A triumph of Grouse

Fewer and fewer of the beautiful birds on restaurants’ plates, the glorious period that begun on the 12th of August, the opening of the grouse shooting season, is nearing the end.

We have tried many fantastic interpretations of grouse this year: these are the best ones.

Alas, we failed to take the photo of the truly superlative one by the great old man in London, as the last time we went armed with our camera they had run out. But more vivid than a picture, the deep, deep flavour of Koffmann’s grouse will stay in our memory till next year. His grouse is something that transcends any intellectual evaluation, it strikes at your taste emotion and you just stop caring any longer about the hours of high techniques and patient preparations that have gone into it: all you want to do is to abandon yourself completely to the sheer pleasure of eating it, to drown in it and forget all the rest!

Martin Wishart’s interpretation contrasts markedly with Koffmann’s, the latter sheer power, no holds barred, the former with the hair less let down, more of an elegant and sensual beautiful lady or gentleman than an exhuberant youth, delicious in a different way. He had two versions, one accompanied by a foie gras


and the other by a boudin

The waiter was astonished that we preferred to forgo one portion of the nobler foie gras (to which we were entitled by our choice of menu) in order to try also the more rustic boudin, but we don’t care for the aristocracy of produce and just look for true flavours. We were not disappointed, both were packed with them and technically flawless.

While the chef’s touch is exhibited unashamedly in Wishart’s dishes, the class of Geoff Smeddle at the Peat Inn is more restrained, developing only slowly while you enjoy and understand the dish and all its hidden subtleties and details,

the meat presented simply and openly, the beautiful colours – visual testimony to a perfect cooking – in evidence, supported by a muscular jus, and notable because of the so welcome abundance of a vegetable element (in this case Puy lentils as the core) so typical of his style. Geoff has a unique knack of making you feel as if you are eating at the same time a rustic and a superfine dining dish (this one also comes accompanied on the side by neatly presented innards on a crusty bread).

Look how very different this presentation at Galvin La Chapelle,

 which while accomplished was a little more austere, a little more rigid, maybe a little less joyous, what do you think? The piece on the left packed a punch of flavour as good as any other sample, while the one on the right divided us, Man finding it slightly more stringy, somehow less convincing than the best ones, while Woman was happy. We agreed that the jus was shiny class, and just so there is no doubt, let us make it clear that even with our modest criticism this is stratospheric level of cooking.

Let’s conclude with an Italian version…if you have followed us for a while you know we are great admirers of Maurizio Morelli’s skills at Latium. Grouse is not something one finds in Italy, so there’s not a traditional Italian way of preparing it, and Maurizio here was unconstrained by the weight of tradition that sometimes tends to shackle Italian chefs in the UK.

Here you will notice, unique among those presented, the symmetric and ‘full dish’ type of composition that Maurizio likes, and, like at the Peat Inn, a love of vegetables (and blueberries!) that we share (here there was a lovely baked pumpkin, as well a Savoy cabbage, in a red wine and bluberry jus). The cooking was perfect, and the gentleness and the balance of flavours shone as usual even with an assertive grouse.

By the way, did we mention we love grouse?


The Honours (Edinburgh)

It looks like Martin Wishart didn’t spare any expenses in his new ‘bistro’ in central Edinburgh, the atmosphere one of very spacious luxury rather than intimately rustic

They clearly need to make it back with the bread, good but only served in three thin slices each, and not replaced if you finish it…

Scottish Nationalists will have an apoplectic attack at the only type of oyster being served in this Scottish restaurant being ‘Cornish assured’

We heard that there was no competition in the blind tasting. Very good they certainly were: the plumpest, sea-infused oysters of our (admittedly limited, but not non-existent) experience. But we are told by reliable sources that you can find equally good ones in Scotland, so….

Woman: Let’s have the lobster Thermidore. Man: Nah, we are having it every week here in Scotland! Woman: Come on! Man: Ok….

It was a good choice: served without the shell, notable for the excellent cooking, the herbs recruited in quantity to add freshness, and the balance and kick of the sauce. In one word: delicious (though we’ve recently had an even better one…stay tuned).

Man: let’s have the tuna tartare. Woman: Nah, this is the tame yellowfin, you know I’m used to the wonderful bluefin Sicilian tuna. Man: you mean, like feckless environmental yobs that don’t give a toss about sustainability? Woman, contrite: Ok, let’s see what chef Paul Tamburrini manages to do with the yellowfin.

It was a good choice: a simple ‘assembly’ dish with very well-defined, fresh, harmonious flavours (avocado cream, ginger and soya butter sauce).

Woman: let’s have the veal sweetbreads. Man: Nah, we can have them in Italy or the lovely ones with Pecorino cheese they do at Latium. Woman: Come on, don’t be chauvinistic! Man: Ok.

It was a good choice. In fact, it was a great choice. Simply resting on a bed of moist spinach and accompanied by a portentous reduction, it was the cooking that made this the dish of the day, having achieved that perfectly light crispiness on the outside and that supreme softness inside.

