30 May 2015

Review: Gusto, Edinburgh

I’VE ALWAYS AVOIDED eating on George Street since moving to Edinburgh, mainly because previous outings have led me to conclude that you pay a high price for nothing especially … well, special.  I genuinely swithered about accepting an invite to Gusto but thought I’d take a punt; you never know – previous perceptions can be proved wrong.

I decided to order lemon risotto with crab and lobster dressing (£6.95) for the starter.  The first glance filled me with confidence that the rice was cooked al dente - it was – and the initial taste brought positive feedback: subtle hums of lemon, sweet crab, and a peppery bite from the rocket. It was a decent enough dish, but a whack of salt and a herb oil or another layer of flavour would have prevented that monotone feeling  that can come with a dish of this style setting in.

Sarah’s introduction to dining Gusto-style was in the form of tiger prawns in a garlic, tomato and cream sauce with grilled ciabatta (£7.50). I had expected plump shell-on prawns ready to make a mess of her pretty white dress as she tore them apart, but what came was a suspiciously hot bowl with a few, most likely frozen, prawns that, to be fair, were sufficiently tender but failed to fulfil expectations. The sauce reminded me of some generic takeaway offering; the less said about it the better.

For the main course, I picked a six-bone rack of lamb with pea puree and minted onions at a whopping £29.75, plus a side order of rosemary and garlic potatoes for £3.45. Where do I start? This strange, spaced-aged plate is blithely put in front of me with two chunks of uncarved meat.  Who sends out a rack of lamb for the customer to carve? Does carving require another tenner on the price or something? I asked for rare lamb but find the first rack overcooked, although not chewy; the second was a better offering, sporting a more desired shade of pink.  The puree was fresh and those minted onions were an undoubted high point. The rosemary potatoes were cooked competently enough, though found wanting in the seasoning department.  The dish cried out for a rich jus to bind it together, but I just couldn’t enjoy it because I was so irate with the lamb.

Sarah was a little more fortunate with her course of baked fillet of sea bass with roasted peperonata and lemon puree (£17.95), which also required a side in the guise of asparagus with red pepper oil (£5.95). The fish was soft and juicy with the peperonta respectfully executed to give textural enhancements to the plate, with the lemon oil offering a citrus burst to a dish that was enjoyable, but lacking in seasoning. The side of asparagus brought an earthy woodiness to the floor and was cooked just about perfectly, with the red pepper part working in tandem with the fish.

For dessert I went for a baked Alaska (£7.50), something that ticks all the boxes of a dessert I should like, but that all previous attempts have failed to deliver. Unfortunately, this effort didn’t buck the trend. Gavin set the liquor alight, bringing the desired theatrics, but the dish was far too sweet and lacked sufficient amounts of ice cream in the centre to calm the booziness.  The meringue failed to achieve the desired crispness on the outside, and while you could enjoy the tart cherry element to begin with, the sweetness became further amplified on your palate; there was no chance of finishing this as a result.

Sarah selected  Nutella and mascarpone calzone with vanilla ice cream for £5.95. She really enjoyed the filling but found it just too rich and overly sweet, much like my pudding. In the words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

I'm clutching at straws to find a reason to return to Gusto. I felt sorry for Gavin, as it’s obvious that he is good at his job. He mentioned that he used to work at Wildfire on Rose Street and as I reflect on their menu, it is obvious he has experience in a restaurant that takes pride in sourcing their produce, which I don’t think is mirrored here.  The food failed to put across any personality and some dishes come with the lofty price tags that puts me off dining on George Street. I spend my working days trying to entice people away from the mediocrity of supermarket produce; this is the restaurant world equivalent.

Phone: (0131) 225 2555
Address: 125 George Street,
                EH2 4JS

Opening times: Sun-Thurs 12:00 - 22:30
                         Fri and Sat 12:00 - 23:00

Gusto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

24 May 2015

Review: L'Escargot Bleu, Edinburgh

WE DROVE PAST L’Escargot Bleu a couple of weeks ago, with Sarah stating “We should go back there soon, it was unbelievable last time”. A discreet smile briefly adorned my face, as I had booked a table for her forthcoming birthday just the day before.

Chef/owner Fred Berkmiller is a hugely popular figure on the Edinburgh food scene and is usually based at Bleu’s sister restaurant, L’Escargot Blanc, with partner Betty looking after proceedings at this end.  Often out spreading the word of the Slow Food movement, Fred resonates passion for the finest seasonal produce and shows an unyielding commitment to the training of young chefs, both here and in his native France with his Budding Chefs initiative (www.buddingchefs.net).

