30 October 2012

Lunch at The Kitchin, Edinburgh.

LAST YEAR on my birthday I visited one of Edinburgh’s Michelin starred eateries with the highest expectations; only for that expectation to turn into disappointment.  I regretted not visiting The Kitchin that night and hoped my visit this year round would go some way to rectifying that choice.

The restaurant was recently named eighth best restaurant in the UK and with the successful launch of a new cookbook, Kitchin Suppers, Chef Tom Kitchin’s reputation as one of the countries most talented chefs is ever rising.

It was a cold but sunny day as we walked into the bright reception/bar of the restaurant, taking in the lovely views of modern day Leith outside.   

Our table was ready, so straight in we went, noticing the large open panel where Tom’s chefs were beavering away for the lucky patrons of this full dining room.

Our server passed us our menus and placed down our crudités with Dunsyre Blue dip topped with buckwheat.  It tasted so good, I wanted to dip my finger in and polish it off!

Equally impressive was the amuse bouche; pheasant consomme with crispy bacon, apple and a nice citrus/aniseedy note.   
This had clearly been well thought out, not just the boring old gesture of some sort of Veloute or deep fried ball of something or other.

The dining room was very spacious and decorated elegantly, almost with an ‘in your living room’ effect.  Very pleasing to see a lot of younger diners out as well – something the Michelin scene can lack.

We placed our order and the sommelier talked us though the impressive wine list to match one to our pairings.  He was extremely knowledgeable and I even overheard him talking about one of the villages a certain wine had been produced in like he’d lived there all his life.

My ravioli of braised North Sea squid with langoustine bisque was sensational.  The bisque was light but packed with so much flavour I could have put it in a glass and drank it with a straw.  The ravioli was thin and packed with squid – great size of a portion, especially for lunch.

My partner had bone marrow with mushrooms and a stunning potato garnish (see picture). Tom’s famous for using lesser found cuts and this was a great example of his knowledge and technique produces dishes like this little gem.

Braised ox cheek with potato puree, baby onions and lardons awaited me.  I could cut the ox cheeks with the back of my knife.  The rich sauce and silky, smooth mash was the perfect dish to warm the cockles. 

You could see Tom Kitchin watching eagle-eyed in the kitchen, tasting, tasting and tasting to ensure every minute detail is perfect; you don’t become the youngest recipient of a Michelin star for nothing.

 Sarah’s poached guinea fowl from Burnside farm with celeriac, turnip, beetroot and gratinated polenta was just as good, and great to see the chef proudly showing off where his produce is sourced.   

The rich bird was so moist and just melted in your mouth, with earthy flavours from the winter veg being topped off by the melting sensation from the gratinated polenta.

Every great meal must come to an end but when the time comes, you most definitely want to end it with a dessert of this magnitude – Apple crumble soufflé with vanilla ice cream. 

The huge soufflé was equally risen and great to see it didn't come with the usual '20 minute wait for souffle' on the menu. The best part was getting that hot and cold sensation as your spoon unearthed the apple puree in the middle of the soufflé, which was as light as air.  The sweet, creamy ice cream counter acting the sharpness of the apple in this dessert you just didn’t want to stop eating.

I’d have cut my left arm off to stay for dinner.  From the Maitre d’ to the sommelier and the servers all were all a credit to themselves, and The Kitchin.  Tom’s ‘from nature to plate’ philosophy deserves to be championed and experienced by all.  If you haven’t been then The Kitchin needs to be at the top of your ‘places to eat’ list. 

Last year’s disaster was now a distant memory.

28 October 2012

Interview with Craig Millar, 16 West End.

TAKING OVER a successful business is no easy thing, especially when a tried and tested partnership is in place, but when the opportunity to go solo arose, Craig Millar knew this was his chance to realise a dream – having his own restaurant.

Craig’s 13-year partnership with Tim Butler and The Seafood Restaurant brand had brought the duo a bag full of accolades, a solid customer base and a sterling reputation as one of the country’s premier seafood establishments. 

The business started in the sleepy fishing town of St.Monans in 1993, when the Butler family opened the first Seafood Restaurant in the former fisherman’s pub on the edge of the harbour; one of the most picturesque dinner settings you’ll find in the UK. 

Joining as head chef in 1997, Craig went onto be a director of the company, which saw it expand into St. Andrews in the shape of a spectacular glass box overlooking the beach and the famous Old Course links.

In the summer of 2011, Craig got his name above the door when he became sole proprietor of the St.Monans branch.  After a brief refit, the original Seafood Restaurant reopened as ‘Craig Millar @16 West End’.  After so long in business, I wondered if it was a difficult choice to make,

‘After I had worked out the financial implications like being able to pay staff, my bills and keep my wife happy, it wasn’t a hard decision.  The long term plan was always to own and run my own restaurant, the opportunity came along and here we are’.

The original restaurant has proudly held 2 AA Rosettes forover 13 years, in which time it was also crowned AA ‘Seafood Restaurant of the Year’ and, whilst Craig is obviously keen to hold onto loyal customers, he has chosen to shift away from seafood and stamp his own mark on proceedings by focusing onoffering a wider variety of dishes to attract people who are perhaps not so keen on fish.

