It was the sheer quality of the ingredients in our first courses – a rabbit ballotine, two diver scallops and a smoking “cannelloni” of crab – at Restaurant Mark Greenaway overlooking the Queen Street Gardens in Edinburgh that immediately impressed me. But as our meal progressed, three other estimable qualities emerged, one of which was evident wherever I ate across this historic city.
The first was Greenaway’s well-considered and dramatic style of presentation. The crab, which regrettably I had allowed my guest to order instead of me, looked enticing in a clear glass bowl. One of our scallops arrived raw, only to be transformed under our gaze as the waitress added a jug of hot Japanese dashi or stock. And my ballotine tasted even better alongside an accompanying small jug of hazelnut milk.
This visual stimulation was then augmented by the unlikely arrival in the middle of our table of a glass coffee percolator. Encouraged by our waitress, we had ordered one of Greenaway’s signature dishes – his version of Scotch broth – as an intermediary course. In the bottom half was a concentrated lamb consommé, in the top an amalgam of star anise, tarragon, rosemary and lamb jelly. A small, lit candle was then put underneath and as the liquid rose into the upper half, we inhaled some delicious vapours. Once the candle was extinguished, the broth fell. Soup bowls with barley, carrot and a sliver of lamb were then placed in front of us and the liquid poured over. It was the finest Scotch broth I have tasted.
The second feature, a credit to Greenaway’s 19 years in the kitchen (five of which were spent in Sydney), was the combinations in each dish – or as my sister described it, “the withs”. This sensitivity permeated everything else we ate: the purple sprouting broccoli with the rack, belly and shank of Border lamb; the carrot purée and grilled octopus with the monkfish; and the roast cauliflower with the pork belly. Finally, there was an excellent rendering of rhubarb: a gingerbread and rhubarb fondant served with two more variations of rhubarb – poached and as a jelly.
Greenaway cannot be credited with all the responsibility for these accomplishments. Nicola Jack, his fiancée and business partner, runs the dining room with charm, ably assisted by sommelier Doki Okere. An ornate chandelier, a remnant of the site’s former incarnation as a bank, adds a touch of history.
But far more important, what Greenaway exemplified was that third estimable quality – the sense of confidence that pervades a growing number of Scottish chefs. Scotland has long produced an extraordinary range of wonderful ingredients, too many of which have ended up being prepared in the kitchens of France, Spain and Italy. Today, however, Edinburgh’s kitchens have the talent to prepare the best Scottish ingredients to exceptionally high standards. And in a poetic twist of fate, two of these chefs are now based in former bastions of France and Italy.
Café St Honoré still looks like the perfect Parisian bistro, but its polished interior and engaging waitresses are immediate signs of the confidence that stems from a kitchen guided by Neil Forbes.
Alongside sustainability and working with empathetic suppliers, Forbes demonstrates another particular Scottish trait: he writes his menu with a natural economy of style. There is no verbiage in the five first or main courses on offer but they all pack great flavour.
An individual quiche of wild garlic and Maisie’s Kebbuck cheese (an unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese made in Lanarkshire) was a delight. The loin and crisp belly of lamb, raised by Hugh and Sacha Grierson in Perthshire, was rich and succulent. And prices, too, are notable, with dinner for two, before wine or service, costing £67.
Tom Kitchin, whose first restaurant, The Kitchin in Leith, saw him apply all he had learnt while cooking in Paris to the bounty of Scotland’s larder, has now opened The Scran & Scallie as “a public house with dining” at 1 Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge.
For over 30 years this address was an Italian restaurant, run by an Italian family who still own the fish-and-chip shop next door. But the building’s new identity is now unequivocally Scottish, from its name (Scran & Scallie means “food and children” for those outside Scotland); to its range of Scottish beers on tap; to a menu of oysters, fish pie, venison sausages and braised hogget; to a warm Scottish welcome from Bridget Bradley, its Edinburgh-born manager.
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69 North Castle St; 0131 226 1155; markgreenaway.com
Café St Honore
34 North West Thistle Street Lane; 0131 226 2211; cafesthonore.com
The Scran & Scallie
1 Comely Bank Rd, Stockbridge; 0131 332 6281; scranandscallie.com