Entries in Great Britain (9)


Le Gavroche

For the second major meal of our London trip, we chose the two-star Le Gavroche. This restaurant opened in 1967 in Sloane Street, moving in 1981 to its current quarters in Upper Brook Street, just steps away from Hyde Park, where it earned its third Michelin star, the first U.K. restaurant to be so honored.

The founding chef, Michel Roux, left to take over The Waterside Inn in Bray, which I reviewed two years ago. His son, Michel Roux Jr., took over as chef de cuisine. Michelin docked a star, leaving Le Gavroche with two. The Waterside Inn is the prettier location, but we found the cuisine here more impressive. This was probably our best meal since the late lamented Alain Ducasse at the Essex House.

The restaurant is on the lower level of an elegant Georgian townhouse, with a hotel occupying the upper levels. The Roux family once owned the hotel too, but it is now independent. The dining room walls are deep green, the banquettes plush. Ducks and roosters dominate the décor, along with orchids.

The restaurant is named for the little urchin in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. That little figure appears everywhere at Le Gavroche, including the handles of all the flatware, many of the serving pieces, the door to the kitchen, and probably other places I failed to notice.

Prices can only be described as staggering. The Menu Exceptionnel (a long tasting menu) was £95 (around $190) per person. I didn’t take note of individual prices, except to note that many entrées were upwards of $70 or $80 apiece (and some more than that), with many appetizers in the $40 to $60 range. As we noted the night before, in relation to what we were already bound to spend anyway, the tasting menu seemed to be a bargain. so we chose that once again.

Once again, we avoided ordering until we had settled on a wine. And once again, the staff acted as if this was an unusual procedure, though we didn’t get the snooty reaction we had at Hibiscus. Here the choice was more difficult, as the wine list is a large volume. I noted that the largest section was the French Bordeaux, so I asked the sommelier for a Bordeaux under £60. You can imagine my surprise when he recommended a 1997 St. Julien at just £48. He decanted it with much ceremony, holding a candle up to the bottle to check for sediment. (In the U.S., Bern’s Steakhouse is the only restaurant where I have observed that procedure.)

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of the photos. The ambient lighting here was low, and we didn’t feel it was appropriate to use the flash. It went off once by accident; it will probably be pretty obvious which photo that was.


The canapés (above left) were smoked duck and foie gras. I liked the duck a bit better, but they were both excellent. The bread service offered two contrasting butters (salted, not) and multiple breads, but none of them were memorable. We then moved on to our eight-course menu, a copy of which was on the table, a method I like much better than long explanations delivered at the table.

1) Lobster Salad with Mango, Avocado, Basil and Lime (above right), stuffed in an endive leaf.


2) Langoustine and Snails (above left) in a light Hollandaise sauce, flavored with Basque pepper and parsley. As Michelle noted, though the menu did not, there was about half a pound of butter in this dish. It was intensely creamy, but the combination worked beautifully.

3) Seared Sea Bass (above right) on a soft polenta, roast pepper coulis, olive and garlic croutons. Michelle called it “one of the prettiest fish presentations I’ve seen,” and “just amazing.” The intense olive and pepper taste worked well with the perfectly prepared fish.


4) Hot Foie Gras and Crispy Pancake of Duck (above left) flavored with cinnamon. This was perhaps the best foie gras dish ever: amazing. The seared foie reduced to liquid almost instantly, but it seemed neither fatty nor heavy. It was a fairly large serving, too. The duck pancake was the pancake I want for breakfast every day.

5) Roasted Rack of Welsh Lamb (above right), courgette flower fritter and tarragon jus. The rack of lamb was carved and plated tableside. It was soft as butter, and the deep-fried squash blossom also perfect.


6) Next came the cheese course. There was a large selection, from which we each chose five, and portions were generous. I didn’t note the individual cheeses, but we wanted sharp, intense-tasting ones, and we got them.


7) Ouefs à la Neige, or Soft Caramel-covered Meringue, Vanilla Cream and Poached Strawberries (above left). The flavors were intense and clear.

8) Bitter Chocolate and Coffee-Layered Sponge Cake and Chocolate Sorbet (above right). I’m not a chocolate guy, but Michelle pronounced it a success. I liked the coffee flavor. (Sorry for the awful photo.)


