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Archive for the ‘restaurant review’ Category

My wife Anne really likes the atmosphere in the Witchery restaurant  in Edinburgh so, for her birthday, we arranged a family meal there. The Witchery has several rooms but the Secret Garden is the most atmospheric. You go downstairs to a panelled room with an amazing painted ceiling and doors onto a garden.

The menu is quite short and, in truth, I didn’t really fancy any of the starters from the a la carte menu. Rather, I asked for a starter from the fixed price menu – scallop with broad bean, chorizo and spoot (razor clam) cassoulet.

Scallop with broad bean, chorizo and spoot (razor clam) cassoulet

Scallop with broad bean, chorizo and spoot (razor clam) cassoulet

This looked very attractive but, sadly, the quality of the dish didn’t live up to its looks. The scallop was like a rubber ball – seriously overcooked and if there were any spoots in the cassoulet, they weren’t at all obvious. The chorizo and broad beans were OK but overall, this was a very disappointing dish.

For our mail course, we all had Lamb Wellington – a fillet of lamb wrapped in all manner of things (Serrano ham, mushroom mousse, etc) in a pastry case.

Lamb Wellington

Lamb Wellington

This came perfectly cooked and was met with general acclaim. However, the problem with this dish in general is that you have to use a cut of meet that cooks very quickly and these tend to be a bit lacking in taste. This was no exception – perfectly cooked but overall I found it a wee bit bland.

I didn’t have a pudding but tasted both the chocolate tart and the mascarpone and passion fruit trifle. Both were very nice.

The Secret Garden is a lovely restaurant – the service was impeccable and the atmosphere was great. It’s worth a visit for the atmosphere alone  but, sadly, if my meal was anything to go by, you don’t go there for the food. Prices are high (£10 for my starter, £30 for main) and for these prices you can eat far better in Edinburgh.

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My wife is still recovering from a knee operation so it’s easier for her to go places where we can drive to the door and park the car nearby. That’s not so easy in Edinburgh so we decided to go out of town for Sunday lunch. Our first though was the Alan Ramsay hotel in Carlops but that’s still ‘closed for refurbishment’, which seems to be taking an awful long time.

So I googled nearby restaurants and came up with the Old Bakehouse in West Linton, the next village west from Carlops. It had recently been taken over by Tony Singh, who had Oloroso in Edinburgh and who (I’m told) is a chef on the telly. The menu online looked interesting so we thought that we’d go for it.

West Linton is a delightful village between Edinburgh and Biggar which has retained a lot of character and old properties. The Old Bakehouse is on the Main Street and has been a restaurant for a long time. It’s been refurbished with a ‘country look’ – beams, white painted stone and, I’m glad to say, quite a lot of light.

Window boxes at the Old Bakehouse

Window boxes at the Old Bakehouse

We arrived just before one – it wasn’t very busy and we had a table in the Conservatory. The policy is to serve local beers (one I thoroughly approve of)  so I had a bottle of one brewed in Peebles as my one and only drink.

Blonde beer from the Peebles brewery

Blonde beer from the Peebles brewery

As we often do at lunchtime, we ordered two starters rather than a starter and a main course. Mine were haggis, neep and tattie pakora (real fusion food), followed by summer rolls. Anne started with asparagus tart, followed by prawn cocktail.

My pakora was certainly different – basically, a potato ball with a core of haggis and a layer of jeeps. Served with a minty and a spicy dip. Tasty and very filling. I’m told the asparagus tart was very good – I certainly wasn’t offered a taste.

Haggis, neep and tattie pakora

Haggis, neep and tattie pakora

Asparagus tart

Asparagus tart

Summer rolls had an Asian theme. Basically rice paper rolls stuffed with crispy vegetables, pork and prawns but with lots of fresh herbs that made them zing. They came with a chilli dipping sauce though they were so big, you couldn’t really dip them. The prawn cocktail was served with rocket – a good example although I must admit I find this dish a bit dull.

Summer rolls - pork, prawns and fresh herbs and vegetables

Summer rolls – pork, prawns and fresh herbs and vegetables

The Old Bakehouse was a great find for us and it deserves to do well. Excellent and imaginative food, a lovely setting, friendly staff and good service – what’s not to like? About £30 each for 2 starters each plus coffees. We’ll definitely be back.

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I wrote about an evening meal that we had in the Anchor Hotel in Johnshaven last December where we really enjoyed the experience. We thought that we’d go back and check it out for lunch as we’ve plans to take some friends walking on the Aberdeenshire Coastal path that goes through the village. Johnshaven is a traditional East Coast fishing village with a few boats still landing crabs and lobsters.

