18 April 2014

Review: Purslane

This is my third visit to this little restaurant on St. Stephen’s Street, and on both previous visits, I’ve found chef/owner Paul Gunning’s cooking to be of an excellent standard.  This is a chap who’s CV includes some of the UK’s top kitchens, which only adds to the level of expectation of today's visit.

Sarah and I decided to go for the taster menu at £50 per person, and were promptly presented with the first course of sun-dried tomato arranchini with textures of tomato and basil pesto (or in my case carrot puree due to my nut allergy).  The little bon bons were crisp and well-seasoned with the carrot puree adding a smooth, sweetness to it, while the sharpness of the roasted cherry tomato balanced the dish out.  It was a light plate of food, ideal to for the beginning of a taster menu.

The second course was pan-fried scallops with watercress puree, roasted celeriac and samphire.  An exquisitely presented dish, in which the scallops were spot on – caramelised on the outside and melted in your mouth.  The silky watercress puree brought a pepperiness, with the samphire bringing texture and a saltiness that almost seasoned the dish.  The roasted celeriac’s earthiness rounded this dish of perfectly.

The main course of this taster menu was roast rump of lamb with peas à la Française, parmentier potatoes and red wine jus.  Cleanly presented, this plate brought a wonderful aroma to the table and was a particular highlight indeed.  The lamb was extremely tender and flavoursome and worked in perfect harmony with the peas à la Française, with the sharpness of the baby onions cutting through the sweetness of the lamb and the peas, which added texture at the same time.  The little morsels of lamb’s tongue brought a rich, saltiness that really made each mouthful sing.  

The red wine jus was rich and sumptuous, but the highlight for me was the sweetbreads; a real surprise since they didn’t feature in the description, and a clever way to sneak this unfamiliar ingredient into a dish.  I’ve had sweetbreads done badly, and believe me when I say that's a horrible thing, but in the hands of the right chef as they are here, are a complete triumph.

The restaurant was fairly filling up, but despite only having one person front of house, did not impact the quality of the efficient, friendly service.  Our waiter happily chatted in between courses and ensured drinks never ran empty.  It’s always apparent when someone is enjoying their job, and despite being busy, excellent service was provided to each table throughout the night.

After a palate-cleansing and rather excellent raspberry sorbet, a pre-dessert of vanilla panna cotta with poached rhubarb and ginger jam came our way.  Another elegantly presented dish from Gunning, this offered a wobbly panna cotta that had a decent vanilla taste. However, I would suggest allowing the vanilla seeds time to suspend evenly throughout the cream before being placed into moulds – this way you get an equal distribution of seeds and flavour, rather than one big hit of vanilla.  Rhubarb and vanilla is one of my favourite flavour combinations, and the ginger jam enhanced that combo with a little bit of heat.  This was a well thought out taster menu pudding, because it was light, clean and a perfect portion.

The final course for me (not on menu because it was made to cater for my allergy) was white chocolate mousse, which came in a dark chocolate cylinder with passion fruit sorbet and marinated pineapple.  The white chocolate mousse had a marshmallow texture to it and was stunning alongside the bitter crunch of the dark chocolate, which was superbly tempered.  A difficult skill to achieve in a hot kitchen, especially as small as this one.  The sharpness of the sorbet cut through the sweetness of the mousse, and the chilli in the marinade brought a little bit of warmth alongside the pineapple - another perfectly tuned plate of food.

To finish the meal, Sarah had banofee pie with caramelised banana, of which she particularly enjoyed the boozy kick of the rum soaked raisins.  The biscuit base of the pie brought welcome texture and prevented it the banofee pie from being too creamy.

I’m was particularly delighted to find that the food at Purslane is of a consistently excellent standard.  Gunning’s menus always feature ingredients in season and never fails to excite; it’s great he shows the confidence to use so called lesser ingredients like tongue and sweetbreads in his menus too.  This chef prides himself on sourcing as much produce from around the Stockbridge area as possible, and that care and attention to detail is undoubtedly matched by his ability to cook.  Gunning is up there with Edinburgh’s finest chefs, but I doubt any of them can compete with the value on offer at Purslane. 