Man: Let’s have the Presa steak of acorn fed Iberico pork. Woman: Nah, we can have this sort of thing in Spain. Man: Yes we could, however we never do, come on! Woman: Ok.

It was a good choice. They can really cook well here at the Honours, clearly a taut and well-run kitchen. This one felt like it was grilled, let’s see, at about 650 degrees, you know, it had that unmistakable texture…(OK,we read it on the menu, where they feel compelled to give you this information as if many people might change their mind about the order if it was cooked at 600 or 670 instead). We asked for medium rare and we were rewarded with the succulence that comes with it. Iberico pork is in general wonderful, but Man found this one good but not the best Iberico pork, and in terms of flavour he preferred the one at Hedone the previous week. Just for the sake of giving you a full spectrum of opinions, Woman disagreed. They agreed however that the the thick wine sauce was ‘deluscious’, and the tomatoes welcome (though to our taste they could have been cooked quite a little more and acquire that melting deliciousness).

Just one dessert, to increase our Summer exploration of the classics, another peach Melba, like at Koffmann’s the previous week (yes, we eat out a lot).

The ice-cream (made with a Carpigiani machine, as the very detailed menu says) was as good as one finds even in Italy, and the peach (Italian, so says the once again very detailed menu…) intense – this was yellow, while the Koffmann’s one was white. It is definitely not your classic Peach Melba, but still a very good ending to a very good meal. The presentation is perhaps more bistro that fine dining (compare it with the one at Koffmann’s bistro, but that’s OK.

The service has some key members from the Michelin starred Leith operation, so you get the benefit of a level of service far superior to what you’d expect in a bistro (the other waiters, very nice but displaying inexperience to various extent, looked in fact like they do greatly benefit from their more experienced colleagues – one lovely young lady was literally trembling when taking the dishes away: sweet but painful to watch). A special mention for the manager Steven Spear, a Wishart faithful, whose bright and easy charm (and voice!) cannot fail to strike the customer.

As you can see, we had six good choices out of six, and indeed we have the feeling that we could have chosen anything from the menu and been equally satisfied. This is a very polished operation. Remember, it’s a bistro, so don’t go expecting the intricate dishes of Martin Wishart that probably take six days to prepare, and you won’t be disappointed. The one negative aspect is a certain sense of lack of generosity (no amuse bouche, very little bread, no petit fours, expensive coffee – which we did not have, very little vegetables in most dishes so you need to order side ones), a rather enthusiastic pricing (we spent £111, of which £38 drinks, before a tip – for £120 or so you can fine-dine elsewhere not too far), right on the borderline of what we would consider excessive, bearing in mind what is in the plate, the lack of extras and the basic mise en place. On the other hand they have set lunches on weekdays that look a steal. If you can, you should perhaps focus on those.


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Martin Wishart: the best in Edinburgh at the mo

Martin Wishart, one of three Michelin starred restaurants in the Edinburgh gastro-strip in Leith, is producing at the moment some of the most accomplished cooking in the UK.

Our last two lunches there, last year and a few days ago, were phenomenal. The control and intensity of flavours shone in dishes of remarkable intricacy. As in this very Mediterranean FILLETS OF RED MULLET WITH ISLE OF MULL DIVED SCALLOP with
braised fennel, artichoke, crisp aubergine, confit shallot and tomato vinaigrette

or this Moreish CHAR GRILLED PRESA OF ACORN FED IBERICO PORK with minted peas and runner beans, pop corn of pork skin with a sour cherry sauce

(the one in the back is not a scallop but a potato sublimely crispy on the edges and moist inside).

Wishart has long been an enthusiast for mixing land and sea, and he succeeds spectacularly, like in this breathtaking starter of LANGOUSTINE TORTELLINI AND PIGS TROTTER with Soubise spinach and langoustine cappuccino.

in which the powerful flavours were resting against each each other with monumental grace. Or like in this more ethereal
LOCH FYNE CRAB “MARIE ROSE” AND VEAL TARTARE with white radish and Basque pepper

which however presented the interesting geometrical problem of how to remove one stick without destroying the rest of the structure.

At the start of our meal, we were intrigued by an amuse bouche of scallop with ink, that harked back to, and yet was so different from, a Pierre Koffman’s classic that we love.

While in Koffman’s version the play is all netween sweet and salty, here there is also an exciting acidic dimension generated by the foam of ??? – well, wish we could remember, surely there was some vinegar.

Everything is frighteningly meticulous here, including the service. When we were taking one of the photos, a waiter anxiously sprinted towards us begging us to let him fill our glass (which we had declined a minute before) because ‘it would look like a service error’!

The only other frightening aspect here are the prices of water (£5.50 for 0.75 l), of coffee & petit four (£6), and the steep markups on wine (around here however you’ll not be frowned upon if you ask for a jug of tap water). However, since you can have what is essentially a full 2* meal for £65 (or a tasting menu at £70, or £60 at luch for a slightly reduced one), with top raw material prepared at the highest level of fine cuisine, it’s a fright one easily gets over.


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