One of the petits-fours plates is shown above; there were others, but the photo isn’t presentable.

The restaurant was about 85% full on a Saturday in mid-August, and we were gratified to find that the average age of the clientele seemed to be under 45. The New York media repeatedly inform us that “young people” aren’t interested in composed formal meals of the kind Le Gavroche offers. Whether it’s even true in New York is debatable, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be true in London.

Service was superb; I can’t really find any fault with it. Nor with the food, which was at the highest level we’ve experienced.

Le Gavroche (43 Upper Brook Street, London)

Food: ****
Service: ****
Ambiance: ****
Overall: ****




On a recent trip to London, my girlfriend and I wanted to try a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants. Full disclosure is due: both of our first choices were fully booked, but we landed on two very good alternatives, starting with Hibiscus. The chef, Claude Bosi, was born in Lyon and trained in France, but his cuisine relies heavily on locally-sourced ingredients. If you’d told me he was English, I would have believed it.

The restaurant opened in Shropshire in 2000, winning a Michelin star in 2001 and a second star in 2004. Eager to play on the big stage, he moved the restaurant to London in 2007, and the Michelin folks knocked him back down to one star. The menu is £60 for a three-course prix-fixe or £75 for the nine-course tasting menu. We thought that £15 was a modest premium to pay for a much broader sample of Chef Bosi’s cuisine, so we went with that.


We began with a bowl of warm, slightly salty gougères. The bread didn’t especially impress me, but we loved the soft Welsh cow’s-milk butter. It had an unusually high fat content, which imparted a yellow color, and was also a bit more salty than most butters.


1) The amuse-bouche was a Chilled Cucumber & Pineapple Soda (above left) with smoked olive oil and black pepper. This was very clever dish, slightly chunky, but with the consistency of soda.

2) Ravioli of Spring Onion & Cinnamon (above right) with meadowsweet flower, roast onion, and Granny Smith apple. This was a delicate dish, in which the ingredients worked perfectly together. The roasted onions were formed into little pellets that seemed solid, but melted instantly at the touch.


3) Tartare of Line-caught Cornish Mackerel (above left) with English strawberries & celery, wasabi & honey dressing. There was a lot on the plate, but this dish was extremely mild, and could almost have used a bit more punch. I couldn’t really detect much of the wasabi.

4) Roast Cornish Lobster cooked in Brown Butter (above right) with green bean and lemongrass purée, Cavaillon melon. This had the “oomph” that the previous dish lacked. Michelle’s comment was, “This was really very nice.”


5) Roast Monkfish (above left), Mona Lisa gnocchi, summer truffle, sage & onion purée, mead sauce. This had a nice savory, healthy flavor.

6) Lightly Oak-smoked Lamb Sweetbreads (above right) with fresh goat cheese, tamarillow powder, and lettuce veloute. The sweetbreads had a terrific smokey flavor, and everything on the plate worked well together. To me, this was the most remarkable dish of the evening.


7) Roast Goosnargh Duck (above left), cherries scented with lapsang Souchong, barbecued almond butter, and cauliflower four ways (purple cauliflower couscous, white cauliflower purée, and roasted cauliflower × 2). The duck was flavorful but a little too tough.

8) SweetTomato Skin (above right) with vanilla & frozen raspberries, held together with gelatin. Michelle said, “It’s so light, it’s like eating a cloud.” The tomato taste was in the background, while the raspberries were wonderful. 


9 ) English Pea & American Mint Tart (above left), sheep’s milk whey & coconut sorbet. Michelle called this “the oddest thing I’ve ever tasted,” and “very strange.” I found it bizarre. That didn’t stop us from finishing the whole thing, but we felt that a tart made of peas misfired. At the end of a long meal, one wants a real dessert, not an appetizer masquerading as dessert.

The petits-fours (above right) were just fine.

Service was generally good, with many sauces applied at table-side, but some dishes weren’t cleared quite as promptly as they should be, and the staff were occasionally frazzled. We had trouble understanding the explanations of quite a few of the dishes. We got a printed menu at the end, but it would have been a lot easier had this been left on the table.

