October 2010
Kitchin 78 Commercial Quay, Leith
Dinner in the Kitchin.

Partly because Aidan and Jude have gift vouchers for a free feed, partly because I have the restaurant cookbook and partly because it's got a Michelin star and I gotta catch 'em all.

It's a nicely organised restaurant, there's a good view into the kitchin (geddit?) from the dining room, the tables are tastefully laid with Villeroy and Bosch dinner service and a selection of root crisps (though their extraordinary saltiness might have been taken as something of an omen).
Plus the most spectacular wine decanter I've come across. Which did a fine job holding Aidan's excellent choice of Peter Lehmann's Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Not that I would know - in a final bid to lose some lard I've gone on the dry.
Such a wonderfully decadent phrase. I caught it on some Radio 4 program interview with a fabulous lush old luvvie, who declared herself to be on the dry in slurring tones that suggested it was none-too-soon. So I decided to steal it.
Whilst awaiting our food, we had our bouches amused with a tangy celeriac and tomato velouté, which was well made, with a robust deep complexion, but somehow had the flavours fighting each other a bit too hard on my palate. I'm not sure celeriac and tomato are natural allies, and they need a little something extra to bridge that gap. Something that didn't seem to have made it into the soup.
But on to the starters...

The menu is stuffed with fascinating seasonal dishes that make for some difficult choices, and as delightful as the Bone Marrow & Snails sounded, that really was the wrong choice. Sad, because the marrow itself was perfectly roasted, the snails juicy, the girolles delicate, and the softly boiled quail's egg inspired. But, astonishingly, the assembled dish was spoiled by the massively salty demi-glace style sauce drizzled over the top. In fact, over-salting seems to be quite an endemic problem with the Kitchin food, which is a real shame since it's so unnecessary.

It would have been better to have gone with Chris and Jude's choice of Seared hand-dived Orkney scallops served with a pumpkin velouté who's pumpkin soup was particularly tasty. Was there a hint of truffle in there? It looked like a good solid dish at least.
I was quite intrigued by Aidan's Boned and rolled pig's head with langoustines particularly after our waiter's loving and detailed description of the face-rolling process. Outraaaaaageous French accent and all.
Unfortunately Aidan didn't offer it for sampling, but I didn't get the impression he was particularly impressed.
Maybe it was really salty?

Because I myself have struggled to make anything particularly tasty out of Razor Clams I was keen to try the dish, and despite already deciding I absolutely must have the bone marrow, I managed to persuade the table to take an extra plate of clams to share.
I'm quite glad I did - they were much more palatable than the marrow, and if they weren't exactly thrilling, they at least managed not to be the least bit gritty. Or over-salted. The secret, according to our well-informed waiter, is to run water through them overnight. It probably also helps to disguise their slightly disturbing appearance by slicing and dicing their flesh together with vegetables, chorizo and a lemon confit before refilling the shells.

I went for the Braised Veal Shankfor the main course, and luckily, so did Jenny. Lucky since they only do it for two.
Absolutely gorgeous it was too - so meltingly soft that our waiter literally cut the shank with a spoon. I was also impressed by the idea of the side dish of an endive ingeniously baked in a slice of prosciutto. Shame it was so bloody salty. Just the wrong cure of ham really. Tsk.
The veal was served with an interesting sweetbread and endive salad, which sounds rather better than it was. I'm an enormous fan of sweetbreads, but couldn't help feeling the salad was a waste of their talents, fried up in small pieces they were neither crispy enough to add texture to the salad, nor sufficiently tender to evoke their delightful roe-like qualities

Chris gamed the seasonal grouse special, and once again meat-wise it was a good choice. The bird was cooked to absolute perfection (for my taste), which I would have been proud to have managed last time I tried to fry pheasant breasts (I blame my supplier), but the side dish of bread sauce was disappointingly cloying and insipid. I make a better bread sauce than that man!

Fortunately for our livers, the desserts were all pleasantly salt-free. And in fact I thought they were really the best part of the meal.
Aidan had a fantabulous pistachio soufflée with pistachio icecream which he was generous enough to share this time.
The beautifully cooked soufflé was as light as a fairy mousse on the inside, and perfectly browned on the outside, with no hint of leatheriness.
Nor of collapse. Now how do they do that?

