I HAD OVERLOOKED the fact that my football team, Manchester United, were playing the night I arranged this review and I was further frustrated to find them a goal down at half-time. When we arrived at The Queens Arms, United were now 2-0 down and playing dreadfully. Only some good food could turn my mood around.
This popular city centre pub is a well-known haunt for after-work drinks, as well as a venue watching sports. It also happens to offer a menu brimming with Scottish-influenced dishes. We were lucky enough to get a coveted booth to run the rule over the grub, as well as the rest of the match to Sarah’s obvious delight.
I was drawn to the Cullen skink croquettes (£6.50) with dill mayo for my starter. More attention was required with the seasoning but otherwise, these croquettes were a delightful thing: chunks of smoked haddock cooked so precisely that it flaked in the mouth whilst adding texture; a crunchy exterior and an interior packed with fish; and not just bulked out with the cheaper option of potato. The dill mayo was a perfect foil. My only gripe was the side salad didn't feature enough dressing and the large leaves brought an unwelcome astringency. A frisée or micro herb salad would have served this otherwise super starter perfectly. But I was quite content with the croquettes and tasty dill mayo, nonetheless.
Sarah opted for tempura prawns with sweet chilli dip and glass noodle salad (£7). The tender meat was housed under a crispy batter with the chilli dipping sauce a successful pairing. She enjoyed the range of flavours of coriander and chilli from the noodles with the sweetness of the prawns.
We hadn’t long stepped off the plane from a week in Bordeaux, this attracting me to the cassoulet with a Scottish twist of Ayrshire ham hock, black pudding with haricot beans and parsley breadcrumbs (£12). A hearty winter dish that I enjoyed, the saltiness from the ham seasoned the dish that saw the black pudding shine through as the real highlight. However, the beans were a little overdone. If you do visit The Queens Arms, a portion of polenta chips (£4) are a must. Not only were they great for dipping into my cassoulet, they came with a tasty tomato and chilli jam that was most memorable.
You don’t often see beef olives on menus so it was refreshing to encounter them here. They came with skirlie mash, roasted root veg and a red wine gravy for an unlucky-for-some £13. Sarah was in luck as it happens as this was a lovely dish. The meat yielded easily with the mash bringing a toastie oat flavour that warmed the cockles. The veg was cooked well and the sauce was fruity with an element of acidity to cut through the rich potato.
We are big Rioja fans and this Beronia Reserva (2011) was worth mentioning; it even got a shout-out on Saturday Kitchen this week. At £21 it is reasonably priced and well worth it. Hints of damson, liquorice and vanilla burst from this Spanish beauty that also matched well with our mains.
After a week of indulgent food in France, a three-courser on our return was the last thing I wanted to tell my personal trainer about, but hell, as I was still on holiday I rounded off the evening with chocolate and whisky mousse with homemade shortbread (£6.5). The shortbread was outstanding, crumbly as you like and buttery, too. The mousse was a generous serving. Booze is always a difficult one to balance in desserts but the warmth of whisky just crept in at the back of the palette to balance perfectly with the chocolate.
To finish, Sarah tackled a mocha tart with vanilla ice cream from the Arran Dairy for £6. I was thankful that the chef balled the ice cream properly. I know it sounds pernickety, but it really irritates me when ice cream isn’t a perfect round ball – you’d be surprised how many places just chuck it on a plate. The mocha filling was almost chocolate fondant-esque and needed the ice cream to tame the richness. The pastry was a little limp, probably from being stored in a fridge, but it was a good eat.
Address: 49 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EP
Phone: (0131) 225 1045