The server seemed offended when I said I wanted to make a wine selection before we ordered. I don’t know if our habits are unusual, but I’ve found that if you don’t choose the wine before placing the food order, you’re liable to be eating the first couple of courses with only water to drink. I haven’t noted the bottle we chose, except that we paid £43 for it (a reasonable price by London standards). The list was not an especially long one. After I narrowed down the choice to two bottles, the sommelier made a very good recommendation and decanted the wine without being asked to do so.

We were gratified to note that the restaurant was full in mid-August, with a mixed demographic of young people and jeans, old folks in suits, and everything in between. The clientele did not seem to be tourists. The tables are not overly cramped, but the noise level was on the loud side after the space filled up. The décor is a mediation on taupe and pine, but bright orange charger plates (pictured at the top of this post) give the room a dash of color.

Chef Bosi dares to challenge his audience on occasion. There were a couple of misfires, but on the whole this was a happy experience.

Hibiscus (29 Maddox Street, London)

Food: **½
Service: **½
Ambiance: **½
Overall: **½



I’ve just returned from a week in London. On past trips, I’ve spent my London evenings at the theatre. This trip, I wanted to focus on restaurants. I arrived on a Wednesday, but had no specific reservations until Friday.

On Thursday, I was a bit under-the-weather and didn’t want to travel far. Mosaique was located about a ten-minute walk from my hotel. On a stiflingly hot evening, its open-air façade and faintly Mediterranean décor seemed appropriate.

I loved deep-fried brie (£3.50), two pie-shaped slices with a charred-brown exterior from the deep fryer, and with a lingonberry sauce. Monkfish (£9.25) was tender and came with a vegetable medley. Add a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (£9.50), and I was out of there for £22.25, making this probably the best dining bargain of the trip. There were two servers, who kept things running efficiently.

The restaurant is not really near any important destinations, so which might explain why only a handful of tables were taken. It’s a reasonably walk from King’s Cross, Russell Square, Farringdon, and Holborn, without really being convenient to any of them. 

Mosaique (73 Gray’s Inn Road, between Guilford St and Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8TP)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½


Le Pont de la Tour

A colleague recommended Le Pont de la Tour for its superb views of Tower Bridge (for which it’s named) and the Tower of London, from a perch along the boardwalk on the south bank of the Thames. There are numerous outdoor tables. None of these were available, but I was given an excellent window table facing the Tower, and as the windows were wide open, it amounted to the same thing. The décor is refined and elegant. I was overheated from an unexpectedly long walk, and started with a Pimms cocktail (£5.95) to cool off.

The menu is squarely in the French tradition. My colleague particularly recommended the chateaubriand, advice that several reviews on the web confirmed, but this signature dish is available only for two. I asked the server for an alternative recommendation. He must love the menu, for he went on to describe pretty much all of it, but his knowledge of the cuisine was impeccable—at least for the two dishes I tried. All of the options placed Le Pont de la Tour squarely in the French tradition.

I started with the morteaux sausage (£9.50), which came sliced, and with a honey mustard sauce. Sea trout, at £18.00, was the least expensive of the main courses. I wasn’t particularly looking to economize, but the server said the poached sea trout was ideal if one didn’t want to eat anything “heavy,” which was indeed the case on a sweltering evening. I’m usually not keen on filet fish prepared that simply, but this dish showed there are an exceptions to every rule when the flesh is as tender and the preparation as perfect as this one was.

The sommelier recommended a wonderful half-bottle of Chablis. I’m most definitely not a Chablis guy—it always seems to be the dullest of the white grapes, the way Merlot so often is among the reds. But this one, at £19.25, was wonderful, showing that even Chablis can rise above the commonplace.

When I arrived shortly after 8:00 p.m., most of the inside tables weren’t yet occupied, but by the time I’d finished my appetizer and main course—around 9:00 p.m.—the restaurant was nearly full. Service had been superb up to that point, but things slowed down considerably. It would take another 50 minutes for me to order and receive an order of French Coffee (£6.75), and to settle my bill. It was nice to know that they weren’t hurrying to unseat me from my table with a prime view, but that coffee took an awfully long time to prepare.

All-in, dinner came to £59.45 before tip.

Le Pont de al Tour (Butlers Wharf, 36d Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***


The Savoy Grill

Despite my keen interest in Gilbert and Sullivan, I’ve never dined at the Savoy Hotel (though I had high tea there once, many years ago). I had wanted to dine at three-star Gordon Ramsay, but that restaurant is closed this summer for refurbishing. I chose the Savoy Grill instead, which turned out to be another restaurant in Ramsay’s large empire, though I didn’t realize this when I booked.