My Chocolate Gateau & Seabuckthorn Sorbet was also lovely and unusual. The sorbet has a sharp and refreshing flavour, which perfectly complemented the many layers of chocolate. And I particularly liked the candied kumquat decorations.
Although Chris enjoyed his Plums & Honey I didn't quite take to the Heather Hills honey parfait, which had an edge of bitter lavender. Though you couldn't fault the texture.

The meal worked out at £80 per person, plus tip. A reasonable tip - since Jenny was of the opinion that the service was better than the food, but frankly despite having a waiter who appeared to be entirely dedicated to napkin folding during bathroom visits, there was a slight lack of attentiveness.
Maybe it's just me, but when I visit a Michelin star restaurant, I don't expect to have to chase waiters for a water refill or a slice of bread. I expect them to appear and disappear as if by magic, provide for my every need and employ telepathy in perfectly anticipating my every whim.
OK. Maybe it's just me.
You couldn't fault their knowledgeability though, except for an odd lacuna on the source of their ginger beer. Schweppes, in case you were wondering. I recommend Fentiman's.

On the whole, a disappointing visit. None of the food amazed me, few of the dishes delighted me, there was nothing I didn't feel I could reproduce at home and little I couldn't do better. The service was good, but not brilliant and the prices very much on the high side.
However, the wine decanter was very impressive, the meat was extremely well cooked and the desserts were a delight.

Tom came out to gladhand the tables after our meal, and I took the opportunity to have him sign my copy of his cookbook that I brought along as a cribsheet. I didn't have the heart to tell him his food sucked. I might get another chance soon though: Aidan and Jude forgot to bring their free vouchers after all!

Now here's the JennyView (hope that was intended for publication Jenny!). As you may notice, Jenny and I like the same food:

"I had bonemarrow, snails and mushrooms. The bone marrow was a bit slimey but the rest was ok.
I got to taste spoots too, cos we had that to share between the whole table. That was good.
I had Veal for a main course, which tasted like reasonably good meat that had been cooked in a slow cooker for a while.
The service was ok, although the sommelier didn't know at first whether they had ginger beer or not, then he didn't know what kind of ginger beer it was. Then he recommended an Argentinean red wine, which they drank, but then afterwards they asked to see the bottle, and it was an Australian wine. Having said that, it could have been Aidan's bad hearing, because it was he who repeated to the table what they'd chosen in terms of wine. Apparently it was tasty wine. So when they brought out the bottle, Chris poured himself the rest and drank it. Aidan said that was usually left. Chris said something like "not at that price its not".

The amuse bouche was a celeriac soup, that tasted not unlike the parsnip soup the other day. It was ok.
The pancreas that came with the veal was alright. There was some kind of vegetable wrapped in ham that came too, that was nice, like christmas pigs in blankets, only with a vegetable in the middle.
There was decent soda bread at the beginning.
I tried some of the grouse. I really liked that. Really soft, great texture, red and tasty. Possibly, I just preferred it to the blandness of my Veal. The texture of the veal was nice I suppose. Wasn't as stringy as it looked.

I had chocolate something or another with sea buckthorn sorbet and cumquat bits. That was the best bit. It tasted quite adult but also very tasty. We had to leave before the chocolate and cakes to pick up chris's mum from the proximal end of Leith Walk.

So the service was fine, the carving man was proud of his art, and delighted that we chose veal and lamb, and that he'd get to carve. The staff were patient with Karl's constant questions on how to cook the dishes.

It was very crowded and noisy.

So the food was ok. I'd have paid about £45 per head. It cost £90 each.

Apparently some people value service over taste. They'd probably be ok with the place assuming aidan just didnt' listen right to the sommellier, and they were drinking alcohol, so wouldn't find out that they have no idea what soft drinks to recommend.

They couldn't even afford a table cloth. What sort of a place is that? The place mats were painful on the elbows, so only go there if you have good table manners, and don't put your elbows on the table before coffee.


Jenny, I think we should call those ham-wrapped ivory vegetables Penguins In A Blanket. What do you think?