Fhior Reviewed by Joanna Blythman 5/10
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.