The Savoy Grill is more formal than its name would suggest, with fussy French-style service and tuxedo-clad waiters reminding me a bit of Alain Ducasse in New York. It is a much larger restaurant than Ducasse, and only one star, rather than three, so they are not quite as attentive, but many of the ideas are similar. The previous evening, I had a lovely window seat facing the Tower of London. At the Savoy Grill, I was seated next to a large column with a view of the hotel driveway.

After I sat down, a server wheeled over a cart with several champagnes, from which I was invited to choose. In this type of restaurant, I’m always wary of getting stuck with something that costs $20 a sip, so I asked him for a printed list. He was apparently confused about this, and asked if I’d like bottled water. I said that tap water would be fine. With barely concealed disgust, he slid my water glass to the edge of the table (apparently a signal to his colleagues that this chump doesn’t want the bottled variety) and moved on.

When a server arrived, I explained that I did want champagne. He apologized and sent the champagne guy back over. He remained quite irritated that I wanted to see a list of the choices, but he managed to point out where they were on the wine list, and I chose one. For all that trouble, it was worth it—a glass of sparkling rosé that was surprisingly sweet and smooth.

The regular menu is a £55 prix fixe, but on weekends there is a £30 alternative, which they call the “grill menu,” with six appetizers and six main courses to choose from. Several of these looked compelling, so I decided to save myself £25. Smoked salmon (£4 supplement) was unimpressive. It came without sauces or any other accompaniments, and the taste was no better than average. Particularly for a dish that carries a supplement, I expected a better performance.

Wiltshire pork belly was a tour de force. (After I ordered it, the server mentioned that it was a particular favorite of his.) It was cut in a long strip, in the shape of two thick cigars placed end-to-end. It was tender, fatty, and flavorful. As the server had proved he and I had similar tastes, I accepted his recommendation of the white chocolate cake for dessert, and this was most enjoyable.

There was, again, a reasonable selection of half-bottles available. Remembering my happy experience with Chablis at Le Pont de la Tour, I chose Chablis again (£25), but this was a more pedestrian bottle that reminded me why I don’t usually order Chablis.

After the champagne fiasco, the server went out of his way to ensure I was taken care of. If anything, the service was a bit too rushed, and I was out of there in about an hour. When I’m paying this kind of money, I’d prefer that the meal unwind a bit more slowly. However, to their credit the champagne was comped. (At least, I think it was—nothing was said, but it wasn’t on the bill). In total, dinner came to £59 before tip.

When I told the server that I’m from New York, he introduced me to the house manager, who will be transferring to New York later this year to manage Gordon Ramsay’s first American restaurant, which will be gunning for three Michelin and four New York Times stars. We had a pleasant chat and exchanged business cards. Obviously my Savoy Grill experience is not indicative of Ramsay’s three-star cuisine, but I’d advise him to focus hard on the kind of service glitches that the Times’s current reviewer tends to penalize.

One wonders how much time Ramsay will be able to spend in New York. The house manager said that Ramsay will be there for “the first few months,” and then occasionally thereafter. Ramsay has something like nine restaurants in London alone. Coincidentally, during my stay I saw him on a TV show called “The f word,” which features Ramsay swearing at everybody in sight. In the show’s main vignette, four amateur cooks do a service in the kitchen with Ramsay, in which he hurls expletives at them on the slightest provcation. The guests don’t seem to mind, as they all seem to know about Ramsey’s famous temper. Being told to shut the fuck up is obviously part of the game.

The Savoy Grill (Savoy Hotel, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU)

Food: **½
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


The Waterside Inn

There are three Michelin three-star restaurants in the United Kingdom. One would certainly have to question the inspectors’ objectivity, when an entire country has fewer restaurants with the top rating than Michelin awarded in New York City alone.

In an odd quirk of fate, two of the UK’s three-star restaurants are within 100 yards of each other, in the unlikely town of Bray, about 45 minutes west of London by train. I tried to get into The Fat Duck, but I hadn’t realized how hard it is to get in, and I didn’t book early enough. The Waterside Inn, which has been around a lot longer, was able to accommodate me on a Sunday evening. The restaurant opened in 1972. It earned its first Michelin star in 1974, its second in 1977, and its third in 1985. The original chef, Michel Roux, is semi-retired. His son Alain now runs the kitchen.

