ARGUABLY MY FAVOURITE restaurant sits over the road from The Stockbridge Restaurant, so I felt like a bit of a traitor as I snuck down the stairs into this little grotto on St. Stephen’s Street. Toiling with a cold, I was close to cancelling this review, but this would test my views that good food always helps.
On first impression, the restaurant has a touch of class about it: it’s homely and cosy, yet spacious with walls adorned with rather interesting artwork. Chef/proprietor Jason Gallagher has held two AA Rosettes here for seven years, and his sterling reputation within the industry suggested we will be well fed.
The first page of the menu pays tribute to the various suppliers used by Gallagher, almost a statement of intent if you like. We perused the a la carte menu, the impressive array of dishes went hand in hand with my hankering for some good old honest cooking. It’s worth pointing out that an extremely good value-for-money set menu runs from Tuesday-Thursday, with two courses costing just £20.95, and three for £24.95 respectively. I like how it features dedicated dishes rather than watered down versions of main menu offerings, as is often the case.
I started off with braised Ox cheeks with horseradish creamed potato, Bourguignonne sauce and onion rings (£7.95). Presented with an oval-shaped bowl that brought an elegant touch of drama to proceedings, I was worried that in my current state I’d be unable to polish off this mammoth beast of a portion. However, it was such a delightful dish that failing to do so would be verging on rude. The meat was as soft as melted butter, yet still lovely and moist. I knew the sauce was top notch when the first waft of it graced my nostrils. The crispy onion rings just added a crunchy sharpness to the plate, but I didn’t quite get enough horseradish flavour from an otherwise sublime mash potato.
Sarah began with seared scallops with butternut squash puree, apple salsa with walnuts and Serrano ham (£7.95). The cooking of the scallops ensured they were the star of the show, as intended, with the walnuts adding texture and earthiness, along with the butternut squash. The zingy apple salsa was refreshingly pleasant, though I think there was too much of it on the plate.
Arguing over mains, Sarah went for the meritorious roasted rack of Hugh Grierson organic lamb, with braised flank, spinach and roasted potatoes (£24.95), while I selected mallard duck breast with confit leg, Savoy cabbage with bacon, potato terrine and jus at £21.95.
The breast was cooked medium-rare as stated, while the leg just fell from the bone; both elements being equally delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed the craftsmanship and execution of the potato terrine, while the cabbage was suitably al dente, and added some greenery. The acidity from little pieces of tomato concasse was inspired, with another rich, viscous sauce completing this super main course.
Over the table, Sarah’s rack of lamb had been expertly butchered and was perfectly pink throughout, with the verdict being that the lesser-used cut of flank was the most memorable part of the dish. The potatoes had clearly been turned by someone that had served their time in classic restaurant kitchens, with another almost lickable sauce binding this robust dish together. Maybe a hit of seasoning was lacking from the mains, but that’s being super critical.
Usually when I’m reviewing I’ll try and pick up any murmurs from other tables, and I was particularly interest by the gentleman at the table next to me, because he had ordered the grilled halibut that I’d toyed with earlier. I don’t really need to say much other than he got his dish after me, and yet devoured it before I’d finished mine.
We did wait a bit for our desserts, but I suspect that was due to a table of nine (I think) who spoke broken English being seen to; it would be extremely harsh to criticise the highly professional service we received all evening.
With my cold well and truly on the mend, I could enjoy my dessert without thinking of spending the next day in bed. Vanilla rice pudding with shortbread crumble, apple compote and cinnamon ice
cream (£6.45) was a solid dessert indeed. The rice was soft, but still had enough texture to ensure it would avoid the risk of being deemed baby food. The creamy vanilla-infused rice was offset by the sharp apple, while the cold contrast of cinnamon ice cream rounded off this well-balanced pudding.
For her final course, Sarah ordered a classic banana tart tatin with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream (£6.45). The pastry had stayed crispy throughout cooking, with the bananas sporting an appealing caramelised top; the butterscotch sauce was top notch, as it wasn’t too rich and sickly sweet. The vanilla ice cream was decent, and as with my dessert, brought a cooling sensation to the palate.
Classic cooking is classic for a reason, and Jason Gallagher showed that he is a true master of it. The standard of cooking made the hearty portions even more welcome, and the setting certainly contributed to the enjoyment of our meal. It is obvious why two AA Rosettes have been maintained at The Stockbridge Restaurant for so long, and what I will leave with is that it’s the Godfather of the rather eclectic St. Stephen Street dining scene. Oh, and my cold has vanished too…
We drank... Santa Rosa malbec (£24.95). A rather light malbec, with tastes of plum and raspberry. Most sipable.
Address: 54 St Stephen Street
Phone: 0131 226 6766
Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday