THERE’S always a first time. One minute you’re in a pagan shrine in damp underground vaults, the next partaking of a second flute of Ruinart while perusing The Pompadour’s Menu Gourmand. That’s Edinburgh for you. An obligatory ghost tour and a grandiose railway hotel are both part of the city’s rich fabric.
'An old friend to conclude, the delightfully monickered Classical Speciality Tart 20 Years Standing, which is glazed lemon curd in pastry with honeydew melon milk. A Juniper flashback'
We shook off the cobwebs in the chic Belle Epoque dining room named after Louis XV’s mistress. It’s in the revamped Caledonian, these days rechristened by owners Hilton Worldwide ‘The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel”.
And if that, along with £24m spent overall on this Victorian pile, sounds kinda corporate, fret not. To oversee the top-end dining they’ve hired those fraternal geniuses of London restauration, Chris and Jeff Galvin – and to run the show the pair have poached their exec chef, Craig Sandle, from The Balmoral, its five-star rival at the other end of Princes Street. The results are stunning.
I’m told this Sassenach overlording offends some locals, but let’s not forget that Scottish chef and restaurant of the year accolades have gone recently to one Paul Kitching, proud Geordie, once of Altrincham’s Juniper and, like the Galvins, Michelin-garlanded.
During a recent visit to the Scots capital we stayed at both the bustling 240-room Caledonian and at Paul’s 21212 Restaurant With (just the four) Rooms in a quiet nook of the New Town, to sample his cuisine again, too. Though this time we didn’t preface our dinner with an Auld Reekie Ghost and Torture Underground Tour.
To find out more about this and other spooky detours visit my suggested Five Macabre Haunts in Edinburgh
At a time when Manchester is gobsmacked at Simon Rogan’s brilliant transformation of The French at The Midland it’s pretty chastening to see a city of similar size boasting a host of restaurants and chefs of that stature – Martin Wishart, Castle Terrace, Number One At The Balmoral, Tom Kitchin and, of course, his near namesake
Paul Kitching always had the power to amaze during his tenure at Juniper with his 30-course tasting menus and playful culinary sleight of hand. He was Heston Blumenthal’s children’s favourite cook, an odd fact that still tickles me. It’s now four years since he and partner Katie O’Brien upped sticks from Altrincham to offer upmarket hospitality at their towering Georgian Townhouse in the verdant shadow of Calton Hill.
21212 was the original dining formula, where the chef disciplined his hyperactive genius to offer a mere choice of two starters, one soup course, two mains, cheese and two puds. It had now engorged itself to 31313 but it has not led them to redo the sign outside/website/stationery.
This mini-revolution aside, it looked pretty much as it did when we came to stay soon after its opening. The setting was utterly romantic and dashing and remains so. From the giant moth carpet motif on the sweeping staircase to the blown-up Caravaggio in the private dining room; from the complimentary sloe gin in our ultra-luxurious garden-facing bedroom to the generous tracery of caviar across our smoked salmon breakfast plate, everything is weekend away perfect.
The front rooms face the Firth of Forth in the far distance; our back one a panoply of greenery. There’s a large sofa to loll on and get the full eco zen vibe. Then there’s toasty underfloor heating in the bathroom and a shower like an Amazon cloudburst; crisp white linen on the platformed bed and a giant plasma TV screen for, if you really want to return to the real world.
It would be a shame to stay and not enter the gastronomic temple downstairs. Actually half’s more like a boudoir with its deep hues and drapes, the other half a brightly lit open plan culinary surgery where the young brigade cluster around guru Kitching – now, astonishingly, 50.
The food, too, has a maturity. It’s a bit like Paul’s footballing hero of yore, Alan Shearer. Maybe it’s lost the exuberance of youth, but it’s canny in combinations, bold and and brave. Take my companion’s Cumbrian Assiette starter. Venison, chicken, smoked duck, merguez sausage and liver, white beans, sweetcorn, garlic and tofu, red pimento. Such a wide palette of flavours producing a coherent fleshy whole. Did it a satisfying starter make? I’m not quite sure. I preferred the daintier, fresher crunch of my choice, Smoked saffron haddock, roasted onions, apples, cashews, celeriac, horseradish and carrot, pancakes and caviar, cod wafer.