Sarah and I last visited L’Escargot Bleu – which holds one AA Rosette – a year or two ago and can still remember a slightly nervous waiter knocking up a knockout steak tartare. I would have happily ordered any of the starters, but couldn’t resist revisiting what I regard as one of the best I’ve had in Edinburgh; but would it come through this time? Well, the answer is, yes, of course, it did.  The added theatre of assembling the dish at the table drew glances from other diners and only adds to this particular French classic (priced at £8.90). The quality of the shorthorn beef is unquestionable and all the flavours of shallots, capers, Dijon mustard, egg yolk, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and herbs tantalise the palette. If you are afraid of eating raw meat then 1) Get a grip and 2) Visit L’Escargot Bleu and have this dish.

The birthday girl opened with another classic in the form of moules mariniere, with the bi-valve molluscs coming from the Isle of Lewis.  Provenance is blatantly important to this restaurant and a proud intertwining of French classics with the finest Scottish produce is a definite theme in the menu throughout. I always love getting a whiff of this dish before it’s plumped down at your table.  It’s like catching the invigorating scent of a lady’s fine perfume, and thankfully it went down just as well.  The plump mussels were tender and sweet and the broth tinged with delicious flavours of garlic, white wine and cream serve as a reminder why you find this dish on menus all around the world.

I have never tried horse but know it has often featured on the menu at this Broughton Street restaurant. Today would be the day. I had expected the fillet (£21.90) to be stronger, almost gamier but it was enjoyably light and exquisitely tender.  It came with some expertly executed asparagus, tasty heritage potatoes of purple and white variety. Little morsels of pancetta brought saltiness, with pearl onions slicing through the rich jus with an acidic twang.  Just look at the plate: simple, seasonal, with quality produce – that’s what food should be about.

To mark her arrival in her, erm, let’s say early (sort of) 30s, Sarah ordered beef bourguignon made from organic Scottish wagyu beef (£18.90). Another example of chef/proprietor Fred Berkmiller’s contribution to the Auld Alliance, the beef melted like a knife through hot butter, with a succulent little faggot offering a contrasting texture.  The smokiness from the lardons and woody button mushrooms added layers of flavour and bite while soft potatoes meant this dish succeeded in meeting the expectations of another French staple.  The only foible was that Sarah would have preferred mash to soak up the delicious sauce.

The dining room was full, meaning there was a bustling atmosphere you kind of hope for from a French bistro.  Service was slick and very professional; I particularly like it when the French speak English and slip in little phrases in their native tongue; it adds to the authenticism.

Crème Brulee always draws me in on dessert menus.  It’s one of those instances where I think that if a chef can’t make a decent one, they should just give up and get a job in Wetherspoons. There were no such issues here. Slightly bitter chards of torched goodness gave way to a thankfully not-too-sweet custard littered with vanilla seeds all for the meagre sum of £5.60. Sarah concluded the evening with a pear and frangipane tart with crème anglaise (£5.50).  The pastry was crispy with a moist frangipane filling with a welcome crunch and nuttiness from the almonds.  The custard was flawless and rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable meal.  

I’m very fond of this restaurant. Not only does it share my ethos on food, the team here also deliver cooking of exceptional standard with polished service to match. At just shy of £50 per head (including wine), you certainly won’t leave feeling short changed or underfed. One of the best restaurants in this part of town. Here's to many more birthday meals as delicious as this.

Web: http://www.lescargotbleu.co.uk/
Phone: (0131) 557 1600


56 Broughton Street,

Square Meal L'Escargot Bleu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 May 2015

Recipe: Parmigiano Reggiano risotto with 12-year-old balsamic vinegar

THIS DISH WAS inspired by a documentary about a three Michelin starred Italian chef, Massimo Bottura, and his love for ingredients from in and around his hometown of Modena.  Here, I have made a Parmigiano Reggiano  consommé and used it as a stock to pack as much flavour into the rice as possible - not just your bog standard risotto!

Modena is famous for Balsamic vinegar and it's amazing how well these two ingredients pair together.  I've used a 24-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano, along with a 12-year-old Balsamic from Demi John.  This vinegar is of undoubted quality with a superb sweet and sourness to it, as well as a viscous consistency that means you only need a small amount. With the umami and fruitiness of the cheese, this dish really intrigues the palette.  