Michelin’s definition of three stars is “worth a special journey.” The proprietors of The Waterside Inn took that to heart. Their hotel exists, it seems, solely for patrons who want to dine at the restaurant. As the house manager put it to me, “we have 11 rooms and 11 tables for two.” The dining room faces a quiet part of the Thames, well upstream of London. There are no buildings on the opposite bank to disturb the view. Ducks paddle by, and there is the occasional pleasure boat. Green moss floats on the water near the shore. This was a gorgeous evening—not too hot, as it had been for much of the week, and with a mild breeze. The dining room’s picture windows were wide open, and every table had a slice of the gorgeous view. It was one of the most romantic dining spots I’ve seen.

I began the evening, as many guests do, with a drink on the terrace. The staff brought out a plate of canapes (the beef tartare being my favorite), a glass of champagne, and a menu, and I lingered a while. My order was taken while I was still on the terrace. When I finally took my table, it was already laid with the flatware and glassware that went with what I’d ordered.

You can order a la carte, with appetizers in the £20-38 range, main courses generally £35-53, and desserts about £20-25. When you bear in mind that the exchange rate is almost $2 to the pound, you get the idea that you’re in for an expensive evening. I chose the “menu exceptionelle,” which offered three savory courses and dessert.

I wasn’t expecting an amuse bouche after snacking on the wonderful canapes on the terrace, so a vegetable terrine to start was a happy surprise. I have to wonder, though, at the wisdom of that particular choice when another terrine, foie gras and chicken, was one of the appetizer options. The latter was just fine, although not as creamy as some of the better foie gras terrines I’ve had elsewhere.

The fish course was a scallop, perfectly sweet and just slightly seared on the outside. The other choice for the fish course was lobster, and a glance at other tables showed it was a more elaborate production. I wasn’t unhappy with the scallop, but I had a bit of regret about not choosing the fancier lobster.

The palate cleanser was a rose petal sorbet, which seemed to be a strawberry sorbet with a small rose petal elegantly garnishing the top of it. Then came the evening’s only dud, a duck breast with classic orange sauce, potatoes and peas. The duck, although an ample portion, was slightly tough and over-cooked. I suspect the duck breast had been cooked too a bit too, and it dried out on the stove. I finished it, mind you (at those prices who wouldn’t?), but it was not up to the level of everything else.

An excellent cheese course, carved tableside, was partial redemption. And because I complained about the duck, the restaurant comped an extra dessert, a heavenly strawberry soufflé.

Service throughout the evening was impeccable, yet never haughty. The staff seemed to be mind readers; you would merely think about something, and in a matter of moments someone would appear. The one cheesy moment came early on, when a server appeared with an already-open bottle of Evian poised for pouring, and asked if I would like some water. Human nature is to say ‘yes’, at which point one will have purchased the bottle. I resisted that temptation and asked for tap water. The server replied, without any hint of irony, “Perfect!!” I dwell on the incident only because it was the cleverest ruse I’ve seen yet to steer diners towards bottled water.

I drank a little more liquor than I usually do—a pre-dinner glass of champagne (£15.50), a half-bottle of white wine (£26.50), and a glass of dessert wine (£10.50). None of it came cheap, but it was all excellent. The wine was decanted for me in advance, as naturally it should be at a restaurant of this quality. I was once again pleased to see—as I had at all the other restaurants I tried—a reasonable selection of half-bottles.

The Waterside Inn serves mostly classic dishes. There’s no foam or culinary fusion here; no molecular gastronomy. But it nevertheless serves up a special kind of magic. The duck gaffe was significant, but I would like to assume it was atypical. I would still put The Waterside Inn on my list of places to return to.

All told, the final bill came to £142 before gratuity.

The Waterside Inn (Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AT)

Food: ***½
Service: ****
Ambiance: ****
Overall: ***½



Hakkasan resembles the “big-box” Asian restaurants that have taken over Manhattan (Buddakan, Megu, Matsuri, Ono). It’s located in a quiet back street that is practically guaranteed not to attract walk-in foot traffic. A friendly goomba asks for your name at the door. If you’re not already on his list, you’re not getting in. Then, it’s down three flights of stairs to a dimly-lit subterranean lair, with a modern Asian décor, although most of the staff seem to be Westerners. Just about every seat in the large space is taken.

