Dis­patch

Ed­in­burgh is fast be­com­ing the place to dis­cover the fresh flavours of Scot­land’s nat­u­ral larder, as Grace Ma dis­cerns one in­no­va­tive plate af­ter an­other

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Content -

A timely look at why Ed­in­burgh is fast be­com­ing the place to dis­cover the fresh flavours of Scot­land’s nat­u­ral larder

In Scot­tish writer Tobias Smol­lett’s fi­nal pi­caresque novel, The Ex­pe­di­tion of Humphry Clinker (1771), pro­tag­o­nist Matthew Bram­ble de­clares that “Ed­in­burgh is a hot­bed of ge­nius” af­ter en­coun­ter­ing the city’s nu­mer­ous po­ets, philoso­phers, sci­en­tists and aca­demics. To­day, he would have in­cluded the city’s chefs as well.

With nearly 20 per cent of its half-mil­lion population in their 20s and 15 per cent in their 30s, the cap­i­tal of Scot­land is no­tice­ably abuzz with a lively, youth­ful vibe and a skip in its step, even as you me­an­der through cen­turies-old his­tor­i­cal land­marks. The city’s din­ing scene is in a state of con­stant evo­lu­tion; within three months of my visit, an award-win­ning restau­rant shut­tered per­ma­nently, a cock­tail bar had changed its name and con­cept, and a culi­nary lab/events space went into full restau­rant ser­vice.

But there’s no doubt that the in­hab­i­tants are rev­el­ling in a melt­ing pot of high-qual­ity plates across a va­ri­ety of cuisines. Even in­ter­na­tional brands want in on the ac­tion, as ev­i­denced by a host of Lon­don-based chains—waga­mama, Dishoom and The Ivy

on the Square—that have re­cently landed spots in Ed­in­burgh’s main com­mer­cial cen­tre of St An­drew Square.

We started our culi­nary odyssey at the four-year-old Ai­zle (107-109 St Leonard’s Street), where 34-year-old lo­cal chef Stu­art Ral­ston es­chews a per­ma­nently printed menu, with a chang­ing list of in­gre­di­ents writ­ten on a black­board. We am­bled through a six­course meal that felt like a spring epiphany fin­ished with an earthy flour­ish via scoops of choco­late ice cream topped with toasted bar­ley sprin­kles.

Six by Nico (97 Hanover Street) also op­er­ates a chang­ing-menu con­cept with a dif­fer­ent six-course theme ev­ery six weeks, fea­tur­ing era-evok­ing ti­tles such as Cook­ing Wonka and The ’70s Ed­in­burgh. The new 70-seater Ed­in­burgh branch, fol­low­ing the one in Glas­gow, opened in April with a menu called The Chip­pie that was rem­i­nis­cent of tra­di­tional Scot­tish chip-shop of­fer­ings, but fo­cused on the finer de­tails. Mus­tard-crumb sprin­kles add tex­ture to a flavour­ful 48hour braised steak pie; Shet­land cod­fish is bright­ened by pick­led mus­sel, fen­nel con­fit and stalks of sam­phire, and tastes like it was fresh from the ocean; and a wood­chip-smoked sausage is bal­anced by the sweet­ness of caramelised ap­ple.

Din­ners with bois­ter­ous ru­mi­na­tions about the food aren’t usu­ally my thing, but my mind might be changed af­ter I went for one at Ed­in­burgh

Food Stu­dio (158 Dalkeith Road), an avant-garde, crowd­funded restau­rant and food re­search lab started by two tal­ented young chefs: Ben Reade, who used to lead the culi­nary re­search and de­vel­op­ment at Copen­hagen’s Nordic Food Lab, and Sashana Souza Zanella, a chef trained in an­thro­pol­ogy. The duo have hosted guest chefs, aca­demics and po­ets for din­ner events where friend­ships are forged over two long com­mu­nal ta­bles, as strangers bond over un­usual sub­jects and food. Reade

ex­plains, “We want peo­ple to see food as more than just a meal or fuel. At the same time, peo­ple can see that there are no short­cuts in the cook­ing. It’s re­ally pas­sion-driven.”

Our din­ner fea­tured a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ed­in­burgh-based beer con­nois­seur

Joe Dick, where the tast­ing menu was de­signed to match wild-fer­mented beer, rather than the other way round. There was plenty of fod­der for vi­va­cious dis­cus­sions as we glugged through seven Bel­gian lam­bics, with cour­ses rang­ing from a red mul­let in black gar­lic and fen­nel bulbs com­ple­ment­ing the in­tense tart­ness of a Straw­berry Oud­beitje (a fruited sour beer by the Hanssens Ar­ti­sanaal brew­ery) to a pear and pis­ta­chio ice cream that brought out the zesty side of a Tim­mer­mans Lam­bi­cus Blanche, the world’s sole white lam­bic beer.

