In the news this week for all the wrong reasons, one Michelin-Star The Kitchin in Leith was the restaurant chosen by our drinks editor Peter Dean to test out the skills of the sommelier and see what he came up with in matching a complex mystery tasting menu. One of the delights of spending a week at the Edinburgh Fringe each year is not only the unrivalled fun and madness of the Fringe but an excuse to sample Scotland’s finest cuisine, writes Dean. With his pocket money dutifully saved, he was knocked out by the bravura of what was happening in the kitchen but also some very unusual choices by the head somm.
A Macvin du Jura was a highlight as was the pairing of lobster with a red from BLANKbottle
Every year my wife Emma and I head to the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s not for nothing that it has just been voted Britain’s number one attraction by Lonely Planet. If you have never been… just do it. The city boasts an amazing array of bars and great places to eat as well, to give welcome relief from continual shows and rather too many chips. Each year we pick one ‘special’ venue for a blow-out.
Last year we picked the uber-trendy Timberyard which, like the rated Fhior, is contemporary in a Noma kind of way (Amish meets Scandi). If we’re going cheaper there’s L’Escargot Bleu (Scottish-French fusion) or cheaper still the superb ‘gastro pub’-style The Dogs, although sadly this closed last October, part of a growing trend of too many licenses being granted to the large chains, according to owner David Ramsden.
This year we elected to try The Kitchin in Leith, which was opened in 2006 by Tom and Michaela Kitchin, and awarded one Michelin star six months later, the restaurant still trading under the mantra ‘From nature to plate’. This wasn’t a freebie editorial review, incidentally, we were paying our own way.
Now, tell me, is there an experience finer than going to one of the world’s best restaurants and sitting down at your table as the evening commences? That moment that the rollercoaster car has reached the top of the first drop and the ride is about to begin? When the menus arrive and you cannot stop grinning, almost impossible to choose?
There are three set menus and a la carte with options to pick and choose between all. There is a Set Menu of the Day and then two tasting menus – both ‘mystery’ in that every dish will be a surprise – one regular and one prestige ‘offering the finest quality ingredients’.
We, of course, go for the latter but with the wine-pairing we opt for a single bottle for the first three courses and then go by-the-glass on the last four.
Now regular readers will know that I’ve been having a bit of a Chablis thing of late so, although the wine list (curated by group head somm Joel Bastian) is a splendid mix of blue chip and indie, I’m picking a Petit Chablis 2017 by Jean-Marc Brocard for a number of reasons.
With four courses coming that will feature seafood, vegetables and fungi (that we don’t know the construction of), Chablis is always a good bet. I love an aged Grand Cru like the best of us but if I want to be confident that the Chablis will go with a variety of dishes I opt for the comfort of a Petit Chablis, especially from such a reliable house as Brocard. I also visited them a few years back and love what Jean-Marc is doing with the wines – focusing on the minerality and steely acidity.
There’s also a price issue, although there are seven Chablis on The Kitchin’s list the only Grand Cru (Blanchots Reserve de l’Obedience from Laroche) clocks in at £260. 400% mark-up is a 400% mark-up, just saying. A few days later we eat in another Edinburgh restaurant, just a notch down, but which also has a fine list and they have an aged Raveneau 1er Cru at half that price.
Rub a dub dub, time for the grub
After some wafer-thin crackers and butter the 7-course prestige tasting menu begins.
First up is a lovage and pea velouté, lemon cream and lettuce. The fast food of the Fringe is fast disappearing. Perfectly balanced – wave upon wave of flavour. Back of the net.
Next dish, halibut and caviar – a North Sea halibut tartare served with a generous layer of Oscietra caviar, all served within a little ‘clos’ of cucumber and quail’s egg. Stunningly fresh seasonal produce with Tom Kitchin’s Ducasse background most evident here.
So far the wine has been a good choice. Because it’s a 2017 Petit Chablis it is very fresh and fruity – yellow gold with green highlights. There is a mix of citrus notes – lime leaf, grapefruit with a little lick of brioche. On the palate there is a lovely tension to the wine, light, vibrant, mineral. Feeling quietly smug about my choice.
Round three and another cracker of a dish – roasted veal sweetbreads from Inverurie, langoustine from Tobermory, summer vegetables and the first fresh cep mushrooms from Perthshire – not a tiny sliver mind but an almost entire cap of earthy loveliness. Anyone who thinks that the dreadful vitello tonnato is the apotheosis of land-and-sea cusine should try this dish. Good lord.
Now we’re caught between a rock and hard place with the lobster dish. The Petit Chablis which has served us very well is almost out – if anything it was best with the sweetbreads dish – cutting through the richness of the sweetbreads and balancing the seafood and fungi. I tell a delighted sommelier that from now on we’re going to have glasses and he should pick whatever he wants that goes with the food, as it is a surprise and we don’t know what we’re having yet.
So quelle surprise when he dishes up a red to go with the lobster. Not only that but a wine from a vigneron who delights in his own surprises – Pieter Walser of BLANKBottle. The wine chosen is Retirement @65 from the 2017 vintage. This is mainly old vine Cinsault but with a splash of both Grenache and Syrah added. Light red in colour, fresh, perfumed, crunchy, with a nice intensity of fruit, but not too extracted – light on its feet too with just 12% alcohol. The pairing with ‘creel caught Newhaven lobster cooked a la plancha and finished with an escargot butter and squid’ is a masterstroke with the wine’s spiciness picking up a hint of heat and smokiness in the food.
Next up Roasted rump cap (no, me neither) of Highland wagyu beef , potato purée and bone marrow marinade and for this the sommelier serves us glasses of Crozes Hermitage Cuvée Ghany 2015 from Domaine Gaylord Machon. Deep purple; ripe black fruit, spices, liquorice on the nose; the palate is fresh, tight and spicy, almost nodding towards Côte-Rôtie with its generous pepperiness; there is a good balance between fruit and wood, maturity and freshness; a well structured wine but with fine tannins. The wine has enough fresh acidity to work through the marbled fat of the beef and, like the Retirement @65 is fresh, vibrant and works really well with food.
Two desserts follow, the second is an ‘Apple crumble soufflé with a vanilla ice cream with a whopping serving of Glenmorangie Signet single malt poured into the heart of the soufflé and a caramel source. No wine required obvs.
But for the first dessert, however, the sommelier serves us with glasses of what can only be described as an extraordinary wine – Macvin du Jura from Domaine de la Tournelle, a vin de liqeur made from one third Marc (distilled spirit made from Trousseau – and aged in barrel for three years) and two thirds unfermented Chardonnay juice. Fully biodynamic and bottled without filtering or sulphites this is hazy gold and clearly showing off its unfiltered status; on the nose we get a blast of ripe apricots, rose petals, nutty, oloroso sherry; on the palate it is a wonderfully complex mix of toasted hazelnuts, ripe pear, stone fruit; off-dry with a kick of spirit.
Oh, I almost forgot, that dessert was Knockraich Farm yoghurt mousse, caremelised oats and raspberry consommé (whetever happened to coulis?) but, to be honest, the vin de liquer could have been served during a head-on train crash and I wouldn’t have noticed anything but the wine.
We saved the delights of the whisky trolley for another day. “£400 for a dram?” I heard the next table exclaim.
The bill was £450 for two including tip (not adding it automatically to the bill is a nice gesture) which is ‘toppy’ for sure but great value. We could have brought that in at £350 if we hadn’t done the Prestige tasting menu, but no complaints here. One of the great meals, not to be forgotten, and the wines paired marvellously.