Purslane on Urbanspoon

15 April 2014

Review: Edinburgh Larder Bistro

WITH MY STUDIES having taken priority over blog writing in the past few months, I was very much looking forward to kick starting Phil’s Food World again, and now exams are over and essays have been completed, I can begin with a much-anticipated review of the Edinburgh Larder Bistro.

The restaurant is nestled away down stairs between Alva Street and Queensferry Street in Edinburgh’s rather quaint West End, and I had previously heard positive things from fellow food writer Theresa Baumgartner, who outlined the owner’s passion for the place after visiting from Luxembourg during last year’s Edinburgh Festival.

You can tell just by looking at the Edinburgh Larder’s website that this is an operation run with passion; their list of suppliers not only suggests quality but, also that provenance of ingredients is at the forefront when crafting their menus.

My brother Chris and I received a very warm welcome on this chilly Edinburgh afternoon and the smell of fresh bread certainly enhanced that greeting. The Edinbugh Larder actually includes an artisan bakery, which is a great addition to the restaurant and Edinburgh’s food scene alike. 

The dining room had a calm feel to it, largely down to the contrasts of light, which I really liked.  It was modern but still had a traditional feel to it, with a certain intimacy to your own little area of the restaurant. It was certainly encouraging to see the dining room pretty much full on a Tuesday. 

The bistro offers a two-course lunch menu priced competitively at £12, and I started with hot smoked haddock pate on toast with foraged salad.  Clearly homemade, the pate was sufficiently smoky and a hint of herbs with a buttery note  to it made it rather enjoyable, plus it was seasoned to perfection.  The toast, like the bread we enjoyed beforehand, came from the in-house bakery; it’s these little details that present restaurants the opportunity to show skills that enhance the eating experience – certainly does so in this instance.

Chris chose to skip starter in favour of a pudding, so began with rump of lamb, Dunsyre Blue potato cake with wild garlic for main.  I had secretly wanted to order that particular dish and that disappointment was further compounded when it came beautifully presented to the table.   The pink tinge of the lamb showed some skill in the cooking, and gave respect to a quality piece of produce.  The dauphinoise-style potato cake was rich and didn’t overpower the dish, which can be difficult to achieve with blue cheese.  The carrots still had a little crunch, which added a different texture to the dish, while earthiness of the sauces really brought this well-rounded dish together.  A generous portion for a lunch time menu, the dish really allowed quality ingredients to speak for themselves.

I ordered baked Cullen skink with seasonal veg, which came with a big pastry crust that I duly broke into, releasing the wonderful aroma of smoked fish.  The pastry casing was crunchy and cooked all the way through, while the soup was rich, creamy and well-seasoned.  The fish was wonderfully flaky and not turned to rubber unlike some versions of this Scottish classic I’ve had to endure.  Little potato cubes brought a welcome crunchy element to the dish and the accompanying broccoli and carrots were cooked to perfection.  My hankering for the lamb dish had since dissipated.

To indulge his sweet tooth, Chris went for Russet apple crumble with thyme custard.  He described the dish as ‘a common dish elevated to a fine-dining level.’  The apples still had bite to them and the sharpness cut through the sweetness of the custard to balance the dish well. There wasn’t a great deal of thyme flavour in the custard, but that didn’t really detract from this rather satisfying dessert.  Service had been efficient throughout; friendly, knowledgeable and extremely professional, which for me is just as important as the food.

The ethos and set up of this restaurant definitely deserves to be commended.  It’s one thing using top produce but another knowing what to do with it, and the team at the Edinburgh Larder certainly know what they’re doing.  With an intimate dining space and superb value for money, this little gem is worth a visit. 


1a Alva Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4PH.
Bistro – Open 11am – 10pm (pre-theatre: 5.30pm – 6.30pm) Tuesday -Saturday. Closed Sundays & Mondays. 0131 225 4599

Bakery at the bistro – Open 11am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday
Edinburgh Larder Bistro on Urbanspoon
Pictures by Chris Cook http://www.littlecitypictures.co.uk/