Our chosen mains were Seabass with Beans and Pineapple and Pork Fillet 4 Puddings (black, white, haggis and pease), each with a further random tumult of flavours seeking a whole. It’s food that makes you consider each mouthful, ultimately a little tiring bur never boring.
An old friend to conclude, the delightfully monickered Classical Speciality Tart 20 Years Standing, which is glazed lemon curd in pastry with honeydew melon milk. A Juniper flashback.
On days off Paul and Katie like to eat at the Caledonian’s Galvin Brasserie de Luxe. Durig our stay we dined at the flagship restaurant upstairs, The Pompadour.
When it opened in 1925 it was the swankiest dining space in the city. It’s swanky again with wonderful food to match. We had the seven course Menu Gourmand with appropriate wine pairings for £120 a head and it was worth every penny. Stand-out dish in a very French-influenced experience was Ravioli of Rabbit with Ricotta, Sarriette and Artichokes Barigoule. The whole three hours felt like being cocooned in silk.
The hotel itself is grand, with barely the feel of a corporate Hilton. We were upgraded to a top floor King’s Suite with panoramic views of Princes Street Gardens and the Castle, which enhanced the stay immeasurably.
More ambitious guests can sign up for the Caledonian Macnab package, where they are encouraged to put on their tweed and take part in this famous Scottish sporting contest. Based on the Scottish novelist John Buchan’s famous 1920s novel, “John Macnab”, guests are challenged to complete three strenuous stages over the course of three days: catch a salmon, shoot a brace of grouse, and stalk a Red Deer, while returning each evening to the hotel.
We decided instead to tackle the challenge of eating and drinking our way around more casual dining and drinking venues in and Edinburgh transformed from the city of haggis and neeps.
Tom KitchinTom Kitchin is the highest profile celeb chef. Kitchin in Leith (http://thekitchin.com) has long been one of the best places to eat in Britain. The Scran and Scallie, his new venture in Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge is less ambitious and more affordable, a Scots-themed gastropub with a starter of Sheip’s Heid Scotch Broth (£5) and veggie options tagged as Nae Meat, Nae Fish. Michelin-starred expertise is applied to dishes such as Pig’s Ear Carpaccio/Sauce Grebiche (£6) but puddings are crumbles and fools. From the Scots ale list the pick is Skye Brewery’s nutty, malty Red Cuillin (£4.50 a pint). www.scranandscallie.com.
I liked both the Scran and the proto Chorlton boho surrounds of Stockbridge. The good fishmonger and cheese shop and pubs were you are more likely to join a knitting club than get bottled are the giveaway.
Still, it is just glorified pub food, with a strong emphasis on sourcing (there’s even a notice board with flags showing suppliers’ locations. Quite a different beastie was another lunchtime haven, the family-run Timberyard in Lady Lawson St.
It is housed in a warehouse space dating back to the 19th century, when it was built as a props and costume store. Mix and match small dishes such as juniper smoked pigeon, onion spelt, wild garlic flowers st georges or hand-dived scallops, lamb sweetbreads, peas, fennel, sweet cicely apple (each £8.50) are the way to explore the menu. Utterly delightful, creative cooking, matched by interesting wines and beers in relaxed surroundings. The future. www.timberyard.co.
For the pleasures of the flesh (the grilled rare variety) look no further than Steak. This former pool hall and night club space on Picardy Place off Leith Road has spectacularly transformed. The menu is steak-based, upon the model of London’s Hawksmoor. 14 Picardy Place EH1 3JT. www.steakedinburgh.com.