With all of those gimmicks, you’d expect the food to be almost secondary, but Hakkasan has a Michelin star, and they seem to have earned it. A dim sum platter (£10.00) came with eight pieces. I have to admit that I didn’t recognize what was in them, but they were fluffy, tender, and delicious. Stir-fried Mongolian venison (£18.50) may have been a tad over-priced, but the spicy preparation was expertly judged, and lacked the generically over-salty taste to which stir-fry sometimes succumbs. Egg fried rice (£3.50) was also excellent A colleague recommended the signature cocktails, which came with names like The Hakka, Green Destiny, and the Lychee Martini (all £8.50). I was feeling pretty happy after three of those.

The clamor for tables at Hakkasan is obviously intense. When I called for a 7:30 p.m. reservation on a Tuesday evening, the hostess replied, “The table is booked for 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.” I know that some people resent being told in advance when they have to leave, but I am more than capable of finishing my dinner in two hours, and at this type of restaurant I don’t really mind the restriction.

Big-box Asian restaurants are getting a bad name in New York. There are so many of them now, with the menu often designed practically by rote. At Hakkasan, they really seem to care about the food.

The bill came to £57.50 before tip.

Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place near Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9DH)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **


Number One in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has two Michelin star restaurants: Number One and Martin Wishart. I tried the tasting menu at Wishart’s a couple of months ago, and last week I decided to see what Number One could do. While both restaurants have their strengths, I would have to give the slight edge to Number One.

Located in the basement of the Edinburgh’s marquis hotel, the Balmoral, Number One exudes a sense of luxury. There is an ample and comfortably appointed lounge area to enjoy a drink before sitting down for your meal. The walls have a dark, highly polished sheen. They’re covered with small modern artworks that don’t distract you, but in fact are witty and eclectic if you take the time to study them. The tables and banquettes are plush and generously spaced.

The service at Number One is impeccable. As I watched them operate over two and a half hours, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the teamwork and precision. A team of five servers covered the whole restaurant (it is not that large, and not all the tables were taken), and while they had their individual duties, they operated as a coordinated unit. Now the sommelier serves you a glass of wine, and the next moment he’s serving appetizers at the next table. Now the lovely French woman is serving your soufflé, and the next moment she’s refilling wine glasses at the opposite corner of the restaurant.

I ordered the chef’s tasting menu with paired wines, which clocks in at £85 before tip. There were five courses plus two amuses and six glasses of wine in this degustation. Although most of the portions were small, as you’d expect on a tasting menu, I walked out quite full, and in fact skipped breakfast the next morning. All of the dishes were plated beautifully, in designs clearly intended to delight the eye as well as the stomach.

I had never ordered a full wine pairing before. It adds a significant premium to the meal, but I have to say it’s worth it. You get a selection of diverse wines that is expertly chosen to suit the menu, quite a few of which you probably would never order on your own. They are smaller pours than wine ordered by the glass, but with six of them included it’s about as much as most people care to drink. I did have trouble pacing myself, though: you were never sure how much time you had before the next course was to arrive.

Your meal begins with freshly-cut bread. A server wheels over a cart, with six large breads baked that day. You choose one (mine was walnut grain), and he cuts off a slice. Soft butter is already there on your table. A few minutes later he’s back to offer more. The bacon bread tempted me, but I held off, knowing there was much to come.

The amuse-bouche was a tiny cup of tomato consommé, which I found a bit disappointing. The more successful amuses-bouches display some culinary wit, which this uninspired dish lacked. The champagne paired with it was similarly unexciting.

A wonderful foie gras came next, served with oatcakes and mushroom chutney. It was paired with an intense New Zealand fruit wine that complemented the liver taste perfectly. The fish course was a scallop in a light curry sauce, accompanied by braised oxtail. This was the hit of the evening, and unfortunately that lonely scallop was gone all too quickly. This is the drawback of a tasting menu.

