Joanna Blyth­man’s restau­rant re­view

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Food+Drink -

Aus­ter­ity is over,” says Theresa May. I’ve yet to meet any­one who sees eye to eye with her over that. But as we walk into the Reg­is­ter Club, an en­vi­ron­ment so splen­did that it in­stantly makes us feel like the scruffy poor re­la­tions, I re­alise that for some peo­ple, aus­ter­ity is an ut­ter ir­rel­e­vance.

When one of us asks for Prosecco, the go-to drink of the com­mon peo­ple in bub­bly mood, our waiter apol­o­gises in the most pleas­ant way he pos­si­bly can. “Sorry, we only serve cham­pagne.” That’s Bil­le­cart-Salmon Cu­vée 2007 at £19 a glass he’s talk­ing about.

Well, of course, what else would you serve in such sump­tu­ous premises? Be­fore we en­tered the bankers-asen­e­mies-of-the-peo­ple era when Fred the Shred hung out here, build­ings like these em­bod­ied mer­can­tile grandeur, the gilded wealth of cap­i­tal­ism. Now banks feel the heat of cus­tomer re­sent­ment, they plead poverty, close or­di­nary branches on the high street and know not to flaunt their wealth. They tout their lav­ish cor­po­rate HQs for sale to cor­po­ra­tions, typ­i­cally chain restau­rants; but not in this in­stance. The 1825 Na­tional Bank of Scot­land, lat­terly the Royal Bank of Scot­land, has be­come The Ed­in­burgh Grand, swanky ser­viced apart­ments, with a fourth floor bar, the Reg­is­ter Club, that’s open to the pub­lic. It is op­er­ated by the sole in­de­pen­dent, Scot­tish-owned restau­rant group on Ed­in­burgh’s St An­drews Square. Thank heav­ens it didn’t be­come a Wether­spoons, the de­press­ing fate that awaits faded build­ings of ar­chi­tec­tural note with ma­jor re­pairs bills loom­ing. So I’d come here for the place alone. It’s like hav­ing the most splen­did imag­in­able Doors Open Day.

Take the stairs up if you can, a bil­lion­aire’s hel­ter-skel­ter spi­ral that’s redo­lent of Hitch­cock’s Ver­tigo, made all the more strik­ing by a bold, new black and white car­pet that’s Greek Key pat­tern in style. A daz­zling ge­om­e­try that just has to be seen.

The Reg­is­ter Club it­self is in the for­mer board room, with its stun­ning Amer­i­can oak pan­elling carved so lov­ingly by mas­ter cab­i­net­mak­ers, Why­tock & Reid. It’s lit in a kindly way, dif­fused. You eat in comfy, if er­gonom­i­cally chal­leng­ing chairs around low-slung ta­bles; it’s very def­i­nitely a graz­ing place. A restau­rant proper is on its way.

Six truf­fled cheese Gougères are a steal for £6: the choux pas­try pro­foundly cheesy and fired to an im­mac­u­late airy dry­ness; the fill­ing is sub­tle; truf­fle pecorino dusted over. A bowl of lob­ster bisque costs £12 but this brick-red crus­tacean broth with its taut crou­tons, its bracelet of rouille, and plump chunks of suc­cu­lent lob­ster meat is demon­stra­bly worth it. Per­son­ally I pre­fer it to the New Eng­land lob­ster roll. It’s spilling over with lob­ster meat, mar­i­nated cu­cum­ber, and a green may­on­naise that packs a horseradish punch, but I al­ways find those soft sub­ma­rine rolls too cloy­ing in a savoury con­text.

Me and the chef don’t see eye to eye on Pissal­adière. He’s used a short­crust­like pas­try, piled caramelised onions high on top of it, and used vine­gary sil­ver an­chovies. In my book it should

Like Bol­she­viks oc­cu­py­ing an op­u­lent Tsarist res­i­dence, we lounge about, and watch dusk set over St An­drews Square

be more of a bread dough base, there’s a lot less onion, it has to be brown an­chovies in oil, and lots more black olives. We’ll have to agree to dif­fer. And its rocket and red onion salad on the side is ba­nal. But I’m to­tally on­side with the crab and avo­cado atop its home­made, cracker-like crisp­bread, lov­ing the lightly toasted black se­same

seeds strewn over it, the chilli and lime at­tack that rip­ples through it.

What might have been a quo­tid­ian ver­sion of the now ubiq­ui­tous Eton mess is ren­dered cel­e­bra­tory by its cham­pagne jelly.

Oth­er­wise we’re talk­ing light­ly­whipped cream, dry meringue, a few berries. What’s all the fuss

about, I won­der? Cheese­cake ar­rives de­con­structed. It looks, well, a bit of a mess. But the tastes are good: lemony, white choco­late Crowdie, beaten and airy, gin­gery choco­late crum­ble, jewel-like blobs of what might be rhubarb gel.

Like Bol­she­viks oc­cu­py­ing an op­u­lent Tsarist res­i­dence, we lounge about,

watch dusk set­ting over St An­drews Square, hang over the bal­cony loudly ad­mir­ing the dizzy­ing stair­case. Noone bats an eye. We might as well be mil­lion­aires. It’s our place, at least for the span of a meal.

Joanna Blyth­man is the Guild of Food Writ­ers Food Writer of the Year 2018

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