LO­CAL EMBLEM

For a more down-to-earth ex­pe­ri­ence,

Wedg­wood (267 Canon­gate) will have you tak­ing a closer look at road­side veg­e­ta­tion. “We like to keep things as wild, fresh and lo­cal as pos­si­ble, but served with our unique culi­nary take so that guests try dishes they won’t see else­where, of­ten with a for­aged in­gre­di­ent,” ex­plains chef-owner Paul Wedg­wood, who of­ten scours the shores, woods and river banks of Ed­in­burgh with his team for ed­i­ble greens.

Sum­mer brings the flut­ters of chick­weed with guineafowl, while sweet cicely is paired with veni­son. Our spring tast­ing menu in­cluded an ed­u­ca­tional bowl­ful of wild fi­bre, for which we had to google most of the names—purslane, ground el­der, golden sax­ifrage—as well as suc­cu­lent Scot­tish Bor­ders beef and a tasty yet light but­ter­nut squash and spinach ro­tolo. What­ever you eat, leave room for Wedg­wood’s very sticky tof­fee pudding. This in­tox­i­cat­ing ren­di­tion was driz­zled in but­ter­scotch sauce with a tinge of Caol Ila whisky from the Isle of

Is­lay and we were al­most tempted to or­der sec­onds.

Seafood lovers will rel­ish the fresh, gen­er­ously por­tioned plat­ters at On­dine

(2 Ge­orge IV Bridge) and new­comer White Horse Oys­ter & Seafood Bar (266 Canon­gate), both con­ve­niently lo­cated on the Royal Mile shop­ping belt and a straight road down from Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle. For a more in­ti­mate set­ting and lo­cal pro­duce brought to life with a French flair, head to the 30-seater restau­rant

Le Roi Fou (1 Forth Street). Pro­claimed by its chef-owner Jérôme Henry as “a restau­rant for the bon vi­vant serv­ing clas­sic, bour­geois style food”, it serves the most de­li­cious plump scal­lops, hand-dived off the High­land coast, and grilled Gigha hal­ibut with ca­pers and brown shrimp. It may be all white linen and tulips in small del­i­cate glass vases, but the ser­vice is ca­sual and friendly. “Our di­rect ac­cess to the sea and land puts the best seafood, stun­ning veg­eta­bles and wild game at our doorstep,” raves Henry, who has worked the stoves of Les Trois Garçons in Shored­itch and Mosi­mann’s Club in Bel­gravia, both in Lon­don.

In fact, Scot­tish food is of­ten so tasty even in its most ba­sic forms that it can be pro­foundly be­wil­der­ing at first. Take one of Ed­in­burgh’s most renowned items: Scott Smith’s bere­meal bread. The hum­ble loaf is made from an an­cient grain milled only in Orkney, off the north­east­ern coast of Scot­land, and was the star menu item in his first ven­ture, Norn— the afore­men­tioned restau­rant that closed within days of Smith’s un­ex­pected de­par­ture af­ter two years of mak­ing it one of the most talked-about es­tab­lish­ments in town. It was the first thing loyal cus­tomers asked about

when he opened his new Fhior (36 Broughton Street) restau­rant in June. Soft and light, it has an amaz­ing depth of malty flavours and is a dis­creet foil to the rest of his sea­sonal dishes, which play off con­trast­ing tex­tures and flavours in lo­cal pro­duce, such as lob­ster with salted rhubarb and bar­be­cued cu­cum­ber, and white choco­late with sea­weed and brown cheese.

For that spe­cial night out on the town, get a din­ner reser­va­tion at The Bal­moral’s

Num­ber One (1 Princes Street). For a 21-yearold restau­rant that has held its one-miche­lin­star rank­ing for 16 years, it cer­tainly hasn’t rested on its lau­rels. Por­tions are gen­er­ous, so we took our time with the sig­na­ture whisky-smoked sal­mon with lemon purée and quail’s egg, hand-dived Ding­wall scal­lops, ten­der juicy chicken with glis­ten­ing breast meat and lightly crispy skin, and the fresh­est lo­cal pro­duce of the sea­son, all re­spect­fully and el­e­gantly cooked and plated. We still man­aged to squeeze in a sat­is­fy­ing white choco­late souf­flé with rhubarb slices and mac­arons, ba­nana mini-donuts and rasp­berry marsh­mal­lows from a trol­ley of petits fours.

In short, if you too revel in the jux­ta­po­si­tion of old and new culi­nary tra­di­tions, Ed­in­burgh is just the place.

“We want peo­ple to see food as more than just a meal or fuel; it is also a so­cial oc­ca­sion. At the same time, peo­ple can see that there are no short­cuts in the cook­ing. It’s re­ally pas­sion-driven.”

GOURMET SUR­PRISE Ex­pect an ever chang­ing show­case of cre­ative flavour pair­ings and pas­sion-driven cook­ing at hotspots like four-year-old Ai­zle and crowd­funded restau­rant-food re­search lab Ed­in­burgh Food Stu­dio.

IN­SPIR­ING PRO­DUCE Ed­in­burgh is filled with tasty trea­sures, from speakeasies like Bullard & Worth Co to Wedg­wood’s wild and fresh menu of dishes fea­tur­ing lo­cal de­lights such as lamb’s tongue and for­aged greens

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