The upstairs dining room is closed at lunchtime and meals are served in the bar. This is a proper bar rather than a dining room that serves beer – a mixture of local people in for a Sunday lunchtime drink and visitors to the village.

The last time I was there I had some wonderful lobster soup so I opted for that again – it really is superb – better then I’ve had in rather more expensive seafood restaurants.

Wonderful lobster soup

Wonderful lobster soup

Anne ordered breaded mushrooms which were rather more substantial than she expected. I had a taste of these – a great combination of crisp coating and soft, melting mushrooms.

Breaded mushrooms

Breaded mushrooms

I tend not to eat a lot at lunchtime so I ordered two starters – classic calamari in batter was my other choice.

Calamari

Calamari

This was fine – nicely cooked – it’s easy to get this dish wrong and end up with rubber rings in batter. But it was just calamari – I regretted not ordering one of the other fish dishes that were being delivered to other tables.

This was great pub food using local ingredients, unpretentious and not expensive. Friendly service – not particularly quick but we certainly weren’t in a hurry. Reasonably priced, although seafood is never cheap. We had two starters each and, with a drink, were about £14 each.

If you’re in the area, it’s worth a short diversion to Johnshaven. And, for coastal path walkers and TGO Challenge coast-to-coast walk finishers, it’s worth timing your arrival to have lunch in the pub.

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Castle Terrace is considered by some people to be the best restaurant in Edinburgh. I’d been for lunch before (see my review) but never for dinner. So, when my daughters asked where I wanted to go for a meal to celebrate my retirement, I didn’t hesitate and chose to come here with my family.

We decided on the tasting menu – 10 courses (PDF here).  The presentation style here is simply to list the main ingredient rather than present a descriptive name for the dish. I really like this simple approach.  Given the range of dishes, it doesn’t make sense to talk about starters, main courses so I’ve used the menu titles here.

Canapes
We started with some interesting looking canapés that tasted as interesting as they looked. The green one was my favourite – A liquid tasting like Caesar salad in some kind of gelatine casing.

Canapes - Caper and cumin burger, Salt cod barbajuan and Caesar salad

Canapes – Caper and cumin burger, Salt cod barbajuan and Caesar salad

Appetiser
Then we were presented with what looked like a small cup of soup. But it wasn’t – the soup was a cheesy sauce with a ‘potato’ at the bottom. Rich intense flavours from ordinary ingredients.

Pre-starter

Baked potato and cheese

Salmon
We moved onto the first starter – salmon tartare with what looked like an olive. Again, an illusion – the olive was wasabi. Fresh tasting with a kick from the horseradish.

Tartare of salmon sushi style

Tartare of salmon sushi style

Scallops
A single perfectly cooked scallop with a curry sauce – not a combination that I would have imagined but it worked really well.

Scallop with a curry sauce

Scallop with a curry sauce

Broccoli
This was an extra course, because of our celebration. Blue cheese ravioli and intensely flavoured broccoli soup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a fresh green in broccoli soup.

Broccoli soup with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli

Broccoli soup with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli

Spelt
I’d never had spelt before – it’s an old type of wheat – presented here in a risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart. This was absolutely outstanding – probably my favourite dish. Melting risotto with deep intense meaty flavours to accompany.

Spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart

Spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart

Hake
I love fish and this did not disappoint. Perfectly cooked with Asian flavours to accompany.

Hake with Asian-style brothPork
Pork fillet cooked in the now fashionable water bath so that it is pink and perfectly tender. Accompanied here by fennel and basil gnocchi. This was a very good example but I think this style of cooking is a bit overdone nowadays. Although it’s not so tender, I actually prefer pork cooked with heat.

Pork

Pork fillet with braised fennel, aubergine puree and basil gnocci

Rhubarb
A rhubarb panna cotta with sorbet and caramelised oats. Again, this was lovely but perhaps the most conventional part of the meal. A friend had visited earlier in the month and praised the caramel soufflé and I guess I was hoping for this.

As it was a birthday meal as well as a retirement meal, the restaurant had made us a small chocolate birthday cake.  I thought that this was a really nice touch – but unfortunately, I messed up the photo so no record here.

Rhubarb panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet and caramelised oats

Rhubarb panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet and caramelised oats

Tea and coffee
Good coffee as you’d expect but the petits fours to accompany were superb. We were absolutely full but naturally managed to enjoy these.