The meat course was less successful. Six slender lamb medallions were sufficiently tender and tasty, but I’ve had far better lamb elsewhere. Sauces are Number One’s strength, but this lamb was served in its own juices. Nothing was done to raise it above the ordinary. The grilled sweetbreads that came on the plate were far more memorable. Some writers have suggested that meat courses are not as well suited to a tasting menu, because they require larger portions to make a culinary statement. I can certainly see the point, although I’ll have to try the format a few more times before deciding whether that’s true.

The cheese course was generous to a fault. The server wheeled over a cart with a wide range of selections. I told him I preferred the exotic and offbeat, and he cut six thick slices. It’s easy to order a $15 cheese course in New York and get three skimpy pieces, so this was refreshing indeed. He asked if I wanted any more, so there didn’t seem to be a hard limit. Anyhow, at six pieces this was a more substantial course than the entrées had been, so I thought it best to stop there (with dessert still to come). I can’t describe cheeses, but the six I sampled were wonderful. They were paired with a sweet port wine.

There was a small pre-dessert of apricots and cream, followed by the main dessert, a raspberry and white chocolate soufflé. This is a specialty dish at Number One, which I’ve had on previous visits. It came with a white dessert wine, which the sommelier described as a palate-cleanser. I’m still trying to guess what that means.

At US$200 (including tip), my splurge at Number One was well worth it. This could turn into an expensive hobby.


Edinburgh Dining Journal

Scotland is cool. Scotland is hip. Major food magazines are discovering Scotland, as well they should. You can eat like a king in Scotland, and the scenery ain’t bad either.

By way of background, I’ve been working off-and-on in Edinburgh for the last ten months. For much of last year, I was there three weeks out of every four. Lately, it’s one week out of four. I’ve eaten in dozens of different restaurants, and on each trip I sample at least one place I haven’t been before. This week, I took in three restaurants that were new to me.


Oloroso (33 Castle Street), which is only about two years old, won Tony Singh “Scottish Restaurant Chef of The Year” in 2003. The website observes:

Oloroso, which is Spanish for aromatic and is also a style of sherry, occupies a key top floor corner site on Edinburgh’s bustling George Street. Due to its unique position, the large roof terrace provides stunning views across both the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh Castle.

The décor is modern, sleek, and spare. As there is no street entrance, Oloroso’s foot traffic is probably next to none. Nevertheless, it was comfortably full on my Monday night visit, so the word has gotten out. Note that the lifts go only to the third floor, so you need to be able to climb a flight of stairs.

Until Oloroso, I had found only two types of fine dining experiences in Edinburgh: Scottish and French (or some mixture of the two). Singh finds his own way, and this alone makes Oloroso worth a visit. A few of the dishes have an obvious Indian inspiration, but it is not an Indian restaurant. I ordered crawfish and asparagus risotto to start, followed by filet of ostrich. If you haven’t had ostrich, it’s a red mea tasting somewhat like venison. It came with a tangy dipping sauce, which is perhaps a nod to Singh’s Indian roots.

The menu changes daily, with most appetizers priced around £7 and most mains around £17. There is also a grill menu offering several cuts of Scottish beef. My dinner, with one drink and without wine, came to £31, including tip. To sample the work of a fine chef like Singh, this is an extraordinary bargain, and there seems to be no other restaurant in Edinburgh quite like it. Oloroso is definitely worth a look, both for the food and the scenery.


Edinburgh has just two Michelin star restaurants: Number One, in the basement of the Balmoral Hotel, and Martin Wishart, at 54 The Shore in the port district of Leith. I’ve been to Number One several times, but Tuesday was my first trip to Martin Wishart.

While Wishart’s food may be comparable to Jeff Bland’s at Number One, the surroundings most assuredly are not. Enter Number One’s basement location, and you are instantly transported. In Wishart’s storefront on a busy street, the food must compete with noisy distractions.

Martin Wishart’s mission is to persuade you to order one of the tasting menus. The five-course tasting menu is priced at £48. (There is also a six-course menu.) Order an appetizer and main course a la carte, and it will set you back about £40 before dessert, so you might as well take the tasting menu. The waitstaff hints disingenuously that Wishart sometimes throws surprises into the tasting menu, but in fact everything they served was available a la carte. I compared notes with some colleagues who’d been to Wishart’s recently, and they had the same experience of “surprises” hinted at, but not delivered.

