exploring edinburgh

at the end of last year, david and i spent a few very lovely days in edinburgh, which was a much-needed break and exceeded our expectations. i have to confess that when it comes to scotland i always choose glasgow over edinburgh but, having had such a lovely time and eaten such delicious food (keep reading for details of all the places we enjoyed), i think i might be more even-handed when i make decisions in future.

we stayed in leith which is just out of the city centre and, being located on the waterfront, is an area that has long been referred to as edinburgh’s port. it is also home to several restaurants, some of which are michelin-starred, as well as plenty of pubs and cafes. we stayed local on our first night and ate at michelin-starred martin wishart.

wishart takes a classic french approach but also applies it in a modern way which means there is a freshness of flavour and lightness of touch that i feel is sometimes missing from this style of cooking. we had the tasting menu and my favourite dishes were the amuse bouche (a melt-in-your-mouth beetroot macaron with horseradish cream), the langoustines (so juicy and tender, served with parsnip & white chocolate plus melted smoked butter which added a wonderful savoury richness to it all) and the veal sweetbreads which came with an intensely savoury buckwheat and wild mushroom sauce. we had great wine advice and tried, for the first time, a petit manseng which i’ll be looking for again (similar to a jurancon sec but lighter).

paul kitching’s 21212 was our other michelin-starred meal of the trip, this time for lunch. this food is also described as having a modern french style but it is constructed very differently. there are large numbers of ingredients on the plate and trying to get any consistency between mouthfuls is impossible, which is nice in one way as it means you try all sorts of combinations but on the other hand, when something tastes wonderful and you can't recreate it, is a bit annoying!

it’s difficult to talk about what we ate as everything had so many components. to me it felt as though everything was prepped separately and then came together on the plate with the help of sauces and dressings – mostly the dishes worked but it did feel as though it was in spite of the large number of ingredients rather than because of them. this approach also means that there is no obvious main meat or fish component in a dish - they are just part of the mix of many parts and don’t necessarily have a starring role.

david said it felt like 90’s food – not in a bad way and not to say the approach is dated, just that it’s something that he’s not encountered for a long time. in fact we then had something similar at ben spalding’s john salt, with his 50 ingredient salad which i thought was more coherent and elegant than the food we ate at 21212.

there were themes in the 21212 dishes which were interesting to spot – curry spices were common (including in the fudge petit four which i really enjoyed but think that was because it fitted with some of the other flavours we’d eaten, i’m less sure i’d have liked it out of context!) as is the use of fruit (both dried and fresh) in the savoury dishes.

when i was researching this trip, small portion size was been mentioned but while the dishes weren't large we had 4 courses and left absolutely stuffed. this was partly due to the enormous cheese plate which i had in place of desert (no choice of cheeses but a dozen pieces gave a good mix and i liked the selection of biscuits, wafers and dried fruit that accompanied it) but even so, i still don’t think we’d have left hungry.

the other meal i had booked was dinner at the gardener’s cottage (pictured above) - a very different affair from both of the above, but i loved it. the setting is very simple with shared tables, an open kitchen and music from the record player (everyone is welcome to choose which record goes on next). the menu changes daily and is posted on a board at the entrance (as well as on twitter, for those lucky enough to be local and able to pop in or if you just want to see what you’re missing).

to start we had pumpkin soup with elephant garlic aioli (they used crown prince pumpkin which is my favourite so i obviously liked this), squid with bacon and fennel (absolutely wonderful, i don’t know how they got their squid to be so delicate and tender; obviously the flavour combination is a winner), venison with pumpkin, apple & parsnip sauce and pink fir apple potatoes (my favourite potatoes to go with my favourite pumpkin plus tender flavoursome venison), a palate cleanser of homemade ricotta with walnuts and honey was followed by cheese (lanark white) with oat cakes and scottish grapes (boy were these sour!) and finally chocolate cake with poached pear (with the skin left on which was a really nice contrast).

having said what a wonderful time we had, others have since reported a less enjoyable evening based on being in the secondary dining room, which apparently felt a bit peripheral – when we were there this was in use for a private party so i couldn’t explore this space.

the other edinburgh meals we had were lunch at urban angel which was just wonderful (i particularly enjoyed my spicy lamb wrap) and breakfast at mimi’s bakehouse in leith (i had the full scottish which kept me going all day and until the following morning! the french bread with bacon and maple syrup was also lovely).