Castle Terrace Petits Fours

Castle Terrace Petits Fours

We didn’t go for the matching wine package as our experience at Kitchin was there was simply too much to drink. Rather, we had a bottle of Spanish Alberino and a French Pinot Noir. The wine was fine but not outstanding. Frankly, the markup on wine here is eye-watering and I always grudge paying so much. But running a Michelin star restaurant is an expensive business and I guess they need to cover these costs.

Overall this was an absolutely superb meal – Castle Terrace’s reputation is really well-deserved. Great service and ambience and, thank goodness, a reasonable level of lighting. I dislike ‘mood lighting’ where you can hardly see what you are eating. Naturally it isn’t cheap – £75 each for the tasting menu but the food was so different and so original that I think it’s worth the money.

Is this the best restaurant in Edinburgh? I’m not sure. I’ve always liked Martin Wishart’s restaurant in Leith but I haven’t been there for a while. But we have another family celebration coming up there and I’ll reserve my judgement till then.

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I’ve blogged about the Kings Wark pub in Leith before and suggested that it was a great place for lunch in Leith.

We went back there for lunch this week and I had a superb seafood chowder as my main course. It came with chips which were a bit unnecessary really but, of course, I ate them (everybody likes chips).

Seafood chowder

Seafood chowder

Excellent and friendly service. My recommendation still stands.

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Sylvesters is a relatively new restaurant on the corner of West Nicholson Street and Potterrow, close to Field, which we visited recently. It was a familiar site for me as I used to work with colleagues in Informatics at nearby Edinburgh University and we often lunched at what was then Phenecia, which became the Pink Olive.

It’s been refurbished as a clean modern space and, from overheard conversations, It’s still patronised by university folk. We went on a Friday in January, which is not the busiest time in the restaurant business, but there were enough people there to create a good atmosphere.

The menu is a short, bistro-style menu which does not have pretentions to ‘fine dining’ and so is not stupidly expensive. I started with Camembert, onion and fig tart. Instead of a traditional tart that I expected, this was a deconstructed layered tart – but no less delicious. Others had Haggis Bonbons i.e. deep-fried haggis balls. These have become a wee bit of a cliche in Scotland but these were very good.

Grilled Camembert, onion and fig tart

Grilled Camembert, onion and fig tart

My main course was Jacob’s Ladder – something I’d never heard of before. It was slow-cooked short rib of beef (which apparently is called Jacob’s Ladder) with Dauphinoise potatoes and spinach. It was absolutely delicious and not at all stringy as sometimes happens with slow cooked beef.  I also tasted the pork and the hake – the fish in particular was excellent.

Jacob's Ladder - slow-cooked short rib of beef

Jacob’s Ladder – slow-cooked short rib of beef

We had a present of Prosecco as an aperitif and a pleasant but unremarkable New Zealand Pinot Noir to drink with our main course.

The service was excellent and very friendly and the price was reasonable – about £28 per head.  Sylvesters confirms the usual Edinburgh rule – you get the best value for good food if you get out of the city centre. Definitely worth revisiting.

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The Cock and Bull, a few miles north of Aberdeen, won the Scottish Gastropub of the year for both 2012 and 2013. We’d tried the Sunday carvery there  but had never been these for a regular meal. Today, four of us went there for a weekend lunch.

It has a ‘traditional’ pub look – fortunately, not ‘Scottish traditional’ (formica and bright lights) but traditional in the ingle-nook, wood fires and dark corners way. A cosy place for a winter’s day.

They had a shortish selection of starters, all of which sounded nice – I was tempted by the Cullen Skink but decided on the black pudding Scotch egg with homemade brown sauce. A good choice – it was delicious.

Black pudding Scotch egg

Black pudding Scotch egg

Being in the North-east, the main course had to be fish so I had Peterhead Cod with smoked fish risotto and kail.  Smoked fish risotto is quite common now and all too often the fish is over-smoked and dominates everything else. Fortunately, they got it right here and the risotto complemented the delicate cod. I like to see kail on the menu now – it isn’t the most attractive vegetable when cooked but it tastes great.

Cod with risotto

Cod with kail and smoked haddock risotto

One of the Cock and Bull’s specialities is the Cock and Bull dog, which is a giant hotdog with pulled pork. I couldn’t resist a photo. It was very tasty but challenging to eat.

The Cock and Bull

The Cock and Bulldog

We were too full for puds but had coffee and fudge, which our fudge experts pronounced excellent.

It was £20-£25 for two courses and coffee – not a cheap lunch but not too bad for a day out.

Well worth a visit if you are in the area – great pub food.

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