I sometimes make good decisions. It’s a rarity, but when it’s time for a good one, I try to make it a really good one. I booked a table at Castle Terrace the night before the launch of the new Michelin Guide. When the restaurant was awarded a much-coveted star, a little over a year after first opening its doors, I felt like I’d made one of my more splendid decisions.
|A nice welcome|
Chef Patron, Dominic Jack, has learnt his trade in some interesting locations around the globe. Aside from the obligatory stint in France, he spent time in Haslemere, where my niece lives, and in Istanbul, a city for which I have an unending well of affection. So, from the outset, I have to admit to being somewhat pre-disposed to like the chap. What he chose to serve me in his restaurant, combining Gallic elegance with the crème de la crème of local produce did nothing to dent this initial impression.
Now, you can probably guess what my beamish Alabamian pal’s purple prose is going to say about the fussy French style. On our schedule, this is the last place that has even the merest soupcon of French influence, at least for a little while. After weeks of being gently but firmly bludgeoned around the head, I can eventually take a hint.
I’m happy to retire from ploughing this particular furrow for now, as I think we’ve incontrovertibly established that with places like this, The Mulroy, The Bonham, and Mark Greenaway, Edinburgh does this style of “Auld Alliance” cuisine remarkably well. And so it should. It does other styles rather less well, and I’m happy to try to seek out good restaurants in these styles, in the coming weeks. Of course, I’m off to L’Escargot Bleu on Tuesday, but I won’t mention it to MJ if you don’t.
I digress, excessively. Upon arriving at Castle Terrace, I was greeted by a whole symphony orchestra of staff, who showed me to my table. In a rare occurrence, my excessive promptness exceeded even MJ’s. Indeed, our esteemed guest, Edinburgh Foody, arrived next, followed by MJ.
Unfortunately, our fourth, Yelp’s Jenny, couldn’t make it along, much to her disappointment. I could say that I’d planned to treat her to lunch as a small thank you for organising the highly successful Yelp Eats week in Edinburgh, but you might suspect me of only saying that to make myself look like the bountiful host, so I’ll stay silent on the matter.
I had a moment or two to take in my surroundings. I must say I was largely underwhelmed by the look of the place. It’s neat and unfussy, but low on impact. At points throughout service it became clear that the room isn’t particularly well set-up for their needs, especially with the spectacular cheese trolley, of which more later, so this could use a little work, I think.
While we contemplated the menus, we were given a little tray of items to munch upon. This included a couple of savoury cookies, cheesy crostini, gougeres, and little pieces of crispy spinach and squid ink pasta. These were very ordinary, so let’s not speak of them further.
The waiting staff all did a momentary disappearing act, but soon enough, and with only very minor stage management, we contrived to order one of everything from the set lunch menu. With these choices made, a little amuse bouche soon made its way to our table.
A taste of carrot and coriander topped with a cumin crumble, was how it was described. A post-volcanic espresso is how it looked. Once a spoon was introduced, what we had looked like a soft boiled egg, topped with ash. But the taste. Oh my lord, the taste. It was a spectacular little concoction, with the dry crumb of the cumin topping balancing out the smoothness of the puree, with tiny chunks of carrot offering yet more textural variance. I could have eaten a small vat-load of the stuff.
I opted for the broccoli veloute as my starter. In pleasingly theatrical style, the dish came to the table as a small arrangement of broccoli, dunsyre blue ravioli and crème fraiche, over which the veloute was subsequently poured. I can safely say that never have I tasted a dish where more flavour had been extracted from the ingredients. The little blue cheese parcels were exploding with flavour and would have totally overwhelmed your average broccoli soup. However, we were not dealing with your average broccoli soup, here. The concentration of broccoli flavour within the veloute was sensational, easily strong enough to combat the fearsomely gutsy blue cheese. It was a flavour epic, with both sides battling for my affections, with the white flag of the crème fraiche serving to secure my total surrender. Splendid!
|Velouté of West Gate farm broccoli|
|Just look at the vibrant colours!|
My main course of partridge arrived, and looked a very bonnie little fella, resplendent in its Sunday best bonnet. It seemed a shame to cut into it, but I was soon reconciled to the task. The contents were of supreme quality. The tender, gamey meat of the partridge combined beautifully with the saltiness of the lardons, which were perfectly offset by the carrots and cabbage. Each mouthful, moistened by the partridge jus, was expertly judged to pack-in oodles of flavour to dazzle my palette. This was another absolute winner of a dish.
|It looks like a stylish hat for gnomes!|
The theatre of the cheese trolley came next, with a dizzying cheese selection presented from which five were chosen by a combination of my fellow diners and the attendant waiter. These were lined up in order from mild to strong, and accompanied by fig jelly, quince jelly, grapes celery, and apple chutney. The homemade oatcakes were, I think, MJ’s favourite thing about the whole meal. The dinky slices of walnut bread were lovely, too. In addition, I had to lend a hand with the richly flavoured vanilla crème brulee, even though I don’t really do desserts.
We were left to contemplate our verdict, after this full-on flavour assault. I can’t fault Castle Terrace in terms of food and presentation. It offers what are without doubt some of the most flavour-packed dishes this city has to offer. I was blown away repeatedly by their intensity and power. The setting doesn’t match the pizzazz, nor does it offer a calming counterpoint, so there’s a little thought to be applied to the design of the place. The service, while hitting all the notes you’d expect, is sometimes a little fragmented, so could use a wee polish.
Overall, please join the queue to go and sample Dominic Jack’s exceptional food. It’s an absolute joy to behold and to savour. I got a real sense that this place is on an upward curve, as well. It delivers excellence, at the moment, but I have a feeling that this is only the start of some spectacular things to come. I’ll be back, hopefully once we’ve exorcised MJ of her French fanciness-hating demons, and I’ll expect great things, based on the supreme quality of what we sampled, today.
|granary and spelt breads|
|Amuse bouche of carrot and coriander with a cumin crumble|
|vanilla crème brûlée|
Overall, Castle Terrace is good+ (as we say in the book world), but doesn’t make it into my top restaurants in the world. The service was a tiny bit spotty (I had to wave at a server to get their attention to order, and we ended up paying on the way out), but they are terribly skilled in the kitchen and it is obvious in the quality of the dishes. I can’t pick too many holes in it at all, and God knows, I want to.
|Mulled jelly dessert|
Out of 20 Blythe gives Castle Terrace:
5/5 for food
5/5 for presentation
3/5 for setting
4/5 for service
giving an overall 17/20
Out of 20 Miriam gives Castle Terrace:
4/5 for food
5/5 for presentation
3/5 for setting
4/5 for service
giving an overall 16/20
Today’s Lunch Questers were: MJ, Danielle, Blythe.
We wore: Burgundy top with button bows, blue and green checked tie, heels (MJ not Blythe)!
We ate: carrot, coriander and cumin amuse bouche; broccoli veloute with Dunsyre blue ravioli, smoked eel with panna cotta and poached quails egg, cod brandade with fondant potatoes; hake with lime marmalade and celeriac, pork cheek, partridge on a bed of carrot and savoy cabbage; vanilla crème brulee, mulled wine jelly, cheeseboard.
We drank: sparkly water.
Total Bill: c.£90 (three course set lunch menu £24).