Martin Wishart blazed a trail in Edinburgh by gaining a Michelin star in the re-developed docks area of Leith. The restaurant opened in 1999, with chef/patron Martin Wishart having trained at Le Gavroche and also with Marco Pierre White; it was awarded a Michelin star in 2001. Ten chefs work in the kitchen here. The ground-floor room can accommodate a maximum of 45 diners at any one time, has plenty of natural light and is fitted out with a brown carpet and green wallpaper, while the generously spaced tables have white linen tablecloths. A five course tasting menu was priced at £55.
The 13 page wine list had less than half its bins from France, drawing on sources from around the world. It had selections such as Mendoza Urban Malbec 2008 at £26 compared to a retail price of around £6, the excellent Bonny Doon Cigare Volant 2004 at £60 for a wine you can pick up in the shops for a round £18, and the lovely Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay 2000 at £100 for a wine that you can buy for about £33.
We were offered very tasty and nicely spiced haggis bonbons (17/20) and salted almonds while we looked at the menu. A nice touch is that there was a full vegetarian tasting menu also (£50), while a la carte comes in at £60 for three courses (£95 with wine pairing).
Bread was made from scratch and consisted of: brown, black, olive, white and raisin and walnut slices. The bread had terrific texture and was very good indeed (18/20). Butter was from Normandy (I think from Pascal Beillevaire). This butter is processed in an ice-cream maker before serving in order to lighten its texture.
There was a trio of amuse-bouches: a jelly of raspberry, grated carrots with lime, octopus and clam, and a Piccalilli and green pea macaroon. The carrot puree was for me the best of these, but I wasn’t convinced that raspberries belong at this stage of a meal (15/20 overall). Next was a very good cep velouté with a pig trotter “sandwich” (braised pig trotter on toast) on the side. This was excellent, seasoning accurate and with plenty of cep flavour (a strong 17/20).
From the vegetarian menu came the only rather disappointing dish of the entire meal: leeks and Vivaldi potatoes with pumpernickel, malt powder and a little truffle. This dish was served rather lukewarm, and suffered from slightly overcooked leeks; even if this dish had been perfectly executed, I doubt that this combination was really going to set the world alight (14/20 at best).
Langoustine ravioli with braised caramelised endive had good texture and a high quality langoustine, served with an orange-flavoured jus of langoustine and olive oil; for me the orange flavour was a little dominant (16/20). Better was organic Shetland salmon that had been smoked in the kitchen,; this was well judged, the konbu (kelp) vinegar and soused cucumber and malt powder giving balance to the richness of the smoked salmon; the overall effect was for the salmon to be quite salty and smoky, which I like but perhaps would not be to everyone’s taste (17/20).
A magnificent savoury Emmenthal cheese soufflé was next on the vegetarian tasting menu, and showed terrific technical execution (that time at Le Gavroche was well spent). For me this was perhaps the dish of the meal, with terrific texture and flavour (18/20).
Spelt risotto was garnished with chervil root and was carefully seasoned, enlivened with a little truffle flavour: another excellent dish (17/20). Loin of Dornoch lamb was served with a black olive tapenade crust, a crab and curry tortellini and pumpkin; the lamb was of high quality, though I felt that the crab flavour was rather lost (17/20).
We also sampled a couple of extra dishes on the a la carte. A scallop was baked in its shell for eight minutes at 185 degrees after an earlier stage where the scallop was opened, the hard muscle removed and a little truffle jus added before the shell was sterilised and then sealed with pastry for the steaming. The scallops was then opened at the table and served with a little Jerez belotta (acorn fed) ham. This was an excellent dish, the scallop cooked very well, and the ham a good foil for the scallop (easily 17/20).
Finally on the savoury courses, grouse was cooked with a sauce flavoured with Armagnac, and served with cabbage, salsify, baby onions and lardons. The grouse was pan-fried initially to get a crisp skin, then cooked in the oven, and then finally finished for a couple of minutes in a pan. The grouse was superb, in this case hung for just four days (some grouse is hung for as long as six days), and avoided the over-gamey flavour that can easily happen with grouse (18/20).
Desserts, as so often in UK restaurants, felt as if the kitchen had moved down a gear. Chocolate croustillant was served with Valrhona chocolate cremeux with uzu foam, and was entirely pleasant but I felt lacked intensity of flavour (15/20). Pink grapefruit jelly was served with honeycomb tuiles and passion fruit cream, with melon sorbet and mandarin and passion fruit foam. I liked the tuiles and the ice cream was fine, but I was expecting more passion fruit flavour, and for me a little more grapefruit to provide acidity would have improved things (16/20).
Good Illy coffee was offered with petit fours comprising: blackcurrant jelly, lemon cream, chocolate macaroon with pistachio mascarpone, sablé with blueberry ganache and white chocolate disc, and white chocolate and whisky fudge rolled in chocolate and cocoa beans (17/20). The bill for two was £178 before service, though with only moderate wine. Service from our Hungarian waiter was excellent throughout.
Overall this was a very fine meal, highlighting excellent local ingredients such as the grouse, and showing strong technique in dishes such as the savoury soufflé. In my view, if desserts were of a higher level then Martin Wishart would be well on the way to a second star.
Further reviews: 09th Nov 2016