‘I decided to move away from being branded as a seafood restaurant as the country has much more to offer other than just seafood.
 ‘I wanted attract more people, people that may not like seafood and give them the opportunity to dine in the restaurant; so the menu isnow split 50/50 between meat and seafood and I also run a tasting menu now.’

Craig has now been operating as sole proprietor in St.Monans for over a year now and is pleased to report business has been good this summer.  A great sign in today’s modern economic climate, especially when you consider the transition period following the re-branding of the place, but being in charge must lead to its own rewards.

‘The first six months were hard.  Having to deal with suppliers, accountants, bank managers and all other non- food stuff that goes on was tough, but most of them have been very supportive.

‘The kitchen side of things is mainly business as usual,although I tend to take on more work myself now rather than pay someone else,

‘I suppose the advantages, if you can call it that, are you get out of the business as much as you are prepared to put in’. Yes, it is nice to get awards and recognition from the guide books but first and foremost must be the customer’s satisfaction, that’s the best reward.’

I remember spending a summer at The Seafood Restuarant as a young commis, and one of my lasting memories was when we had a batch of lobsters delivered one morning.  As Craig checked them for size and quality, he found a female laden with eggs. 

I won’t repeat what he said but he was far from happy; he explained to me and another commis, Martyn, that the eggs would only maybe spawn one or two lobsters but it wasn’t morally right to use it.  He instructed Martin and one of the Kitchen Porters to take it down to the harbour and put it back in the sea. 

Craig, who also plays the bagpipes, is well known in the industry for giving young chefs like myself experience in  fine dining and enjoys passing his experience and knowledge on to up and coming chefs.

‘I think it is very important for young aspiring chefs toget experience in good kitchens.  Too many are lost to the industry disillusioned by working for facelessorganisations where fresh produce and creativity are absent.  My kitchen is always open for anyone who wants to gain experience.’

When it comes to creating his menu, Craig always uses the best seasonal and sustainable produce, sourcing most of it from Fife’s wonderful larder. 

‘Seasonality has a major impact on the menu.  I look forward to the first wild garlic ofthe season, the first asparagus and also the game and mushroom season in particular. I get produce from Kellie Castle where I visit two-three times a week; I have a walk around with the gardeners, pick what is ready and develop dishesthat way.’

The former Rugby player spoke of the partnership with local suppliers at Kellie Castle, who are just a couple of miles from the restaurant and even has the gardeners growing vegetables specifically for his menu.

‘I was approached about a year ago to see if would be interested in local organically grown fruit and vegetables.  I had a chat with the head gardener, who was delighted his produce was going to a good home and they now grow some produce exclusively for me.

‘At the moment they are growing different salad cress, kale, cabbages, apples also cape gooseberries but also offer a lot more depending on the time of the season, they even do 28 different varieties of rhubarb! Unfortunately, this year hasn’t been a very good year for fruit and vegetables because of the weather.’

I remember finishing my shift late at night and looking inat the cosy restaurant, envious of the diners enjoying the experience in thismost exquisite location.  As the dark nights set in along the east coast of Fife, I can’t think of anywhere who canmatch this quality of cooking with such an idyllic setting.

17 October 2012

Flourless Vanilla Pear and Chocolate Cake.

THIS DISH was inspired by watching the Great British Bake Off.  Baking has long been something I've felt i need to do more of and since it has been pouring rain allday, what better to do than bake to brighten up the day.  This recipe is practically a brownie recipe and is healthier because it's flourless.  Kids always love baking, and this would be a great recipe for them to get involved with.  Everyone loves licking the spoon after all!  Serve with some homemade vanilla ice cream or chantilly cream.


     3 Ripe pears, halved and cored
     75g Unsalted butter
     75g Caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
     100g 70% cocoa, dark chocolate, the best you can afford
     3 Eggs, separated.
     1 Vanilla pod or splash vanilla essence.
     Water to cover


1)   Butter a 20cm cake tin and line with parchment paper, sprinkle caster sugar around the outside. Heat oven to 180c/mark 6.

2)   Make a simple syrup by adding sugar to water.  Whisk to dissolve, tasting to ensure it’s sweet enough, bring to the boil and add the scraped vanilla seeds and pod (or essence if using) to the pot. Turn off the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Then gently add the pears and allow to infuse for as long as possible. Remember, you don’t want the pears to be too soft as they’re going in the oven, so keep checking they aren’t over cooked.

3)   Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter in a bain marie, set aside and allow to cool slightly.

4)   Whisk the yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy.

5)   Then, using a very clean bowl and whisk, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks.

6)    Fold the chocolate mix into the egg yolks, and then fold a spoon of the egg white mix into it.    Gradually fold the rest of the whites until all incorporated.

7)    Carefully fill the cake tin with the mix and place the pears around the cake tin. Place in the oven and cook for around 40 mins or until a knife comes out of the cake cleanly.

8)   Transfer to a cooling wire and cool.Tip upside down in your hand and remove the parchment paper.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.
TIP:Every oven is different.  Just because the dial reads 180C (or whatever temperature) doesn't mean it cooks at that heat. So if a recipe specifies a time, only use that as a guideline and make sure you keep your eye on the dish.