Every course arrives with an essay-length oration about what you are eating. Nothing at Martin Wishart is simple. The amuse-bouche was four tasty bites, all different, arranged like an art sculpture. Amusing indeed, but I forgot the essay and had no idea what they were. A starter of asparagus and tiny strings of calimari failed to impress, but the next three courses were all winners: rabbit terrine, monkfish over a mackerel puree, and duck (marinated for two days, we’re told). All of these came with similar essay-length descriptions that I cannot recall. The meal ended with a “pre-dessert” (some kind of yogurt confection) and a small dessert course (cherries, pistachio ice cream, and something else from the bakery oven that tasted absolutely heavenly).

As with most tasting menus at restaurants like Wishart’s, the sommelier will happily recommend a different wine for each course, but that’s more wine than I can take on a work night, or indeed on most any night, after I’ve already had a pre-dinner cocktail. He did recommend a sensible glass of white to go with the first part of the meal, and a côte du rhone to go with the end of it.

All of this cost about £71 for one, including tip.


I have seldom found a truly impressive steak in Britain, but I keep trying to find one. The search has ended. Champany Inn cannot be bettered. Located in the town of Linlithgow, Champany is about 30 minutes’ drive from Central Edinburgh. It’s run by a husband and wife team, Clive and Anne Davidson. Anne is visible all evening long, while Clive heads the kitchen.

This quote is from the website:

The buildings at Champany Corner that now make up Champany Inn, date from the 16th Century and the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. These buildings now house sixteen luxury bedrooms, the Main Dining Room specialising in Aberdeen Angus beef and Shetland Salmon and our award winning cellar which has been voted the Best in Britain on two occasions. The smaller Chop and Ale House offers bistro style meals and serves probably the best hamburger in Britain.

The ill-defined Michelin ratings claim that one star is “worth a stop,” two stars is “worth a detour,” and three stars is “worth a trip.” By this definition, Champanys is a two-star experience. It is without doubt worth a detour, and indeed a very significant one. Given that it is located in the middle of nowhere, many have obviously found it worth a trip on its own. This is the most memorable meal I have had in Edinburgh, and I have had plenty of very good ones.

The restaurant will happily offer you a choice from any number of non-beef dishes, such as duck, salmon, langoustines, or lobster. But beef is Champany’s raison d’etre, and it’s beef that all four in our party had. Three of us chose the porterhouse, one the sirloin. Champany’s offers a variety of cuts, including stip loin, ribeye, Pope’s eye (ever heard of that), or chateaubriand. Whichever you choose, you get a thick, hearty piece of meat cooked to perfection. The website explains:

Clive Davidson is proud of his meat. He selects his beef from herds of prime cattle grazing off acres of lush Aberdeenshire countryside. The carcasses are hung for a full three weeks during which all the succulent flavours that have made Scottish beef such an internationally renowned delicacy, are held and matured.

Before placing on the grill the beef is first dipped into an exclusive sauce created specially by Clive for sealing the meat so that none of the precious flavours escape. As he explained, “All steaks should be sealed before grilling, and you can do this quite simply by sprinkling them with brown sugar. Once on the grill this will caramelise, sealing the meat and encouraging the outer flesh to cook quickly while the inside remains pink and moist”. However, Clive’s secret recipe for his sauce contains other special ingredients that will enhance still further the flavours of the naturally tender meat.

Starters are similarly impressive. Champany’s smokes its own salmon. Served hot, with hollandaise sauce, the taste is exquisite. As at many steakhouses, portions are enormous. This so-called “starter” could have been a main course at many restaurants. Quoting the website again:

Words almost fail me to describe the subtle excellence of the hot smoked salmon. Fleshy and succulent, it can be cut with a fork which breaks it into pungent morsels of sublime Scottish salmon warm and aromatic with a surprisingly gentle woody bouquet.

Champany’s is elegantly decorated, with its oak panel dining room and candle-lit tables. Service is luxurious. To go with the ample wine list previously mentioned, Champany’s has an impressive selection of liqeurs, aperitifs, and single malt whiskys. They even distil their own cognac (while of course offering many others), which we found surprisingly good.

Dinner for four, including before and after-dinner drinks, appetizers, steaks, side dishes, and two bottes of modestly-priced wine, ran to £370.