I DON’T VENTURE up town much these days, not for food anyway. But with a new flurry of restaurants opening, most of which are firmly established in London town, I might need to make more of an effort, at least to assess the impact Wahaca, Dishoom and co. have had on the Edinburgh dining scene. Tonight, we are at a venue that requires no introduction - The Balmoral - checking out Hadrian’s Brasserie.
I have often overlooked Hadrian’s in favour of its Michelin-starred sister, Number One, but was intrigued when I heard they used the same suppliers. Both restaurants are operated under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Jeff Bland, so the signs all suggested we would leave satisfied.
I opened with East Neuk crab with black sesame and cucumber (£11). The presentation suggested that this was an established dish and it certainly created a positive first impression. On diving in, the freshness and flavours managed to heighten expectations: fresh, top quality crab, as expected, were met with a pleasant charcoal-tasting crunch from the striking tuille, a well-made mayonnaise and refreshing vibes from the cucumber. A pleasing dish that I’d score an eight (out of ten), I just felt the addition of lemon or perhaps pickling the cucumber would have taken it to another level - the crab certainly belonged there.
Sarah started with hand-dived Tarbert scallops, quinoa, date and salted almonds (£12.50). The scallops were beautifully cooked; buttery inside with a crisp coating. It was an interesting balance of textures that kept you on your toes. The crunchy, toasted almonds and a warming richness from the dates coincided with the light pieces of apple and cucumber, creating a Middle Eastern slant that worked with one of the jewels of our natural larder.
The menu features a grill section alongside a range of main courses that continue the theme of showcasing Scottish produce. With that in mind, I went for another of our stars in the form of Allandale venison with braised red cabbage and wild mushrooms (£24.50). This is cooking just the way I like it and a top-notch dish all-round. An exquisite loin of venison was cooked to perfection with a neat, buttery potato terrine contributing richness. The flavours of spice from the red cabbage were the real star of this dish with the ‘shrooms adding an earthy, natural note to this sublime main course.
Isle of Gigha halibut with kohlrabi, wild mushrooms and red wine sauce came at a cost of £23.50. Presentation was again modern and slick, demonstrating an expertly dispatched piece of fish cookery. Kohlrabi doesn’t have much flavour, so is ideal to pickle, bringing acidity to the creamy potato and fish elements of this delicious plate of food.
I tend to take stock during the gap between mains and dessert. It made me consider my perceptions of a brasserie: busy, loud, tight tables. The times I’ve walked past and peered into the windows at Hadrian’s done nothing to quash that perception, but this is a really well thought-out dining space. Tables aren’t cramped together, it isn’t too loud (although being ¾ full) and the service as flawless, not just on our tables but from what you could gather from surrounding ones, too. It’s a much more relaxed service than you’d perhaps expect, one that is managed by a well-trained and very professional front of house team.
I trusted our waitress so much that I asked her to select my dessert for me, and a bloody good job she did, too. The pudding was billed simply as ‘bitter chocolate, caramel and milk sorbet’. For my tenner, it came in the form of a chocolate delice – a delicious one at that – which is one of my favourite desserts. It was dense and extravagant, mirrored by pieces of gold leaf on top of a cleansing milk sorbet. The chocolate chards brought both height and texture, providing a platform for the technique of a skilled pastry chef.
For her final course, Sarah chose the Crowdie cheesecake with mango and coconut (£8). The cheesecake was more robust than expected with the sharp mango sorbet and glaze providing a needed sharpness to cut through the creaminess. The coconut element was delivered in two parts: 1) shaved pieces that brought a warming, nutty note that works so well with tropical fruits and 2) a modern coconut ‘snow’ that lends texture, as well as a cooling component.
A very impressive display of hospitality, both service and food-wise from the team at Hadrian’s. It was difficult to find fault on what was a pretty flawless dinner session, which is what I’d expect when visiting this particular five star hotel. If I was looking for somewhere to show of the best of Scottish, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Hadrian’s Brasserie.
Phone: (0131) 556 2414
Address: The Balmoral Hotel, 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2EQ