26 May 2014

Review: Itchycoo Bar & Grill, Radisson Blu, Edinburgh.

ITCHYCOO PARK BY The Small Faces happens to be one of my favourite songs. Legend has it that it came on the radio while this project was being conceived, inspiring designer Jim Hamilton to christen the restaurant “Itchycoo”.  After recently launching a new summer menu, I wondered if the food could give me as much pleasure as the '60s classic.

This brasserie-style eatery is part of the four-star Radisson Blu hotel on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, and first impressions suggest it has a sleek, contemporary vibe to it. Sarah and I plonked ourselves down in the far corner and were immediately impressed by the space afforded; another table or two could easily have been squeezed in somewhere.

The welcoming pamphlet states that the menu's ‘roots stem from local Scottish produce’, which got me thinking that there are few restaurants around this touristy location really offering Scottish food worth waxing lyrical about.

The menu itself … hmm, I understand where the concept is coming from, but I’m not entirely sure it really knows what it’s supposed to be.  On the one hand, we have Scottish produce being trumpeted, so I’d come to expect modern Scottish fayre – of which there is some – but you’ve got dishes like fajitas, gnocchi and curry in the mix too. I wondered how many of those dishes were actually ordered by the punters, and reckon you could take four or five of them off the menu and not miss them. Focusing solely on Scottish produce and making the menu more consistent with dishes like Inverurie pork belly or Arbroath smokie fishcakes, would give it a more rounded identity that I feel it craves.

Anyway, our waitress for the evening, Miryana, enthusiastically delivered a few recommendations, poured the wine and duly jotted down our order.  My starter was the Arbroath smokie fish cakes with baby gem salad and a lemon crème fraiche dressing (£5.95), while Sarah ordered chicken, mango and avocado salad at an ambitious £7.95.

My fish cake was fine; pleasant smokiness, seasoned well and crispy on the outside.  The two strands of baby gem were a little lonely amongst the pile of leaves in my salad, which was a shame, but the crème fraiche dressing brought a light and citrusy note that completed this decent starter.

Sarah’s portion looked huge, which you’d kind of hope for if you’re shelling out just shy of eight quid.  The chicken was moist and the plate was well presented. However, the dish really needed seasoning to bring it alive and, while there was a tiny hint of warmth from the light chilli dressing, a big kick of heat wouldn’t have gone amiss.

I had decided on the pork belly beforehand, but changed my mind after Miryana had recommended the 8oz Aberdeen Angus rib eye steak (£24.95). The steak was caramelised on the outside and fairly rare, as requested, on the inside.  The chips were excellent – crisp exterior and a fluffy interior – and the garlic mushrooms were cooked well and didn’t overwhelm with garlic.  A tasty enough dish, completed by a rich peppercorn sauce.

I’d toyed with ordering the Rump of lamb (£17.95) but was put off because its accompaniments were the same as the steak, which I found a little unimaginative, and lead to Sarah request mash potato instead of chips. The lamb was perfectly cooked and the creamy mash was superb. The mushrooms and peppercorn sauce were consistent with the steak. A pleasant enough dish, if not a little uninspired.

Miranya had provided excellent service all night and had talked us into a cocktail afterwards.  She brought us our desserts to round off the meal, having again giving her suggestions with real passion and confidence. I went for the cone, lolly and shake (£7.95), which comprised of strawberry ice cream in a chocolate cone, white blancmange with Maltesers and a chocolate milkshake.  The ice cream cone was, well, an ice cream cone – you can’t really go wrong with that. The blancmange with its refreshing lemony taste was excellent and cut through the creaminess of the ice cream, but that chocolate milkshake wasn’t good.  It just tasted like hot chocolate mixed into cold milk that had been frothed up with a blender; it didn’t really serve any purpose on the plate and could easily have been substituted for a fruit coulis or something along those lines.

Sarah went for raspberry and white chocolate Callebaut cheesecake (£7.95).  A generous portion saw the traditional biscuit base replaced with a light sponge, with amaretti biscuits served on the side.  The flavours of the cheesecake were pleasant, with the raspberries balancing out the creaminess of the middle section.  The macerated berries were fresh and juicy, but the dish lacked a little texture because the amaretti biscuits came soft, as described in the menu. 

