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Thursday, September 8, 2011

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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