Eating in Edinburgh

It is certainly possible to eat badly in Edinburgh, as we demonstrated on our first evening. But things got better…

Breakfast:

Peter’s Yard
does what it always has well with the welcome addition of pizzas after 4pm. This institution is spreading out in all directions, with a takeaway section separate from the main building in The Meadows and another newly opened premise in Stockbridge. So far this expansion has not cost it in terms of service or quality of food. I think all places that get bigger do so at this risk and we will have to wait to see if Peter’s Yard suffers this fate.

National Gallery café
was somewhat disappointing. We had their Scottish breakfast and parts of it were nice: good haggis, good black pudding and, I’m assured, very fine mushrooms. Sausages ordinary. Bacon – what is it with this mentality of paying lipservice to the idea of healthy living when this breakfast is the very picture of the opposite. All it lacked was a deep-fried Mars Bar – where was I? Bacon…it was grilled and had been stripped of its fat content and rind. I’m sorry. HUH? I know it is catering to the nitwits who are demanding this ignorant way of eating it, but can’t these people cut the good bits off the bacon if they want to? Why make the rest of us suffer? I found the bacon exactly as one would expect of pork cooked without fat, dry and unappetising. This is not rocket science. Or why not offer bacon cooked without fat etc and with, so we have the choice.

The poached egg was hard and the toast was served cold without butter either on the toast or on the side. I’m sorry, I have to say it again, HUH? Why would I have to specially ask for butter with my toast? Why would toast be served cold and hard with narry a serrick of fat on the plate because hey, it’s bad for you? It’s a lovely setting, this café, and I imagine there are things they do well – there was a lady near us who almost passed out in orgasmic pleasure from the cheese scone – I wish I’d had one of those instead! Tea was passable – the cup I got given was filthy, I mean hadn’t been washed since last used filthy, hard to believe that somebody before it got to me hadn’t noticed.

Last but certainly not least, a chance discovery, the Broughton St Deli.

I tried to order this:
ramen noodle soup
garlic, ginger and chilli broth packed full of just cooked
vegetables, japanese noodles and topped with
spring onions, sesame oil and soy sauce, very filling.
£6.50

only to be told they were out of ramen noodles – minor gripe, why would one ever run out of ramen noodles if they are listed on the menu any more than one would expect to be told a restaurant had run out of spaghetti – so we both had:

poached organic eggs on toast
with organic martin wishart smoked salmon
£7.50

excellent in all respects. Buttered toast which was hot, eggs perfectly poached. When we were paying the bill I noticed a freshly baked pile of cheese scones sitting there – had to have one of those to scoff down on our way home. It was certainly good, but I wouldn’t have given up sex for it…I wish I could have compared it with the one at the National Gallery café referred to above. Tea and coffee were both good here. I’d try anything on the menu here if I’m back that way, the salads looked yummy. Pity were we about to get on a plane back home.

Lunch/Dinner in order of the eating thereof.

Café St Honoré

Excellent in all respects. Now, I may not ever give up sex for cheese scones but fish soup is another matter. I loooooooove fish soup. So, when I saw it listed twice as a starter and main, what could I do? Cullen skink first – I’d never tried this famous soup before. Creamy, smokey, fishy, potatoey, mmmmmm.

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

Then a soup the name of which escapes me, but consisted of a tomato-fennel-seafood stock and mackerel, beautifully cooked, balanced on top, crispy skin up. I’d checked with the waitress that it wouldn’t be crazy, two fish soups and indeed these were far removed from each other. Opposite me, coq au vin was given the thumbs up. Bread was good. Nice atmosphere.

We found this via internet research. It is highly regarded as an example of slow cooking, local produce, a restaurant doing everything the right way where both they and we go home with a good conscience. This is all fine in principle, but the food has to taste good, that’s the bottom line and Café St Honore passed with flying colours.

L’escargot Bleu

Having booked an anticipated large dinner this evening, we found ourselves walking past this restaurant on Broughton St at lunch time and it made us go in. As we were planning opera in the evening, a big lunch rather than a big dinner appealed. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a better value restaurant in terms of their daily menu, two dishes for £13 and a choice of half a dozen starters and mains.

We could have ordered everything on offer, but went for mussels in a pot and a fish terrine. The former proved that mussels do not have to be cold (take note, Apartment Bistro where we had our first unfortunate meal in Edinburgh), indeed, these come flamboyantly piping hot. The pot arrives sealed on your table, the staff open it, the lid becomes the repository for your shells. A wet serviette is included to clean yourself up after you’ve done the inevitable and fun digging in. Compulsory with this dish is eating too much bread, soaking up the lovely juices at the bottom of the pot. My terrine was lovely, but oh, I wish I’d had those mussels, an addict as I am.

Next I had veal, divine sauce, potatoes, the other choice we sampled was pork cheek done ‘tagine style’. Vegetables and salad were extra, we ordered both. The vegetables were aubergine and zucchini cooked together in a way which made them like velvet. I’m nervous about aubergine, mostly it is cooked badly, but this really worked.

The bread was neither here nor there – to be honest, if not for the mussel sauce I can imagine we would have left it. Believe me, that is all for the best, it isn’t often I find everything else so good that I don’t care about the bread. Manny tried the crème bulee which was pronouced ‘the best’. So the waitress had said, too.

Off we went on a long walk to Leith, by the time we got to the opera we were feeling human again. The idea of dinner was not to be entertained.

L’escargot Bleu

We just had to go back, they were opening the next night for their last Sunday of the season. We might have tried the main menu, but the daily specials were just so good! The menu was partly the same, partly changed from the day before. Luckily I got to try the mussels – YAY!! – girolle soup with tarragon for Manny who loves mushrooms. I continued my seafood obsession by having mackerel, nicely done, crispy skin, on a bed of this and that which included really REALLY good tiny pickled onions. Manny had the veal I’d tried the day before. This time we tried the other vegetable offering which was cabbage and carrots. How inspiring to see these everyday vegetables cooked in such a simple way and be so scoffable.

Would we try the cheese platter? Why yes, do tell us what you have there. In fact we went over to the seriously French cheese table for a discussion of the possibilities, a tiny taste of one to evict it from the list. Did we want it French style with bread or Scottish style with oatcakes? We went for the local habit, not so much because of an oakcake fondness as the previously mentioned uninspired nature of the bread.

As you can see from the pictures, this is a very pretty restaurant and adding to the ambience is the happiest staff I’ve ever encountered at a restaurant. If it was all an act, may I say they are wasted in the waiting business, they should be getting Academy Awards.

Bits and pieces about Edinburgh tomorrow.

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