So hits and misses with this meal.  For me, you’re paying slightly more for being in the heart of Edinburgh’s tourist area and this meant the meal lacked value for money at points. Nevertheless, there was some solid cooking in a chilled atmosphere, and it was certainly worth noting that the service was exemplary all night.  A couple of menu tweaks couldn’t hurt but overall, we left satisfied. 

0131 473 6517

Open: Mon-Fri 0900 - 0100
          Sat-Sun  1000- 0100

Itchycoo Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

14 May 2014

Review: Clerk's Bar, Edinburgh.

LAST WEEK I was invited to the launch of Clerk's Bar on South Clerk Street.  This new bar is the latest addition to the Maclay Inns group, who have overseen a £400,000 refurbishment of this former Chinese restaurant.  With their new 'fresh food, cooked slow' philosophy and range of craft beers, I went along to see how it measured up.

I had made the decision to review more pubs and step away (slightly) from my normal fine dining background.  This was also a great chance to mingle with some of the other great bloggers we have in Edinburgh.  Anyway... we were ushered down to the basement bar where we were warmly greeted with a goodie bag and a drink (mine a Caesar Augustus and Sarah's a prosecco), as well as a promise that 'food would be here soon'.

The bar itself kind of reminded me more of a Glasgow city centre bar; open and bright upstairs, with a dark and cosy basement you'd expect to find somebody playing an acoustic guitar in.  Not that that's a bad thing. Sarah and I have been on a bit of a nacho binge recently, so Clerk's offering would be under more scrutiny than usual.  First bite was promising, as you could tell these were actually home made, not just poured out of a packet.  The nachos were light and accompanied by a zingy salsa and soothing soured cream.  However, why on earth would you tell me you don't use real cheese?

Next we were presented with some chicken wings in barbecue sauce.  The chicken was tender and the sauce did its job.  At least these were decent sized wings and not those tiny little morsels from a chicken that you probably don't want to know where it came from.

The staff were keen to chat and talk about their vision behind the bar and get feedback from us bloggers. They were very welcoming and took on any comments professionally.

Next came a behemoth of a sharing platter, which included 1/2 rack of ribs, 1/2 a chicken, pulled pork and was served with meaty beans and chips.  The team were keen to focus on the slow cooking and home smoking techniques, so this would be a real acid test.  The ribs were tasty and tender, which a subtle but not overpowering smokiness to it, which was mirrored with the pulled pork and the chicken.  But, everything seriously lacked seasoning for me and there was no salt and pepper shakers on the tables to correct that.  The platter came with a range of sauces in squeezy bottles which was a bit different and i really liked the smoked ketchup.

I must mention those meaty beans (beans with pulled pork through them in a barbeque sauce) because you could have taken the rest of the food away and just left me with a plate of those.  Clerk's Bar is set up to watch various live sports, and i could see me sitting in there with one of those platters, having a few beers with mates.  Certainly great value at £15 because it could have easily fed four, and with a lot of students in this area, i reckon they could be on to a winner.

After a short beer tasting aimed to promote their range of craft beers, even more food was rolled out in the shape of sliders and hot dogs, sadly Sarah and I were too stuffed to taste.  Another time perhaps.

1 May 2014

Clans and Drams Whisky Month

THE SCOTTISH MALT Whisky Society are hosting a plethora of mouth watering food and drink events across Edinburgh throughout May to showcase the finest of Scottish produce.

My colleague Paul Owen will be representing the finest Scottish farmhouse cheeses at a few of these events and has worked with the experts from the Scottish Malt Whisky Society to pair some exceptional whiskys to various cheeses.

You can visit Paul at the World Whisky Day Feast Fair on May 17 at The Vaults in Leith, which will feature great Scottish food producers such as: The Buffalo Farm; Findlay's of Portbello haggis; Crombie's of Edinburgh; beers from the Inveralmond Brewery; Caorunn Gins and renowned mixologist Stuart McCluskey.

On May 21st Paul will join forces with various other top artisan producers and the team at The Dining Room, where guests will be treated to a five-course meal paired with an exceptional dram with each course. Chef and whisky ambassador James Freeman will introduce each course in what promises to be a real feast of Scotland's finest food and drink.  Tickets for this event are priced at £59.

There are many more excellent events being held over the city; for a full list of events and further details visit: http://www.smws.co.uk/clans&drams/