Thursday, 9 August 2012

A private Edinburgh food "fest"

I've just come back from one of my "regular" trips to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe which, as usual, was most excellent. What was not quite so usual was the level of high quality eating that was involved.

The eating started off with a lunch at the Edinburgh institution that is The Dogs. Some pre-trip research made it clear that this place is viewed quite fondly by Edinburghers. And I can see why. As you walk through the big front door and up the stairs, the abundance of dark wood and dog-related decoration is very welcoming in a well-lived (and ever-so-slightly ramshackled) gran's house way, albeit with slightly less chintz and fewer doileys.

The Dogs' popularity was demonstrated by the virtue that there was only one small table left in the main dining room as all the others were already booked for lunch, despite us arriving barely after noon. I had a devilled ox liver, onion, bacon and mushroom on toast. It was good but they certainly held back on the devilling; it took my breath away. I had to quench the fire between each bite either with wine or another mouthful of the delicious fresh warm bread. I was jealous of my companion's Stornoway black pudding hash with fried duck egg. I think it was pretty good given the frequency of the simpering moans of pleasure emanating from her after nearly every fork-full. (There was no point in my trying it as my palette was awash with spicy liver). I also feel like I should have had the haggis, oh well. Definitely a place to go back to and explore a bit more of the menu.

The Dogs on Urbanspoon

Our next lunch-time treat was at Cucina a rather good Italian restaurant in the Hotel Missoni on the North Bridge. It was very modern restaurant: plenty of light highlighting a minimalist interior whilst remaining suitably plush and without that over-riding feeling of being in a hotel.

I had some great Speck ham to start with which came with some fried polenta (Speck con polenta fritta e bagna cauda) which had an incredibly light and fluffy interior; I could have eaten a plate of that on its own. Next up I had Conchiglie al ragu, which was a perfect example of a pork ragu if ever there was one. The scent of rosemary that finished each mouthful was exquisite. I finished with a tiramisu (well, you just have to don't you?), which was OK. It certainly came packing a boozy punch but was a little too creamy for me. Again the food envy hit when over the table from me when the Lacrima di Morro d'Alba chilled soup, cinnamon crumble and strawberry sorbet arrived. It was a pretty dish oozing elegance and summer berries and it was quite possibly the best fruit soup I've ever tasted.

Still I had made my bed by having the set lunch, which at £18 is an absolute bargain. Cucina is definitely a place to go back to.

Cucina on Urbanspoon

On the way down to Leith for our final lunch we stopped off in the Italian deli Valvona & Crolla. And what a place. Packed with fresh produce, tempting meats and cheeses and glorious baked goods. There's even a cafe at the back serving up an array of tempting delights made from the excellent produce at the front. This is the kind of shop I could happily spend plenty of money on a regular basis, if only it wasn't in Edinburgh...

Caffe Bar @ Valvona & Crolla on Urbanspoon

Saving the best to last, on our last day we went to Tom Kitchin's The Kitchin in Leith. Kitchin is one of the best known Scottish chefs. Having worked under Koffman and Ducasse he has an approach grounded in classical French cuisine and is a strong proponent of using local and seasonal produce. Needless to say I was expecting great things from the one-star chef. I'll cut to the chase and tell you that I wasn't disappointed.

The tempo was set with a rather good Edinburgh gin and tonic and crudités, with a frankly outrageously delicious blue cheese dip, in the sun whilst perusing the menu.

I was quite surprised by how small the dining room was, with only ten or so tables. WE were sat opposite the rather large window into the kitchen. It was understated elegance as you'd expect in a quality fine dining establishment.

I started with satueed Perthshire girolles served with crispy lamb sweetbreads and a poached hen's egg. Let's face it the combination of tasty bits like lamb, mushrooms, bacon, egg and a red wine jus is always going to be a winner: a dish which excited my palate with every mouthful. Even if it wasn't quite as subtle as my companion's exquisite langoustine ravioli.

Next up was a seared fillet of North Sea hake served with a herb crust and red pepper piperade. The piperade was a revelation; so strong in pepper and tomato flavour with a real lingering presence. The hake was strong enough to hold its own but the herb crust was lost frankly.

I finished with a custard tart served with Scottish brambles and a bramble sorbet. Now I might have grumbled about the measly slice of tart (barely a finger's worth) if my breath hadn't been taken away by the blackberry sorbet. Simply stunning, bursting with rich blackberry flavour, tart enough to excite but with just enough sugar to prevent a pout. A joyous end to the meal.

Quite frankly £60 for an excellent three course meal with matched wines and a G&T is value you simply can't argue with. A great restaurant that I am determined to go back to.

The Kitchin on Urbanspoon

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