We ended our foodie expedition of Scotland with a splurge meal at Edinburgh’s Castle Terrace, a modern British restaurant influenced by classic French techniques and driven by a passion for seasonal Scottish ingredients. I’d previously had a fantastic meal at Leith’s The Kitchin, which is the sister restaurant of Castle Terrace, plus I had heard good things from fellow food blogger My Monkfish. Chef patron Dominic Jack is a close friend of Tom Kitchin’s having met him whilst cheffing in Edinburgh when they were both teenagers. Kichin’s influence throughout the restaurant is obvious from the dark and luxurious decor, professional and attentive staff to the ethos of ‘nature to plate’ food.
My Monkfish had put in a good word for us ahead of our visit and so on arrival we were mysteriously ushered down to the kitchen to meet chef Dominic. Set up in a corner of the warm but quiet kitchen was a ‘chef’s table’ where we were seated and given complimentary champagne, canapes and menus to peruse, whilst watching the chefs go about their business. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of such a prestigious restaurant. It was controlled, thoughtful and precise. Everybody was working studiously and effectively under the watchful eye of Dominic. The atmosphere was so peaceful and serene that you could have heard a pin drop. It was almost a bit embarrassing being sat there as we felt like complete intruders! We joked with the waiting staff about how it wouldn’t normally be so ordered, but I genuinely was impressed by how unchaotic and tranquil it all was.
Our canapes were a mini Margherita pizza, salt cod barbajuan and a caeser salad that was in liquid form and had been spherified. These were so delicate and colourful, that they were true works of art. As we sat dazzled by these wonders and taking in the atmosphere of the kitchen we agreed that we would have the surprise tasting menu and the accompanying wine matches. With our decisions made we were taken back up into the relaxed restaurant and sat down to some more champagne. I admit now that having started drinking on an empty stomach we were a little tipsy by this point!
The tasting menu typically consists of 7 courses of seasonal fish, meat and dessert, with the option of upgrading to cheese. Ours seemed to have an extra eighth course, which was lovely but very disorienting as we had no idea how much food was left to come or what was even due next. At one point, towards the end of the meal we were so full with loveliness that we literally pleaded with our waiter to promise not to bring us any cheese!
Something that really took us aback was that although we had both requested the tasting menu, we both ended up with completely different meals on every single course. This means that between us the kitchen had prepared around 16 different plates of food, which was absolutely astounding. At first this didn’t sit amazingly well with my control freak nature as I wanted to try everything. However I soon eased in and relaxed. I’ll pick out a couple of stand out dishes that really amazed us for their flavour and innovativeness.
For me the best dish was a spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and veal heart. Apparently this is a house speciality and I could see why. The risotto retained a fantastic bite and had obviously been made with a high quality and rich stock. The tiny cubes of crispy tongue were packed full of beefy flavour and I savoured every single one. The dish was so comforting and yet so elegant at the same time I think that it really sums up the ethos of the restaurant amazingly well – offal can be stylish!
About 50% of our menu was delicious fish which included the biggest and juiciest scallop I have experienced served with a cannelloni of tarragon and lemon. My ‘marmite’ course was a challenging chilled oyster soup – full of deep sea flavour. This sat atop a fragrant cucumber jelly. I battled with the cold slimy textures as actually my tastebuds were telling me how brilliant it was. It was truly an odd and exhilarating experience to be faced with food where I had no idea how my mind or body would react. It left me ready to expect the unexpected!
Our main course of grouse was very seasonal and came complete with girolles and game chips. As is often my criticism of tasting menus it felt like it came just a little bit too late on the menu. Without a doubt it was intended to be the standout component of the night, and whilst it was lovely we were just too full to really appreciate it.
Luckily desserts were much smaller than the enormous ones we could see coming out of the kitchen for guests on the ala carte menu. Between us we enjoyed a caramel and chocolate souffle with pop corn ice cream. This was as fun and as tasty as it sounds, full of hot, sweet enjoyment. I had the strawberry pannacotta complete with coriander jelly and strawberry soup. Refreshing as it was I was slightly disappointed that the coriander was not very strong. As it’s a bit of an odd ingredient to have in a pudding I would have liked there to have been more evidence of it.
Fit to bursting we ended on coffees and petit four. For me the petit four summed up the whole meal – that something so small and potentially insignificant can be so full of flavour. By now it was obvious to us that no shortcut was taken in any of the courses. In fact the same skill and dedication was applied to every single morsel of food and this was commendable. For both of us the salted caramel chocolate was out of this world, oozing sweet and salty gold into our mouths. We were both lost for words at how good it really was.
Our trip to Castle Terrace was potentially the best meal I have ever had. The star treatment we received at the start was completely unexpected but absolutely brilliant for someone so into food and eating out. It was like having a good old nose around a celebrity’s home! The surprise element of the whole tasting menu kept us guessing and excited for the entire meal. And once the food did arrive, you will see from the (less than perfect) photos just how stunning they really were with intricate garnishes, unusual ingredients and colourful additions. The waiting staff were unintrusive and yet the moment that a napkin was out of place or a glass of water half full then they would swing straight into action to make everything perfect. For one embarrassing moment Richard went to the loo just as the hake arrived. Closhes were immediately retrieved and then we waited for Richard to return so that the food could be revealed – I’m glad it was a quick loo trip!
The meal was a perfect end to a great Scottish holiday, we left full of food (and full of wine considering we’d had 8 glasses paired to all the lovely food!). We enjoyed the walk back to our apartment as it was a fresh and crisp evening and our bellies appreciated it. I did feel a bit too full but sometimes it’s good to indulge a bit, especially as I won’t be having food as good as that for a while. So if you fancy a bit of star treatment and food that will keep you guessing, then why not give it a go and then you can be king of the castle too!