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“There is no sauce in the world like hunger.”

Miguel de Cervantes

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Saturday
Apr072012

Restaurant Martin Wishart

Most people save fine dining for special occasions. I’ll take any excuse.

It was my first time in Edinburgh and that was good enough for me. And I didn’t just do fine dining, I did it in style – no a la carte for me, I'll take the full tasting menu with matching wines thank you very much. At lunchtime. All by myself.

It was certainly an experience, and dining alone was a much more enjoyable experience than you might expect. Obviously, when I say that, I am taking as a prerequisite that you have a keen interest in food and that you, like me, would prioritise a few hours of flavour-filled fun over, say, a new iPod touch or that designer dress you have been coveting.

Martin Wishart is heralded as one of Scotland’s most innovative chefs, bringing Edinburgh its first Michelin star in 2001 and continuing to impress the critics each year with his blend of traditional and modern French cuisine using the finest and freshest Scottish produce. He opened Restaurant Martin Wishart with his wife, Celine, in 1999 and both the restaurant and his reputation have been growing ever since.

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Monday
Mar192012

Urban Angel

Finding good coffee in London is a difficult affair. There are several good places around Borough Market (notably Monmouth) and I have read guides which suggest a smattering of other places, but I do not want to have to go out of my way for a good coffee; there should be one on every corner. Growing up in Sydney, I was spoilt for choice. In London, I choose not to bother.

I assumed this was UK wide phenomenon; London is, after all, the UKs largest and most multicultural city and, arguably, the most cosmopolitan. So imagine my surprise when on my first morning in Edinburgh I was presented with this:

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Monday
Mar122012

Ondine

I have just returned back from a gut-busting, gastronomic weekend in Edinburgh. It is a testament to how much I ate over the weekend that today I was perfectly happy with some cereal for breakfast and a Be Good to Yourself sandwich from Sainsbury’s for lunch, usually a guilt-induced chore.

The weekend got off to a disappointing start at Ondine. Voted Scottish Restaurant of the Year in the Good Food Guide 2012, I had reasonably high expectations.

The best bit of the meal was the part they can’t really take any credit for – oysters au natural. Well, they have good suppliers, I’ll give them that, and they were fresher than fresh but that kind of goes with the territory – if they weren’t I would’ve spent the weekend glued to a toilet seat, rather than dining in better restaurants.

There were 3 oysters on and I had one of each - a Dorset, a Maldon and a Carlingford. The Dorset was largest so I ate it first, because they are usually my least favourite. I must have had them out of season before because usually the intense creaminess is too overwhelming for me, but this time it was the selling point. If it had even a hint of the metallic bitterness that an off season oyster can have it would have been too much, but this was clean, fresh and bright.

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Monday
Mar052012

Spicy lamb burgers with halloumi, tzatziki and harissa

I am particular about a lot of things, but I am particularly particular about burgers. I grew up in the land of Oz, where a ‘true blue’ burger is cow or nothing and comes with lettuce, tomato, onion (fried, not raw) and beetroot. Yes, beetroot. Some add egg, bacon and pineapple and call it The Works, but I find it doesn’t – you can’t pick it up for a start. But you can get messy - I add tomato sauce and mayonnaise and lots of it. Oh, and guerkins too.

A good burger should be big and sloppy and dribble down your arms. It should require a lot of napkins, a lot more than you ever get given. It should be impossible to put down once picked up for you’ll never be able to pick it up again in one piece. And it should not be eaten on a first date.

When I eat burgers out in London I am inevitably disappointed. I know beets are unlikely, but most of the time your lucky to even get a slice of tomato. So I make them at home and until recently I have never deviated from the above, but…

There is a new kid on my block. And it is making an impression.

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Saturday
Feb182012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

When Dinner by Heston Blumenthal opened it seemed the whole culinary world was talking of nothing else. Bloggers and critics alike were singing its praises; not even A.A. Gill could find a negative word to say about it. Getting a booking was like a local trying to get a ticket to the 100 metre final at the London Olympics.

Now, almost a year on, the hype has died down but dinner at Dinner is still an improbability. So I opted for a lunch booking and in the end a leisurely lunch (four hours!) was the perfect way to savour the experience. And who better to share it with than the only person I know who loves Heston more than me, Alex – aka Blumenthal’s Biatch

I have had a lot of fine meals in my life – but not because my life has been especially privileged by western standards; where other young women might have spent their first earnings on the latest fashion, I spent mine on dining out. This was definitely in the top three meals of my life.

Part of the attraction for me was that it had all the thought, finesse and elegance of a fine dining meal, without the ponce. There were no fancy foams or mousses, the portions were generous, the presentation was carefully considered but never at the expense of taste, and not one of the ingredients was superfluous, each had its proper place. 

Still, there is theatre here – Ashley Palmer Watt’s is Heston’s protégé after all. The signature dish, and probably my favourite, not least because it managed to live up to expectations, was the Meat Fruit,  a chicken liver parfait encased in mandarin jelly and modelled to look like a mandarin. It was astonishingly realistic, even the jelly was textured to look like the skin. A.A. Gill described it as “A perfect mandarin orange that smells like mandarin, even minutely examined it looks like a mandarin, but, cut open, it is immensely fine chicken liver parfait.”

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