Visitors to the U.K. seeking great food outside London face a dilemma: There are many fine restaurants, yet they’re seldom concentrated in one city.
The highest density of first-class dining options is in enclaves such as Padstow (population 3,162 in the last census), home to Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant and its spawn; and Bray (population 8,245), for the Waterside Inn, the Fat Duck and its ducklings.
A gourmet vacation might involve much traveling. So how about Edinburgh? The Scottish capital (population 448,624) is home to restaurants so good, it’s worth a special trip.
The Kitchin: Tom Kitchin has worked with some of the world’s greatest chefs -- including Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy -- and formed an unlikely friendship with one of the toughest of them all, Pierre Koffmann. Koffmann has been a mentor to Kitchin since the young Scot proved himself at La Tante Claire.
Kitchin uses mostly Scottish produce to create dishes that are big on flavor. Yes, they are pretty and he cares about presentation, but everything on the plate is there because of what it can add to the main ingredients.
Dishes such as bone marrow and ox are not for timid eaters, though the textures and rich flavors of roasted bone marrow, crispy ox tongue, button mushrooms and jambon de Bayonne are rewarding. This appeared on the Chef’s Land and Sea Surprise tasting menu when I ate at Kitchin last month.
Service under Kitchin’s wife, Michaela, is outstanding. Kitchin, whose second restaurant is Castle Terrace, may be Scotland’s finest chef. The bill? 120 pounds ($194) for one.
Information: http://www.thekitchin.com/kitchin/home or +44-131-555-1755.
The Honours: Martin Wishart also has claims to be Scotland’s finest chef, and his eponymous restaurant in Edinburgh (which I have reviewed previously) should not be missed. The Honours, which opened last year, is his brasserie.
The service is relaxed while the cooking is serious. The dishes are French: They are polite, as though they have traveled over on the Eurostar, have learnt to speak English and chosen to eschew Gallic extremes in favor a lighter European style.
I started with buttered tagliatelle with new season’s morels. This dish was so good, I had to put my wine glass down and stop talking for 10 seconds to appreciate it. My main of calf’s liver (with confit shallot jus) was a chunk of pinkish meat about the size of my fist, like a big buttery steak.
There’s a three-course prix fixe menu of 17.50 pounds. My bill was 130.95 pounds for two.
Information: http://www.thehonours.co.uk/ or +33-131-220-2513.
21212: I’ve never been so confused in a restaurant before having a drink and I’ve rarely been so happy persevering.
The waitress explained to me once how to order. I asked her to tell me again. Still baffled, I asked another time. Please pay attention: you have a choice of two starters, one soup, two mains, one cheese and two desserts. It’s 21212. Clear enough?
Here’s a single dish from course three, or should that be two? Tender best end of lamb, braised and diced breast, barley and leeks, kidney beans, white asparagus and mange-tout, thyme and pease pudding, Bayonne ham and mortadella, blueberry puree.
When the food arrived it was a riot of colors and flavors: Not a bad riot, like people setting fire to furniture stores, but a good riot, like people overthrowing dictators.
Chef Paul Kitching just lets his imagination run a little mad, as though he comes up with ideas in the middle of a rave and works out how to execute them while coming down the next day. The disparate ingredients become friends and chill out.
I still had trouble imagining the genius responsible for such exuberant bonsai gastronomy. (The portions are small.) Then I sat down for a drink afterwards. He’s one of the most down-to-earth, amusing chefs I’ve met. I can’t wait to go back. Five courses are 52 pounds for lunch, 68 pounds for dinner.
Information: http://www.21212restaurant.co.uk or +44-131-523-1030.
Galvin Brasserie de Luxe: The Galvin brothers are well known in London for great restaurants such as Galvin La Chapelle and Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. This first venue outside the English capital is cut from the same cloth, and very fine it is.
Chris and Jeff Galvin have worked in some of the U.K.’s finest restaurants and it shows in their food, which is thoughtful yet unfussy, classic yet original. It also shows in their attention to detail front of house, with friendly service and the generosity on which true hospitality is built.
The menu at Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, in the newly restored Caledonian Waldorf Astoria, features tweaked versions of some London favorites, such as tagine of lamb. (La Chapelle serves tagine of pigeon.) Enjoyment comes dish by dish.
I’d only question the wine list, which is divided by theme. If you want to pick between New Horizons, Purity in a Glass, the Mix Bag, Kings and Queens etc., good luck. The food bill for three was 124.50 pounds, plus service and wine.
Upstairs in the same hotel is the Pompadour by Galvin, in a grand dining room that dates back to 1925 and offers views of Edinburgh Castle. Here are more elaborate French-inspired dishes using seasonal Scottish ingredients. The sommelier piles on the pleasure with adventurous wine pairings.
My bill was 92.35 pounds, including wine.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Craig Seligman on books.