Friday, October 21, 2011

Ditch the deep-fried Mars Bars the next time you're in Edinburgh. Eat here instead.

I just knew it had to be true. There had to be more to Scottish food than haggis, fish and chips and deep-fried Mars bars. On my recent trip to the country, I decided to try to prove my theory.

My first stop was Edinburgh, where I had an awful lot to eat. I've already written about the Chinese, Indian and Spanish food I had in my previous post but I haven't told you about the higher end of dining we also enjoyed.  So, here goes...

We stayed in 21212 while we were in Edinburgh and had dinner there on the first night. This is a Michelin-starred restaurant with four bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen is run by Paul Kitching, whose playful approach to food is causing quite a stir in the city.

The restaurant is small, seating a maximum of 38, but cosy and sumptuously decorated. The open kitchen looks out onto the dining area you can see above so you can watch the chefs as they assemble your dishes.

21212 takes its name from the layout of the menu, which offers a choice of two starters, one soup, two main courses, one cheese course and two desserts. Because there were two of us, we decided to taste everything.

(I must apologise before I continue. I don't have any pictures of the food. We had driven all the way from Dingle to Edinburgh that day (a distance Google tells me is 496 miles) and when I was greeted with champagne, all thoughts of being a good blogger went out the window. It was only when I woke up in the morning - feeling slightly groggy from champagne - that I thought 'darn it! Why didn't I take any pictures of that wonderful food?'.)

Because it was good. Really good.

Each of the dishes was a complex creation involving lots of flavours dancing around a central ingredient. Take the trout tart for example. A delicate baked trout fillet in a cheese and lemon glazed tart served with white asparagus, girolles mushrooms, cucumber, white and brown crabmeat, chilli, a thyme and onion cream sauce and Marie Rose mayonnaise.
It sounds like overkill, doesn't it? And yet it wasn't. The trout was allowed to be the star of the show while the other ingredients played supporting roles. This was clever cooking that only a talented professional could achieve.

Other dishes included a chicken, mushroom and leek pie (no ordinary pie, mind you, but one served with the likes of kohlrabi and piccalilli mayonnaise, morel and pimento squares and smoked bacon); smoked haddock baked in saffron and pink peppercorns and served with scallops, chickpeas and hazelnuts; beef fillet served with root vegetables, tarragon butter and a pea and mint purée; excellent cheeses; and the most imaginative desserts.

How does a Mars Bar, popcorn and Scottish shortbread brulée served with a fresh raspberry coulis, toffee, chocolate, caramel and oatmeal sound? It sounded odd to me but it made sense in the mouth, the flavours mingling in surprising ways and the sharp berries cutting through the sweetness. 

There were so many highlights to this meal but I have to mention the cheeseboard which featured 11 types of cheeses from all over Britain and the continent, everyone one served at a perfect stage of ripeness; and the cheeky sommelier. He was from France but maintained he had been excommunicated because of his passion for New World wines. He helped us choose wines to complement our food with real enthusiasm and no pretension whatsoever.

My verdict on 21212? This is a restaurant that takes top-quality Scottish ingredients and combines them using an imaginative approach and with an emphasis on strong, gutsy flavours.

Dinner here costs £67 per person for five courses, excluding drinks.

The following day, we had lunch at 12 Picardy Place, where chef Mark Greenaway opened a restaurant in February.

This small, intimate restaurant is housed in one of Edinburgh's grand Georgian buildings. Its décor is minimalist yet plush and the food served here is seasonal, local and always cooked with passion.

We started with an amuse bouche of hazelnuts - a layer of salty broth topped with a creamy hazelnut mousse, crunchy hazelnuts and a slick of hazelnut oil. The combination of salty, creamy and nutty flavours and smooth and crunchy textures made for a good start to the meal.

My starter was a summer pea velouté - a soup that was the essence of pea served with a pea raviollo, chanterelles mushrooms, crisp pancetta and summer truffle. The sweetness of the peas contrasted with the earthiness of the mushrooms and truffles and the saltiness of the pancetta was a delight.

But my boyfriend definitely chose the more exciting starter. The Loch Fyne Crab 'Cannelloni' has become Mark Greenaway's signature dish:

The dish on top contains the 'cannelloni' which is crab meat wrapped in a herb butter and served with beetroot mayonnaise and baby coriander. Underneath is a dish of smoked cauliflower custard, lemon 'pearls' (bursting with citrus flavour) and more beetroot mayonnaise. 
When you lift the top dish off the bottom, oaky smoke wafts out from the bowl underneath, adding another level to the dish.

For mains, I had pan-roasted hake served with a lobster tortellini, fennel and dill purée, pumpkin, radishes, a mash of purple potatoes and a ginger and spring onion broth.

The hake was perfectly cooked with a crisp skin and flaky flesh. The lobster lent a touch of luxury and the broth an unexpected flavour of the East.

My boyfriend had the 11-hour roasted belly of pork - a spiced fillet served with pomme purée, savoy cabbage and toffee apple jus. It was a simple dish; spicy and sweet, crispy and smooth and with lots of strong flavours.

For dessert, I had a chocolate fondant and my boyfriend had Mark's Eton Mess. Unfortunately, they didn't quite live up to the high standards of the rest of the meal. Although I like my chocolate bitter, I found my fondant lacking in sweetness. But the other elements of the dish - the vanilla tuile, white chocolate mousse, orange 'caviar' and tonka bean ice cream - helped make up for this.

Mark's deconstructed Eton Mess was interesting and had lots of contrasting sweet and tart flavours but I didn't think the meringue 'shards' were an improvement on ordinary meringue. I like the chewy texture of meringue and the way it contrasts with the soft berries and luscious cream in a regular Eton Mess


Overall though, I would recommend a visit to Mark Greenaway's restaurant at 12 Picardy Place. He's an ambitious chef with a daring approach to food and flavour.

Our three-course lunch with sparkling water cost £70. There is a £20 lunch menu for those seeking better value.

So, if ever you're in Edinburgh, don't feel you have to gorge on haggis and deep-fried confectionary. Discover just how much more this is to Scottish food by visiting 21212 and Restaurant Mark Greenaway.

3 Royal Terrace
Edinburgh, Midlothian EH7 5AB

Restaurant Mark Greenaway,
12 Picardy Place, Edinburgh EH1 3JT


  1. The pea soup looks amazing. THe rest of the food looks so pretty and perfect. I would have spent all day taking photos. What a lovely lovely place. Lucky you!

  2. Pretty perfect food - that's a good way to describe it! And I was very lucky. I wish I could be so lucky all the time!