The parmesan 'water' is something that I've attempted a few times, and really enhances a humble risotto.  It makes an interesting aperitif, too, especially if you don't tell people what it is before hand! Pay particular attention to the seasoning of this dish, because the cheese just about seasons it for you.  

You may have heard of Massimo from appearances on Masterchef over the last couple of years; I like to think this is a little tribute to Modena and a nod to Massimo's unrelenting passion for quality produce from his region.


500g Parmigiano Reggiano (24 months), shaved (keep the rind for infusing stock and finely grate 100g for crisps)
200g Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1x small onion, finely diced 
100mls white wine
Bunch of parley, chives, mint or any herbs you have kicking about
100 mls of olive oil
100mls chicken stock
50g Butter, cubed
750mls water
Pinch of sea salt

You will also need some muslin cloth or a clean tea towel. Please under NO circumstances sacrifice the quality of the cheese in this recipe. 


1) Place a pan on a low heat and gently melt the Parmesan,  adding a splash of water when it starts to break down.  Add more water and whisk vigourously until cheese starts to melt.  Keep adding water until cheese has melted (you may be left with a few stringy bits, but that's fine), this should take around 15 mins.  Add the rind, bring to the boil and leave to infuse for a couple of hours.

2) To make the crisps, heat oven to 170C. On a baking mat, grate a thin layer of the Parmigiano Reggiano and place in the oven for 5-7 mins until just about to turn golden.  Remove and quickly cut with desired tool. Leave to cool and remove - be careful, they're very fragile.

3) Gently bring back the cheese mix to the boil then slowly strain through a muslin cloth into a clean bowl.  This should take around 30 mins.  You could do this a day or two in advance.

4) Place a bunch of mixed herbs into a blender or Bamix.  Add a good amount of oil (use your judgement) and a pinch of seasoning.  Blitz until smooth.

4) Place a pan on a medium heat and sweat the onions for 8-10 mins until soft and translucent. Bring the parmesan water and chicken stock up to the boil.  Add the rice to the onion mix and stir vigorously until it starts to crackle and pop, then drop the wine in the pan and reduce by half.

5) Ladle in the parmesan water and chicken stock to cover, stirring as you would a traditional risotto, adding more stock as required until rice is tender but with slight bite.  Whisk in the butter and grate in a little more cheese if you require.  Allow to rest for a couple of minutes.

6) Ladle the risotto into a bowl and drizzle in the balsamic and the herb oil.  Place the parmesan chards around the plate and serve.


6 May 2015

Review: Melville Castle Brasserie, Edinburgh

I WOULDN’T IMAGINE you could ever get tired of the stunning scenery as you trickle down the windy road to Melville Castle. While we admire the grounds of the James Playfair-designed, three-storey building, I remind myself that it’s the food that we’re actually here to scrutinise.

With three courses setting you back £28.50, I began with a smoked salmon platter, accompanied by pickled cucumber and a new potato salad with a sweet dill and mustard dressing.  Neatly assembled, this offering was a light and fresh way to commence the meal. The flavour of the salmon suggested it was delectable quality, and the pickling of the salad wasn’t too sharp or overpowering; a pinch of seasoning wouldn’t have gone amiss.  The tasty dressing happened to be the standout component, adding a pleasant hint of heat.

Sarah started with haggis croquet with clapshot and whisky sauce, which was a gigantic looking portion on first inspection.  It was obvious to my chef’s eye that the oil wasn’t hot enough to produce the desired crunchy coating, although the haggis (from Henderson’s) inside was flavoursome enough. The taste of the clapshot suggested there was only turnip in the mix – I might be wrong – but there wasn’t any evidence to suggest there was potato in there, but anyway, the neeps were smooth and creamy with the warmth from the whisky sauce rounding off a decent take at our national dish.

Moving on, my main consisted of slow-cooked daube of beef with creamed potato, roasted root veg and a rosemary jus, which appealed on this oddly cold (can I say that in Scotland?) late April evening.  This dish reminded me of eating at Balbirnie House when Sarah and I first started dating (she’s four years into that sentence now) and this comparison was a pretty decorous effort.  Although I felt the flavour of the beef could have been enhanced – it might have been a quality issue - It was impeccably cooked, and the roasted nuggets of carrot and parsnip were thankfully in keeping with that.  The mash was smooth, although lacking seasoning, but my main issue was with the sauce.  It was wishy-washy and let the dish down.

