Fhior Re­viewed by Joanna Blyth­man 5/10

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD AND DRINK - Joanna Blyth­man is the Guild of Food Writ­ers Food Writer of the Year 2018

Iwas sur­prised to see Fhior fea­ture in the Easyjet mag­a­zine’s list of “cheap fine din­ing restau­rants in Ed­in­burgh”. Bud­get air­line cus­tomers are, by def­i­ni­tion, cost-con­scious, and I won­der what con­ti­nent, in­deed planet the au­thor is on given that we’re talk­ing four and seven-course menus at £40 and £65 re­spec­tively. The cheap­est bot­tle of wine here costs a cocky £34; most are £45 up­wards. For me that’s ex­pen­sive, but then maybe I’m keep­ing the wrong com­pany.

Of course, “cheap fine din­ing” is an oxy­moron, and even more in­apt ap­plied to Fhior be­cause it im­plies a level of com­fort and decor that Fhior con­spic­u­ously lacks. These tri­par­tite premises don’t nat­u­rally lend them­selves to con­vivial din­ing, but its ages since I’ve been in a restau­rant that’s quite so aus­tere. No can­dles, un­flat­ter­ing light­ing, a pre­pon­der­ance of wood ve­neer, only nap­kins and glasses on ta­bles, a fash­ion­able, mainly white colour scheme that might work in San­torini or Seville, but which feels stark and cold in Ed­in­burgh. Oh, and the toi­lets smell.

Fhior is one of a grow­ing num­ber of restau­rants that start by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Have you eaten here be­fore?, so of­ten a pre­cur­sor to a dy­namic I re­sent, where the cus­tomer is the pas­sive, ju­ve­nile stu­dent of the es­tab­lish­ment, and needs its eti­quette ex­plained to them. I’m only 50/50 happy to go along with fixed, you could ar­gue dic­ta­to­rial, menus. Frankly I don’t trust chefs to bal­ance a meal as a gen­eral rule.

We up­set the ap­ple cart by not order­ing drink be­fore we see the menu, which is tricky be­cause you’re only meant to get the menu as you leave. We have de­prived the som­me­lier of his rig­ma­role spiel, the op­por­tu­nity to sign you up to ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive bot­tles. We’re not off to a great start.

Our mood im­proves with the com­pli­men­tary, truly ex­cel­lent bere­meal sour­dough bread with tangy, aged, cul­tured but­ter, and the curls of saltysweet coppa cured by ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers, East Coast.

These gen­er­ous free­bies soften the blow of the over­all price tag. But our spir­its dip again with the com­pli­men­tary mack­erel tartare. Even a doll’s size por­tion of this is tough go­ing be­cause the fish is so off-puttingly strong, even when over­laid with pow­er­ful vine­gar, sweet onion, and horseradish.

Our first main course proper, tersely de­scribed as mus­sel, turnip, sea aster is sub­tle at best, not a lip-licker. The poached bi­valves are in­sipid and the pick­led turnip pushily sweet; the caramelised mus­sel emul­sion is the only el­e­ment of the dish that we ac­tively en­joy.

But it’s the hispi, but­ter­milk, truf­fle course that re­ally puts us out of sorts. The tit­u­lar, in my book over­rated, cab­bage has been quar­tered then “brined” in but­ter­milk as a pre­lude to grilling.

The milky clots re­minds me of re­gur­gi­tated baby milk, toasted buck­wheat adds grit, cloy­ing onion purée blends into the beige, and the dust­ing of truf­fled Pecorino has a breath of bosk­i­ness I’d miss if I wasn’t hunt­ing for it. Vaguely stom­ach turn­ing, it man­ages to taste sour, burnt and tepid all at the same time. And it ex­hibits what I iden­tify in ret­ro­spect as the three

Fhior is one of those places that start by ask­ing, ‘Have you eaten here be­fore?’, so of­ten a pre­cur­sor to a dy­namic where the cus­tomer is the pas­sive stu­dent

el­e­ments com­mon to each course here: creamy (1), acidic (2), sweet (3).

There’s a bit more en­thu­si­asm for the lamb, car­rot, onion, and sea buck­thorn. The meat, not es­pe­cially flavour­some, is soft and yield­ing, cry­ing out for sea­son­ing or herbs to lift its plain­ness, the burnt onion emul­sion so-so. Kinder­garten car­rots pack a pow­er­fully as­trin­gent sea buck­thorn punch while the dust­ing of pow­dered, cured lamb fil­let is a point­less af­fec­ta­tion. It ar­rives luke­warm.

Dessert – de­scribed as cherry, choco­late, sweet ci­cily– looks more ge­o­log­i­cal than edi­ble, like some­thing faintly bloody that’s peep­ing through moss and pet­ri­fied vol­canic soil. I’m miss­ing the gen­tle anise flavour of the herb and way­laid by the vine­gary at­tack on the throat from the pick­led cher­ries that lurk be­neath an ac­cept­able choco­late crisp with a burnt sugar, Mal­te­sers-like taste. There are pieces of in­nocu­ous choco­late sponge, and breath­tak­ingly sour sweet ci­cily sher­bet. But­ter­milk cream doesn’t stand a chance in this point­lessly overe­lab­o­rated Black For­est gateau re­hash.

So Fhior is out of my price bracket, but I can live with that. Its overly cere­bral food chem­istry doesn’t do it for me.

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