Next stop on the road trip after L’Enclume was Edinburgh. For those of you that follow the blog on either of the two main social networking sites (Twitter & Facebook), you may recall me asking for your opinion on where to dine. I liked the look of Tom Kitchen’s food and the interior shots I’d seen of the restaurant seemed to be more to my liking as well. But there was the niggling thought about the Martin Wishart eatery, not too far from The Kitchen.
I decided to put it out there, after all I’d be blogging about it, so why not let the readership have a say. Surprisingly there were only 38% of the votes for Mr Kitchen, and so the table at Martin Wishart’s eponymous restaurant was booked.
The Shore area of Leith / Edinburgh has had some serious money spent on it in recent years. The tell tale designer flats for the yuppies overshadow the less affluent residents, just a few streets back from the waterfront. But even on a deceptively warm, mid week autumn evening, there were still plenty of revealers out & about to dispel any feeling of a recession.
Martin Wishart has long been on the radar of foodies with his empire now stretching to three restaurants, a cookery school & an outside catering company. With his Loch Lomond outpost gaining a promotion in the Michelin guide this year, his star is clearly on the rise.
On arrival at the restaurant the door was opened for us & we were greeted by an immaculately dressed member of the front of house team. After checking our coats with him, we were shown through to our table at the far end of the restaurant & handed the menus. The menu choices on offer were two tasting menus (one being solely vegetarian) at £70 & £65 respectively, and a five choice, three course a la carte at £65. At this stage it was looking like there may be a few hurdles to overcome with regard to dietary requirements. No problem replied the restaurant manager, we can swap and change from the vegetarian menu to replace the course that you can’t eat. Such flexibility has to be applauded although I’m not too sure how it would have gone down in the kitchen. In the end I went for the ‘normal’ tasting menu whilst my partner chose the vegetarian version. To complement my choice of menu I went with the optional flight of wines, where as my partner isn’t keen on reds so we ordered a bottle of Riesling for her.
Every dish that was presented to us came with enough information not to overload, but also to maintain our interest which was delivered with such enthusiasm and devotion to a job that it would be hard to fake. I got the feeling that the staff were genuinely engrossed in their jobs, and whilst they probably reel off the same spiel ten times a day, I felt like I was the first to hear it.
And so to the food.
Rather than the canapés coming on a single plate, they came in waves. So first up was a beetroot macaroon with a horseradish filling. Outstanding! Technically accomplished, beautifully balanced, light and flavoursome. The horseradish filling wasn’t the type of Colmans sauce that you’d be putting on your roast beef Sunday lunch, where it would be giving you that end of the nose tingling before blowing off your taste buds. It was delicate & subtle, with just a tease of heat.
Next was a deep fried fishcake, although efforts had gone into this to make it time consuming it was a little bit of a damp squib. Yes, nice & tasty with delicate touches of garnish, but to serve it on a piece of aluminium foil moulded into a silver saucer or side plate, just really seemed disappointing.
An interesting trio of dishes but unfortunately I’d forgotten to note the entire contents of the three dishes in all the excitement. Suffice to say they were all good but the middle dish of pickled pumkin & watermelon with parmesan was particularly good. The dish to the left was a warm spherefication of butternut squash with a garlic foam & parmesan crisp, again interesting with good depth of flavours.
As you’d expect for an eatery of this style there is a certain amount of pomp & ceremony that goes with each dish as it arrives. The velouté came in a smart, white lidded bowl on a slate which in turn sat on a white plate. In unison the waiters removed the lids to reveal the respective dishes. The first thing of note was the aroma, rich and earthy. After the brief explanation you’re left to your own devices. The velouté was exactly that, velvety smooth but packing a punch of flavour. The roasted veal sweetbread was nicely caramelised on the outside & moist on the inside nestling on the chestnut purée which again was beautifully judged in texture & taste. This really was a dish to savour and remember.
Where I live I am quite lucky, although there are two major supermarkets in the town, we still have a high street of independent traders. One of which is a fishmongers. I walk past most days & sometimes I occasionally go in to buy something for dinner there. I tell you this because the aroma from the cerviche took me back there instantly. The connection with place & a smell was so strong it was remarkable. I dived straight in, the unlikely bedfellows of what would normally be associated with scallops blended perfectly. The cerviche received just the right amount of time to cure and marinate with the other flavours. Although dried fruit isn’t normally in this type of dish, the golden raisins added a depth of sweetness along with a chewy texture, a welcome addition.
Roasted Isle of Mull scallop, trotter, chardonnay vinaigrette, artichoke & potato.
