7th March 2015 7pm
Hidden away, just off Dundas Street, sits the Howard Hotel. The Atholl Restaurant, which lies within the hotel, is a small venue with only 14 covers and has to meet the needs of hotel guests and the casual diner alike, so booking is advisable if you wish to try this place. This restaurant has been awarded two AA rosettes so it had a reputation to live up to.
Upon arrival we were welcomed and offered a choice of table. We opted for one of the window tables. It was a shame that the view was obstructed by a window box hedge but I can understand them wanting to offer privacy to their diners. The room felt a little dated but it is difficult to get the balance with these older properties and probably suited the venue. No music was playing for a while but we eventually got some classical music going to give the place a bit of a lift and to stop our voices echoing around the room. We had booked the tasting menu because of a voucher we’d bought. I often choose not to opt for hotel restaurants but this seemed a great value deal. The menu consisted of 7 courses plus tea/coffee and petit fours. There was an option to pair this with wines for an extra £30 or to add a cheese course for £9.50.
The staff were discreet and quiet, gently enquiring after our preferences throughout our dinner. We were provided with some bread rolls, which were nicely warmed and ready to slather butter onto. This might have been better to arrive with the soup course but I was happy to chow down on it immediately. The amuse bouche followed shortly after. This was a mozzarella and tomato tart. For such a small thing it was packed full of flavour. The creaminess of the cheese came through in particular but the drizzle of sauce over the top added freshness that kept the dish well balanced. A number of carefully placed micro leaves adorned the plate. There was an obvious attention to detail although I am not sure whether they were really needed.
The next course was a leek and potato soup with garlic sippets. This soup had a fantastic green colour, which I prefer to soups that look wishy-washy. My dining partner was pleased that the soup was relatively hot, commenting that soups are too often served luke warm. I actually prefer my soups luke warm. However, we both seemed satisfied with it so the Howard must have found the ambient temperature for soup serving! The soup had depth, texture and a fresh yet comforting flavour.
Following the soup was a ham hock terrine with pear chutney and a charcoal oatcake. This was visually a great dish, with the charcoal oatcake creating a striking image on the plate. The terrine itself looked appetising. Once we started digging in, it wasn’t quite as good as it looked. It was nice but a few little things let it down. The terrine itself seemed under-seasoned, which is saying something from me, who doesn’t use much seasoning in cooking. The oatcake was also a little too hard for my preference but was still pleasant, although I could have done with a second to go with the volume of terrine and chutney. The chutney itself was absolutely delicious. All in all, this dish worked well together and still managed to be an enjoyable course, even with my little quibbles.
Up next was a salmon fillet with wilted spinach and a lobster bisque. The salmon was nicely cooked and it flaked well and was not dry in the slightest. The wilted spinach managed to be full of taste and seasoned to perfection. I was pleased to see it was not a mass of pulp, which spinach is prone to becoming if overcooked. The bisque wasn’t quite what I was expecting and felt more like a dressing on the plate. That aside, it still tasted very good. After this we had a lemon sorbet palate cleanser. There is not too much to say here apart from it was zingy but not overpowering or running the risk of tasting like washing up liquid. It did the job it was supposed to and I was ready for the next course.
We were served pan fried highland beef fillet, dauphinoise potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, salsify and a red wine jus. This was the highlight of the menu. It was good to see that even with a voucher deal that you still get to have a fillet cut and a massive one at that. The fillet itself was cooked well, although there did not appear to be much difference between a medium and rare piece. The salsify had a great earthy depth. The potatoes were served in a stack and have to be some of the tastiest I’ve ever had. I was a little worried that it would be too much to finish when I saw it stacked on my plate but as soon as I tasted it, I gobbled the whole lot down. The mushrooms were full of woodland essence and their softness complemented the dish. This whole dish looked so unassuming on arrival yet packed in so much.
Finally, we were served a dark chocolate and orange torte with almond foam. As suspected, this was a very chocolate-y dish and could be a little too much for some, particularly for a tasting menu. It might work better as part of a three course meal. The top had a crunchy texture which helped break up the torte’s denseness, as did the fruit reduction. I am not sure what the almond foam offered. It didn’t help lighten the dish but it certainly gave it a beautiful visual element.
We were too full for coffee, so didn’t get to try to petit fours (and were not offered them when we said no to coffee, which is a little annoying as I don’t drink tea or coffee anyway so would I not have been offered them if my dining companion had opted for coffee?). We were not rushed out, which was nice but we ended up being the only diners in as the hotel guests drifted off and we seemed to have been forgotten about. We were not offered any further drinks, so they missed a trick there. We finally got someone’s attention and got the bill to pay for the wine my friend had and hand over the voucher. We had a nice chat at this point with what might have been the manager about the voucher deal and how popular it had been.
This place offers good, decent food. Whilst this restaurant might not set the world alight, it would certainly make you feel very happy that you’d come and been fed extremely well.
Food – 8.5
Service – 8
Atmosphere – 7
Value – 9
Cost – £65 for two (itison voucher) not paired with wines. Full price would usually be £110.