Tom Kitchin trained at Gleneagles but also at Louis XV under Frank Cerruti, who is one of the great chefs of France (Alain Ducasse's name may be over the door, but Frank Cerruti was the one that delivered the third star at Louis XV). The Kitchin opened in June 2006 in Leith, formerly the docks area of Edinburgh and where a couple of decades ago no sane person would wander around alone at night unless heavily armed. Now the area has been redeveloped and is full of trendy bars and restaurants. The restaurant received a Michelin star in the 2007 guide which it has held each year since.
There is a bar area to the right as you enter, and a short corridor attractively framed by wine display cabinets. The dining room itself has rather dark decor, with dark green walls and grey carpet, but the lighting on each table is well directed, and the highlight is a large window into the kitchen, so diners can see the chefs in action (11 this evening for 45 covers). The atmosphere in the dining room is informal, with no tablecloths and fairly basic tables with what appeared to be laminate tops; however, the chairs were comfortable, a feature that a surprising number of restaurants overlook.
The wine list is far from kindly priced at the non-investment banking end of the list. The South African Viognier The Foundry 2007 was £43 for a wine that can be bought in shops for £11, Mas de Daumas Gassac 2008 white was £78 compared to a retail price of around £23, Cos d’Estournel 1998 was a hefty £230 for a wine that you can pick up for around £64, yet at the upper end of the list Lafite Rothschild 1994 was £570 for a wine that costs this much to buy retail. As we looked at the menu some nibbles appeared: anchovy sticks, vegetable crisps (which were nicely seasoned) and pleasant cheese goujeres.(16/20). The tasting menu cost £65, with main courses such as grouse at £33 and halibut at £30. Local ingredients are a feature of the cooking, and Scotland is blessed with some lovely produce. We were shown a board of game comprising: black grouse (very rare: twice the size of normal grouse), ptarmigan, grouse and teal to choose from.
Breads are not made in the kitchen but are supplied exclusively to the restaurant by a local Turkish baker. The selection was of rolls of onion bread, black olive, sourdough, rustic white, granary bread and oat bread. Olive bread lacked much olive taste though had pleasant texture, tomato bread had reasonable tomato taste but its texture was a little chewy, while other breads such as the white were fine (15/20 overall).
An amuse-bouche of mushroom consommé with diced vegetables and chicken was clear and had nice depth of flavour (15/20). To begin with I had roasted bone marrow stuffed with girolles and snails and garnished with a fried quail egg; this was very good indeed, carefully seasoned (17/20). My wife ate cooked razor clam served in its shell and stuffed with assorted vegetables and a lemon confit. This was a stunning dish, with clever flavouring from anchovies and finely diced chorizo as well as beautifully cooked clam (18/20).
Next was a pumpkin soup with scallops and bacon, with grated pumpkin seeds. The scallops themselves were superb, sweet and of very high quality, though the soup itself was merely very good (17/20 overall, but the scallops were top drawer). Ptarmigan (a relative of grouse) and celeriac puree followed. Ptarmigan eat plenty of blueberries at this time of year amongst their diet of seeds and insects, and tastes rather like grouse, the meat tender and delicious, served with some of the cooking juices (17/20).
Halibut was crisp on the outside, moist inside and topped with lightly cooked shaved fennel, on a bed of cocoa beans with diced vegetables and a shellfish-flavoured pesto sauce (17/20). Beef Wellington was a lovely rendition of this classic, the Scottish beef excellent, the pastry made from scratch in the kitchen, the whole dish a joy to eat (18/20). Valrhona tart with Perthshire raspberries and mint chocolate chip ice cream had very good quality raspberries, a pleasant rather than dazzling base, but was a most enjoyable dish (16/20). Pistachio soufflé had good pistachio taste and was light in texture, served on the side with some really excellent pistachio ice cream (17/20, but the ice cream was even better than this).
Service was terrific all evening, led by a French maitre d’ who had spent several years at Michel Bras; all the waiters we encountered were attentive and friendly. Petit fours consisted of pistachio financier (which was rather hard), vanilla and almond chocolate and a moist rosemary jelly (15/20 overall). The overall bill, with a bottle of Chateau Musar and a couple of other glasses of wine, came to £126 a head. Though not cheap, this did not seem unreasonable given the superb produce used and the high degree of skill on display in the kitchen.