Edinburgh is an enthusiastic participant in the current craft ale revolution. At the forefront has been the Hanging Rat on Lothian Road, which has the feel of a Deep South shack. A gilt-framed blackboard charts 20 ever-changing, cutting edge British beers, six cask, 12 keg, while the hardwood menu lists 150 bottles of craft beers and 35 gin distillations. Draught beer is sold in a choice of third-pint measures or two thirds of a pint measures. Their motto is “Happiness is measured in schooners”. Home-smoked dogs include the American Pit Bull (chilli-con-carne, cheese) and the Alsatian (bratwurst, sauerkraut, mustard) along with sides of ‘burnt beans’ and rkimchi slaw with lime and chilli. www.thehangingbat.com.
Over in Leith charcuterie plates are the obvious accompaniment to craft beers and spirits at The Vintage on Henderson Street in the slowly gentrifying port area of Leith. This spanking new place is in the shadow of some depressing tower blocks, but inside you could be in Shoreditch. Try a chooner of resinous, floral Double Joker IPA from bar owners/brewers Williams with your hot-smoked pig’s cheeks (£3) or champagne and hazelnut salami (£4) from the open kitchen in a slick, stripped down interior. www.thevintageleith.co.uk.
For a more traditional pub experience, even if it is on the tourist trail, drop in on The Oxford Bar at 8 Young Street EH2 4JB (www.oxfordbar.com). This New Town drinking shop has stayed unchanged since the 19th century. As well as a fine cask selection from Scottish breweries expect to find Ian Rankin fans thronging its spartan interior. It is a favourite pub of the author and his creation, Inspector Rebus.
The Nicolson Street area looks a good bet for designer coffee experiences. Two to try are the Black Medicine HQ on the corner of Drummond Street www.blackmed.co.uk and Brewlab on College Street www.brewlabcoffee.co.uk.
Staying (and eating) in Edinburgh:
The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Princess Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AB
Nightly rates start at £239 per night in a double room inc VAT, with breakfast only at. Our Pompadour Menu Gourmand cost £120 with selected sommelier wine pairing. Without wine this seven-courser is £88 a head. For further information or to make a reservation, call 0131 222 888; www.thecaledonian.waldorfastoria.com
21212, 3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5AB. The starting rate for a double room is £150. Lunch Tues-Fri from two courses for £20 to five for £52; Sat lunch three courses for £28 to five for £52; dinner Tues-Thurs three courses for £48 to five courses for £68; dinner Fri and Sat five courses for £68. For further information or to make a reservation, call 0845 22 21212 ; www.21212restaurant.co.uk.
We drove and left our car in a seven-day park and ride at Sherriffhall. Edinburgh can be reached via both West Coast and East Coast rail services, including the First North West service from Manchester Airport and Piccadilly. Call 08457 484950 or go to www.nationalrail.co.uk for all train times. Coaches operate day and night from major UK cities. For details log on to National Express (www.nationalexpress.com) or Megabus (www.megabus.com). Edinburgh is an hour or so away by air from most UK airports. For operators and timetables go to www.edinburghairport.com. Airlink provides a frequent and inexpensive bus service into Edinburgh city centre, with the journey taking around 25 minutes: www.flybybus.com.To. With the Edinburgh Pass (see below) tou get the Airlink shuttle free.
To organise a trip to Scotland it’s essential to visit www.visitscotland.com; for Edinburgh visit www.edinburgh.org.
An Edinburgh Pass offers free entrance to 30 of the city’s key attractions plus many special offers and discounts. Adult prices range from £30 for one day to £50 for three; child prices from £20 to £30. For more information and to book visit www.edinburghpass.com.
Auld Reekie Tours. All depart from outside the Tron Church on the Royal Mile. Visit www.auldreekietours.com or ring 0131 557 4700. Our 75 minute Ghost and Torture Tour cost £10 (children £8 – if they’re not of a nervous disposition).
Tell me you didn't study English?Read more
Soon to be foreign..NOT as of TODAY 19/09...!!!Was a student there and is a wonderful place...Read more
Wow! You’ve certainly done a great job by posting this bit of information for the benefit of us…Read more
I've just been there the prices were far too expensive no seasoning (salt/pepper)suppose to be…Read more