Number One is in the basement of the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street in Edinburgh. The dining room is in two sections, and has very generously spaced tables, with wood panelling and numerous framed prints on the walls; it is also carpeted, meaning that the noise levels are more manageable compared to the wooden floors that so many restaurants feature these days. Chef Craig Sandle had a night off this evening, but he has cooked at Number One since 2003, becoming head chef in 2006. The tasting menu was priced at £65 plus £50 for wine pairing, while the a la carte menu was £59 for three courses.
The 25 page wine list had good growers and included choices such as Riesling Hugel 2008 £34 for a wine that you can buy for around £11 and Guigal Hermitage Blanc 2004 at £100 for a wine that can be obtained for £27 in the shops. The lovely Alion 2004 was £95 for a bottle that will set you back £40 these days, while the seriously well-off could consider Lafite 1995 at £950 compared to a retail price of about £658. Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen and tonight was a choice of slices of walnut and raisin, “foccacia” (which appeared to be no such thing) of olive and tomato, cheese bread and rye bread, as well as white multigrain. I thought that the walnut and raisin and the cheese bread, which had plenty of flavour, were the best (16/20 for the bread).
Nibbles were haggis bon bons, beef tartare, risotto cake. mozzarella and pesto crumb. These were well-made and enjoyable (16/20). An amuse-bouche was Parmesan and potato veloute, with a potato crisp. This had good flavour and was properly seasoned but was when served it was not hot enough (15/20).
My starter was crab (from the Isle of Skye) wrapped up in vegetables, with melon and a cucumber jelly, over which was poured gazpacho. The gazpacho had plenty of tomato flavour, but the small portion of crab was lost, dominated by the strong flavour of the gazpacho (at best 15/20). Pea, Parmesan and mushroom tart with cold pea purée had well-made pastry, though the puree could have done with a bit more intensity of pea flavour (15/20).
Wild sea bass was of good quality and was nicely cooked, alongside macaroni of langoustine whose pasta was a little too hard. The distinct flavours of chestnut mushroom (brown cap mushrooms) and cauliflower puree dominated the delicate flavour of the langoustine, which was barely detectable; in terms of balance, a green vegetable would have been useful too (14/20).
“Barbary Duck” is usually called Muscovy duck in English; it is native to South America but has been raised in France since the 16th century. The meat itself had lovely, deep taste, and was served with a nicely made sauce from the cooking juices, alongside a croustillant of duck confit, some apricots, beetroot and potatoes confit. Although a rich dish, this was well presented and was carefully cooked (16/20).
A pre-dessert of lime and basil parfait with exotic fruits was, for me, simply misjudged; I am never fond of shrubbery in my desserts at the best of times, but the basil and lime was an odd combination that I did not think sat well with the mango and other fruits.
A pretty dessert was mirabelle plums in filo pastry with (seasonal) greengage puree and mirabelle sorbet, alongside some white chocolate. This was a much better conceived dessert, with a nice set of contrasting textures, and balance of acidity against richness (16/20). Caramelised green apple and vanilla cream was served with apple sorbet and “Japanese pearls” (tapioca). This was a pleasant if rather unexciting dish (15/20).
Petit fours comprised chocolate mousse with gold leaf, rather over-hard hazelnut tuile, a salted caramel, a disappointing pineapple and coconut jelly, as well as excellent apricot sorbet and some caramelised pecan nuts (14/20). Coffee was of reasonable quality was but not quite as hot as it should have been.
Service was friendly throughout, but waiting staff did not seem to be as familiar with the ins and outs of the dishes as I would have expected at this level. The bill, admittedly with some good wine, came to £268 for two. Overall I found the meal a little below my expectations given that the kitchen has a Michelin star. Perhaps the fact that the head chef was not present did not help, but then I didn’t notice anyone pointing this out when I reserved or offering a discount, so this is never an excuse; a well-run kitchen should run the same whether or not the head chef happens to be present. There were some good dishes, notably the duck, but too few that for me were really at the one star level.