Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eating at Castle Terrace, Edinburgh

Today we (parents are staying) had lunch at Castle Terrace, the latest restaurant in the Kitchin family headed up by Dominic Jack, the chef patron.
We've eaten at the Kitchin before and loved it, but they were all booked up today, and Castle Terrace has just received a Michelin Star (just this month in fact) so we thought we'd give it a whirl.
The booking that they offered us was at 12:15pm. The advantage of an early sitting is that you almost always go straight in, without having to wait for previous dinners to clear off.
And immediately we feel welcome. The mini breads arrive: two breadsticks, a little cheesy pastry thing, and two little cheese biscuits each, as well as a selection of fried pasta (one with herbs, and the other with squid ink). We decide to go for the set lunch menu (just £24 a head) with a bottle of prosecco (the details of which, stupidly, I failed to get).

Amuse bouche
We get an amuse bouche: a 'taste' of carrot and coriander topped with a roasted cumin crust. This was basically a really concentrated carrot and coriander sauce (with diced carrot) at the bottom of a teacup, topped with a foam (possibly flavoured with more coriander seed?) and finally on the very top, a layer of roasted ground cumin (mixed, I suspect with something else to make up the crust without making it too intense). When it arrives, you just see the crust, and it looks like ash in a cup. You dig down and find the foam and it begins to come alive. You finally dig all the way in and find the carrot, eat it all together and it is a joy. We were all scraping up as much as we could from the side of the cup before we finally relinquished them.

I like what the Kitchin and Castle Terrace do with bread. You get one slice before your starter arrives (from a choice of a few (strangely reminded of Subway at this point - they are cut from similarly looking batons) including (today): caramelized onion, sun-dried tomato, white, granary and spelt. I chose a slice of the spelt bread which was lovely and dense, with a really nice taste, and a fabulous thick chewy crust. The sun-dried tomato bread had a thinner, crunchier crust which was also very nice, but for me, the spelt had it nailed.
So you get this one slice at the beginning and you munch away. Your starter arrives. They come around again and offer you another slice. Now I didn't test this today, but when we were at the Kitchin last, they were quite happy to replenish our bread supplies whenever we wanted them. No ceremony or snobbery or stingy portions.

As soon as I saw the smoked eel pannacotta on the menu, I knew I had to have it. It came on an apple jelly (neither too sweet nor too tart, just the right amount of both), wobbling away and topped with a poached quail's egg (which burst delightfully almost just at the touch of the fork), and accompanied by tiny little dice of apple and finely chopped scurvy grass (nope, I've never eaten it before either) as well as a fillet of smoked eel. As with so many dishes like this, the real pleasure came from eating all of the elements together. Individually they were all very nice (with the smoked eel fillet clearly standing out - absolutely delicious) but together they married so well together. My Mum hadn't had eel before and she loved it too. Dad had the broccoli velouté with blue cheese ravioli and baby baby broccoli stems. He said that it was very nice, but paled in comparison with the later courses.

My Mum and I had both chosen the same again: the partridge pithivier. I had totally forgotten what a pithivier was (wonderful memory) but when I saw the little pastry domes delivered to another table, my memory of seeing them on TV (probably some variant of Masterchef) came flooding back. These little pies were served on a small bed of braised cabbage, with a gravy at the bottom of the bowl. My first thought was that it looked a little small, but as soon as you cut into the pastry, you realised that it was crammed full of meat. This was not a pie with plenty of air keeping the lid dry, but the pastry was wonderfully thin and not at all damp. No idea how they did this but it was wonderful. The meat itself was rich and extremely flavoursome, bordering almost on a sort of beefy note, and went so well with the cabbage. Slight criticism: there wasn't enough cabbage. Lovely lovely sauce (and plenty of it). Almost asked for a slice of bread to mop up the sauce but in the end just settled for getting as much as possible on my fork. Dad had the hake, which was served on batons of celeriac and celery (this was a lovely touch - three batons of fondant(?) celeriac, separated by two of celery, forming a cradle), which themselves were atop a celeriac purée. I'd love to tell you what it was like, but I was so engrossed in my dinner, and he was so engrossed in his, that we totally failed to talk during this course.

We all chose the sea-buckthorn dessert. This consisted of a set sea-buckthorn cream (at least that's the best way I can describe it off the top of my head) with a thin chocolate biscuit on top, and a blob of raspberry sorbet. Also on the plate were a couple of raspberries in a raspberry sauce, and some reduced sea-buckthorn sauce. I've had sea-buckthorn before at the Kitchinbushful at home; both grandparents also had large crops of them, so we were always eating raspberries - every day), I like to save them for a special treat. Having said this, whenever I have them from a supermarket or from a restaurant, they are often too sweet and taste as if they've been grown in a vacuum. These raspberries today tasted of raspberry bushes and allotments - they tasted grown, earthy. Amazing. Even the sorbet tasted like this.

As mentioned above, I went for a bottle of prosecco, which came to £32. There were cheaper wines (and plenty more expensive wines!) and this may not have been the most educated selection I could have made, but I knew that we didn't want a glass with each course (if you do want this, I'd recommend the glasses matched to the course (£19 per head) offered in the menu (assuming that the matches are as good as those delivered at the Kitchin as part of the same idea, they will be stupendous)), but we wanted more than one glass each, and probably the best way of doing this was to buy a bottle. Given that we were having different starters and different mains, I figured that a light prosecco would hopefully be a nice accompaniment without overwhelming delicate flavours, but also should have enough vim to hold off any loud flavours from the partridge. One question I do have about sommeliers is, when the customer decides that they want a specific wine, is it policy to not disagree? I'd like to think that if he didn't think that the wine would work with, for example, the partridge, that he would say so, rather than telling me how good the wine I had selected was... In the event, the wine had a very nice apple flavour. It was (as I had hoped) light, but very tasty, with some presence but not too much. I felt it went well with everything I ate (but especially with the apple jelly in the starter) and would order it again. 

The waiters were, at this stage, beginning to look a little harassed, and we realised that they probably needed our table, but in no way, and at no point did we feel rushed. Instead, we were invited to go and sit in the lounge at the front, before we were asked if we wanted to have coffee. This is another sign of the way in which here and the Kitchin look after their diners. I can't say too strongly that, for someone who comes to these Michelin star restaurants as a treat, rather than as a regular event, I feel that I'm a valued customer. It's worth ordering the coffee just for the petit-fours (same goes for the Kitchin). Very strong, dark coffee served with a jug of warm milk. Give me a bigger cup so I can put almost the whole jug of milk in, and I'll be a happy boy. The petit-fours today were a tiny little slice of carrot cake (my Mum's favourite), a chocolate drop filled with salted caramel (my Dad's favourite), and a sea-buckthorn macaroon (my favourite) which was chewy and sweet and sour.

Total bill came to £120, which we split in half, and then walked home. Last time we had the set lunch at the Kitchin, we all came out feeling very full, and didn't really feel like much to eat for the rest of the day. This wasn't the case today. I had been well fed and was extremely happy. It's tempting to say that the Kitchin experience was better because I had 'better value for money' (in that I felt quite stuffed), or that the Castle Terrace experience was better because I didn't feel that I had at all overindulged, but to be honest, it's like comparing apples and oranges. Really enjoyed the whole experience and will be back, hopefully soon!

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