Half a big fat juicy scallop arrived on a slate, astride a creamy ragout of finely diced braised trotter, potato & artichoke. Whilst many will say ‘half a scallop? Is that it?’ It is hard to put into context how big this bivalve actually was. I don’t begrudge the team at Martin Wishart’s for the small size, after all this is a tasting menu. The scallop was cooked to perfection and although this take on surf & turf may seem a little out there, it works. The creamy ragout working in harmony with the scallop, and the slight acidity of the dressing was there to stop it being clawing. A fine balancing act indeed.
Kilbrannan langoustines, parsnip & white chocolate, verjus and smoked butter.
This for me was the least successful dish of the night. To eat it was great, a little bit of theatre and the unexpected use of white chocolate in a fish dish. But reading back over the menu as I write this, I just don’t remember the smoked butter. The white chocolate & parsnip were self evident and a surprisingly good partnership it was too, especially with the well cooked, fat & juicy langoustines. The front of house deftly scattered some crumbs on the top of the langoustines giving a snap, crackle & pop moment and some needed texture, but that wasn’t enough to make it memorable.
Breast and boudin of grouse, red cabbage, chervil root, bitter cocoa sauce, walnut & feta.
With the game season well & truly into full swing I’d been surprised not to have seen more game on menus. It came with a traditional accompaniment of braised red cabbage, the grouse was juicy & rich, cooked as it should be. The chervil root came in two forms, a turned roasted nugget sat atop some silky smooth purée. The gamey boudin came as a pan fried slice, topped with a solitary redcurrant. The walnut & feta came together as a crumble effect, nothing too fancy but adding extra dimensions.
Selection of cheese
At this stage now I had been taunted enough with the cheese trolley. Throughout the night it had been parked in close vicinity to our table when not in use, the aromas of perfectly ripe cheeses, occasionally wafting over. There seemed to be a specific member of the front of house team who looked after this element of service with a dedicated knowledge. As one of my favourite cheeses was present it would seem rude not too. My first Vacerin d’or of the season, followed with Briquette, Roquefort, Morbier & finally some Epoisse. All the cheeses were in tip top condition, the accompaniments were suitably matched, semi dried grapes, an aged balsamic vinegar & truffle honey. The cheeses were laid out in a fashion which would optimise the eating experience, going in a clockwise fashion around the plate according to strength. Unfortunately, as is nearly always the case with cheese in restaurants, they always seem to skimp on the biscuits. They were good, just not enough of them.
Caramel & chocolate praline, exotic sorbet
After a suitable period of digestion & reflection on the courses we’d eaten, our next course arrived. Again the slate & plate combination was used to great effect & the waiter pointed out that they had changed the sorbet for a suitable alternative due to my dietary requirements. The praline was a different spin on millionaires shortbread but with more chocolate. The problem with mixing dark chocolate & caramel is that it can become too sickly rich to eat. But the pastry department had judged the choice of chocolate spot on. It was rich, indulgent and a measured quantity that wasn’t lacking but was not too much either. Crisp chocolate textures were added in the forms of tempered chocolate which had been set on bubble wrap & acetate. A truly remarkable dish, even with the replacement pear sorbet. It would have been easy to see how the exotic sorbet would have been a better partner.
Towards the end of our meal we had seen an immaculate tray of different coloured little square chocolate cups being presented to tables who were finishing their meal. It almost had shades of the Parisian Ducasse petit four trolley but down sized due to movement restrictions. Rather than being given a selection on a stand or plate of whatever the pastry chef felt like, you get to choose. Each delicate little cup filled with one of five or so different flavours. I chose the passion fruit, raspberry & praline versions. Again outstanding, each one was filled with multiple layers- jellies, mousses & differing ganaches, all obviously very labour intensive stuff. With a double espresso concluding proceedings it was time to settle up.
The Nuts & bolts of it.
#roadtrip2011 2courses in at Martin Wishart. Why does he not have 2*? Amazing !!
And that is the barometer of it.
At £262.95 Restaurant Martin Wishart isn’t cheap, but value for money? As a total dining experience, yes it is. You are pampered & made to feel special in the same way that you do at Gidleigh Park or Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, irrelevant of your social standing or wealth. The technical level of skill involved with the cooking of the dishes is extremely high & whilst there are no apparent whiz bang fireworks that shout “look at me”, the produce is allowed to speak for itself. On top of all this, Martin Wishart proves that a service charge doesn’t need to be added to what is already a considerable amount of money for dinner. Let the diner decide, so we did. I suppose the measure of the situation is- do I regret not going to Tom Kitchen nearby? In some respects yes, but that just gives me another reason to go back to Edinburgh if more meals are going to be like this one.
Restaurant Martin Wishart
T: 0131 553 3557