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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Plumed Horse (Edinburgh): uneven with some highs

(Visited 23/12/2011)

Proceedings started alarmingly in this venue in the Leith “Michelin strip” of Edinburgh (regrettably, the Plumed Horse has just been star-stripped by Michelin, but as you can see we are not deterred by this tragedy). 

We asked what grape varieties were in a Sicilian white wine that had caught our attention. The guy in charge said he had no idea... but he could check on the internet. Um.

Things became even more worrying when he came back and said that the Sicilian white was made out of Sangiovese. Unlikely. To his credit he did come back a little later to say that it was actually a Chardonnay. 

And also to his credit, the guy is really sweet and kind. And we appreciated sooo much the fact that he didn’t put any pressure on us for drinks – we find it hideous when the first thing they ask you is whether you want a glass of champagne (if we do - unlikely - we'll ask without prompting, thank you very much), which happens far too often.

Two amuse bouches restore our faith. A trio of beetroot terrine with creme fraiche, ballottine of salmon with herbs and smoked caviar, and black pudding fritter 

is only marred by the crazy saltiness of the salmon, while the fritter is delectable and the elegantly sliced beetroot adds that nice earthy vegetable dimension. The second amuse 

is a bold butternut squash soup with chilli oil, very assertive and offering nice contrasts. The palate is now for sure well awake.

Coming to serious eating, two “set piece” starters are visually very attractive and well conceived. Tian of White Crab Meat, Cucumber, Pineapple Salsa, Passion Fruit Dressing  is as zingy, light, fresh as it is vertically ambitious in appearance (only one snotty comment: if you put dots, they've got to be all the same size).

And a delicate Terrine of Pheasant, Pistachios, Alsace Bacon, Pickled Pear, Cumberland Sauce, Thyme Brioche offers great balance of flavours and titillates the palate with sweetness from the pears and acidity from the sauce. 

The pistachios do not make any impression – with them it’s either top quality and adequate quantity or nothing. Man finds the terrine a bit dry but is silenced by Woman who says it's OK. Woman doesn’t care too much for the brioche but is silenced by Man who says it's great.

One of the mains is the only real letdown of the evening, a Roast Breast of Guinea Fowl; Truffled Ravioli, “Cock-a-Leekie” Garnish.  

Strange first of all that in a broth based dish like this no spoon is supplied. Maybe better this way, because what we can taste is rather bland. The anonymous guinea fowl is dry (overcooked) and this time the couple’s harmony is preserved as there is no disagreement. While the raviolo is fine, something truly unspeakable must have happened to a cardboard truffle with a horrendous chemical flavour. (We don't know and we don't want to know)

In the other main, a Roast Fillet of Brill, Saffron Parmentier Potatoes, Creamed Leeks, Scallop Sauce, the not too tasty fish plays second fiddle to the splendid protagonist: the potatoes, soft and creamy on one side of the dish, small roasted cubes on the other (the Parmentier), vibrant with saffron, not to mention the leeks that deserved to appear more prominently. 

This could easily have been a perfect vegetarian dish, without loss had the brill not been there. And the champion of potatoes Parmentier  would have been happy!

For dessert, a Dark Chcolate Fondant, Hazelnut Ice Cream, Cocoa Nib Crunch 

is really fondant, that is luxuriously melting, the whole ensemble exemplary, and could only be improved by a superior quality of chocolate.

But the stunner of the evening is the second dessert, a Clementine Mousse, Marzipan Ice Cream, Chilli Tuile of superb airiness, like a souffle’ really, intense in the tangy favour, on a classy, also very light, sponge base. And the kick from the tuile, mellowed by the ice cream, creates other layers in this refined, assured dessert (note also the this time precise hand that put the dots on the plate, one of those telling details). 

The service worked well, with some unusual formality for this type of restaurant (white gloves to change cutlery, where are we, at the Ritz?), the only negative being the manager, who shone for the total lack of presence in the room, spending most of the time either in front of the computer, or chatting with the waiters (with four staff for ten customers there was plenty of time), and did not even bother to say goodbye when we left. Indeed we wondered what the point was of having a manager.

There’s evidently sound classical technique behind the dishes at the Plumed Horse, with chef Tony Borthwick, despite some inconsistency, able to pull several strings in the harmony of flavours, from delicate to decisive. If it is true that there was a flop it is also true that there was a memorable dessert. What is missing, we think, is excellence in the main produce, which makes this restaurant a lesser brother of its starred neighbours in Leith. Whether this is compensated by the ten pounds less that three dishes cost here (£55 pounds) is subjective. We feel that the price is too high compared to what, overall, is in the plate. Both in central London and in Fife (here) you can eat luxury ingredients (turbot not brill, pork loin not cheek, etc., all top quality) for that amount or even less. 

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