Pan-fried roe deer haunch with braised red cabbage, fondant potato and game sauce was Sarah’s main event.  I love a fondant potato and this was a top effort: well-caramelised on top with soft inners and a buttery taste.  The roe deer, which is Lowland deer and slightly sweeter than venison, stacked up more evidence this chef can cook meat.  Pink and tender, the cabbage cut through that sweetness, with texture added from the parsnip crisps on top.  The sauce tasted fine, but was again a bit too thin. 

I opted for sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel sauce and clotted cream for dessert. I rather enjoyed this, although it wasn’t without fault.  I can’t fathom why one would put clotted cream into a piping hot chocolate sauce.  It would have been far more relevant on top of the cake, as it wouldn’t melt and make the already rich sauce even more umptious; I’m used to eating rich food so It’s fine for me, but  I'd suggest it could be too much for your everyday punter.

For her finale, Sarah was served spiced plum crumble and “Real” custard.  She wasn’t exactly bowled over with this pudding.  The custard was lumpy and far too eggy, and despite evidence of vanilla seeds scattered through it, the dessert lacked the desired flavour.  The crumble topping was a tad too sweet and the plums could have given more yield. 

On reflection, the food didn’t quite match the impressions created by the surrounding gardens, but despite being underwhelming in places, there were positive points to take away from this meal.  Certainly room for improvement.

Web: http://melvillecastle.com/
Reservations: 0131 654 0088
Opening times: Mon-Sun Lunch: 12:00-14:00
                                        Dinner: 18:00-21:00

Address: Melville Castle,
               Gilmerton Road,
               EH18 1AP



Melville Castle on Urbanspoon

3 May 2015

Sausages braised in tomato and fennel seed sauce with lemon roasted potatoes

LAST YEAR, I picked up a copy of the River Cafe cookbook at a charity shop for a mere £3, completely unaware just how it would influence my cooking style at home. This recipe lends to my Phil-osophy (see what I did there?) that fewer good ingredients, treated respectfully produce the most satisfying plates of food.

Now, while I appreciate that you have heard me and a thousand celebrity chefs tell you to "Visit your local butcher" a million times, but if you haven't yet, or indeed don't believe it will make that much of a difference, I BEG you to try it with just this one recipe.

I love going into my butchers and trying the different variety of sausages they have on offer.  So how do you tell the difference between a butcher's sausage and a supermarkets? Well, when you cook a supermarket banger, it will start to spit because of the excess water content, while a better quality product with just happily cook away.  You will also notice a tighter texture, meatier flavour and less grease with a well-made sausage.

Tinned tomatoes are a most essential store cupboard ingredient, and it's worth spending an extra few pence on a higher quality variety.  They can be used in so many ways, ranging from curries to breakfasts, to soups and sauces. Rustic cooking at it's finest. 

Ingredients (Serves 2)

6 pork sausages from your butcher
Tin of tomatoes, as best you can afford
3 cloves of garlic
1 red pepper, sliced
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp organic tomato puree
1 tsp freshly ground fennel seeds
Small glass of red wine (and another for drinking)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme 
8x Rooster potatoes, skin on, cut in half
300 mls chicken stock
Good dash of soy sauce
Drizzle of Tabasco
Fresh parsley
2 lemons, zested and halved
Good quality sea salt 
Ground pepper
Rapeseed oil


1) Place potatoes in boiling water for around 5 mins or until a knife goes through them with slight resistance. Heat oven to 200C and drizzle a good amount of oil onto a baking tray. 

2) Meanwhile, place a frying pan on a medium heat, lightly brown the sausages all over and set aside. Add the peppers to the same pan.  Cook until they begin to soften, add the red onions and sweat for 4-5 mins, add the garlic.  By this point, the potatoes should be tender, so drain them into a colander and allow them to cool.

3) Add the tomato puree to the pepper mix and cook a minute.  Pour in the red wine and allow to reduce by half, then add the tomatoes, ground fennel seeds, thyme, soy sauce, Tabasco.  Place the sausages into the mix, and top up with chicken stock until sausages are half covered.  Reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

4) Toss potatoes in the oil, sprinkle over the lemon zest and place lemon halves on the tray.  Season and place in the oven for around 40 mins. 

5) Turn the sausages every ten mins or so and add more stock as required.  Finely chop the parsley.

6) After around 40 mins, place the sausages into a warmed bowl and add a few potatoes and some parsley and serve,