have just had. I have the vanilla cheesecake with poached rhubarb, which is a remarkable thing indeed, all light sweet creaminess and tart fruit, the tangy rhubarb sorbet being especially inspired.

We retire to the bar for a nightcap, then stagger back to our room, where we find two small flasks of hot chocolate and some cookies waiting for us. It’s a lovely touch, but we can’t face the cookies right now. We wrap them up and put them away to enjoy another time.

In the morning, after a good night’s sleep, it’s time to start eating again. We can scarcely believe it, but we’re actually hungry, so we shower quickly and head over to the bar for breakfast. The atmosphere is very relaxed; we’re sitting next to the window, looking out at the quiet high street. We’re offered coffee, and then plates of food are brought to the table: there’s Prosciutto, Swiss cheese, smoked salmon and avocado; fruit bread, rye bread, little croissants, pains au chocolat and the tiniest, sweetest cinnamon swirls. There’s freshly squeezed orange juice, home-made jams, a pot of honey – everything is here. We order poached eggs and bacon and sausages too, because we’re greedy, and all of it, everything, is just wonderful. Best of all are the pots of home-made granola with rhubarb compôte and Greek yoghurt. Phew!

It’s time for us to check out, so we do, but – once we’ve packed everything into the car – we head back to that beach, because we really need to walk off some of what we’ve consumed. It’s no hardship: we spend ninety minutes walking five miles in glorious sunshine, exploring that gorgeous stretch of coast. It’s a wonderful end to a wonderful treat.

5 stars

Susan Singfield