Aurora

Aurora

26th November 2017 11am

www.auroraedinburgh.co.uk

We’d been invited by the lovely peeps at Aurora to try out their place. Newly opened in Leith, Aurora had only been open a couple of weeks when we visited but are clearly aware that their small shop front might mean people don’t realise they are there. So here I am, waving a flag for them – because the food is lush. This is not so surprising though, as the chef comes from Salt in Morningside.

Coffee - Aurora

Coffee – Aurora

We decided to visit late on a Sunday morning for brunch (they are currently open 9am-5pm 7 days a week but are trialling some evening openings). The venue is small but perfectly formed. Decked out in stripped wood and interesting decorative features, Aurora is definitely not a greasy spoon. I couldn’t resist ordering the full breakfast – although I toyed with the idea of eggs Benedict and the shakshuka – whilst my friend chose eggs royale with a coffee.

Full Breakfast - Aurora

Full Breakfast – Aurora

We saw some fellow diners’ food come past us and it got us excited. It looked amazing and we weren’t disappointed when our plates arrived. The plates somehow still managed to look clean and sharp, even with breakfasts on them. My breakfast consisted of bacon, sausage, Stornaway black pudding, eggs, tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, sourdough and a smattering of rocket on top. I had asked for my eggs fried but they came poached but I was actually so glad they did as this worked better with the rest of the food and oozed golden yolk. It was clear the foodie cosmos was on my side. I couldn’t fault anything on the dish. I was most amazed by the portobello mushrooms. They had so much intensity that I could have eaten a plateful of those alone. The bacon was crispy without being overdone. The eggs, as I mentioned before, were cooked to perfection.

Eggs Royale - Aurora

Eggs Royale – Aurora

Across from me, my friend was delighted by her eggs royale. The Loch Fyne hot smoked salmon was generous in portion and tasted delicious. The poached eggs were just as good as mine has been. They were sat on top of sourdough and accompanied by wilted spinach. The hollandaise was very clever though. Laced with truffle, the sauce was sparse on the plate. My friend was a little worried there wasn’t enough but with the yolk of the egg, the dish was perfectly balanced. Licking the plate clean was discussed.

We were mightily impressed by Aurora’s offering and was reasonably priced for the quality of the food. It’s worth seeking out that small shop front for the big flavours hidden inside.

Food – 9/10
Service – 9/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 8/10

Overall – 34/40

Would I eat here again? Yes as I have already got my eye on other dishes on the menu.

Cost – this meal was complimentary but would have likely cost just under £20 for a full breakfast, eggs royale and a coffee.

Whilst this meal was complimentary, all views are my own. Thank you to Margherita for organising.

Amuse bouche - Castle Terrace

Castle Terrace

25th November 2017 7pm

https://castleterracerestaurant.com/

I hadn’t been to Castle Terrace for over three years, but it had been a firm favourite of mine. With such a big gap, I still somehow managed to visit the restaurant twice in a week – once for lunch and once for dinner. It is the dinner I will be reviewing because I think it put them through their paces more. This was part of my birthday celebrations so we already knew we were all in on the tasting menu (because why wouldn’t you?!).

On arrival we were warmly greeted and had our coats taken in exchange for a cute little charm, so we could claim them back later. We were immediately taken to our table, even though we had arrived a little early, which suited us fine. We noticed later that other people were given stools for their handbags. We were not. I had this happen at the Kitchin too. I don’t know why our handbags were fine to be left on the floor but others not. My poor handbag has now developed a complex.

We were only given drinks menus to start, which we found a little frustrating as we hadn’t indicated at that point that we were choosing the tasting menu, so those drinking wine had no idea what the cost of a paired wines option was or if they had gone for the a la carte menu, what they might be eating so to choose an appropriate wine. This resorted in them not going for the matches wines option, which undoubtedly cost the restaurant some profit. I chose a cocktail – Scottish Rose. I was horrified on its arrival that it had a slice of cucumber in it. I should have guessed as the cocktail had Hendricks gin as an element but it also has Cointreau and rose water. Anyway, I scooped it out and left it on my side plate.

Amuse bouche - Castle Terrace

Amuse bouche – Castle Terrace

We were brought some amuse bouche which consisted of a goats cheese, apricot and pork collar, salt cod barbajuan and a Caesar salad. These were delightful on the eye (a recurring theme), with the goats cheese canapé looking like a mini eggs and bacon and the Caesar salad a vivid green hue, which had to be popped in your mouth in one go as it was in fact liquid inside. All lots of fun but still packing in some serious flavour. Some bread was also brought to the table with some salted butter. The bread was warm, with a crunchy exterior. It would have been nice if they had offered to take away my slice of cucumber (from the aforementioned cocktail) so I could use my side plate properly but that didn’t happen. It just glared at me as I scooted my bread around the remainder of the plate.

We ordered the surprise tasting menu and stipulated dietary requirements. We then waited for what was quite a long time before we had the next lot of food. The appetiser arrived a good 45 minutes after we entered the restaurant. This was the only real wait we had but it wasn’t a great start. The appetiser was a panna cotta of Arbroath smokie. It was clever as it looked like an egg but the yolk was mango. A smart idea which really tricked the mind. The smokiness came through well too, so it wasn’t all style and no substance.

Salmon tartare - Castle Terrace

Salmon tartare – Castle Terrace

The next course was tartare of Shetland salmon, served a little like sushi. The salmon was exquisite and had sesame seeds scattered across it. Placed delicately on top was a small quenelle of wasabi ice cream. I love wasabi ice cream so revelled in eating that. There were also small cubes of soy sauce jelly, alongside slivers of ginger and cucumber (or courgette for those who disliked cucumber). The textures and flavours were executed to perfection in this dish. I really had to restrain myself from gobbling it all up too quickly.

Skate - Castle Terrace

Skate – Castle Terrace

Next came a seared wing of skate, served with a light curry sauce. The skate had a beautiful golden colour to its top, which provided a lovely taste and texture. A little bit of coconut was scattered on top. To its side were some dehydrated grapes and apricot, a celeriac purée topped with a crispy shallot, and a mini naan. Every single mouthful danced on the palate. The curry sauce, whilst light, was still thick and had a mild heat running through it. I was tempted to lick the plate.

Pork ‘burger’ - Castle Terrace

Pork ‘burger’ – Castle Terrace

The next dish was very clever indeed. It was presented to us as a pork burger but nothing was quite what it seemed. The meat component was a patty of pork, but with additional elements inside. The bun was actually made of chickpea. It was astounding that this still managed to not just look like but also have the texture of bread. There was a slice of ketchup but in jelly form and what looked like some cheese was in fact turnip. It seemed only the lettuce leaf was wearing its true identity. The whole thing came with a pork jus. Utterly delicious.

Cod - Castle Terrace

Cod – Castle Terrace

The fish course was probably one of the least memorable of the evening. That isn’t to say that it was bad – it just didn’t stand out as much. It was a cod dish and had been poached, with a minestrone of vegetables sat on top with a crab ravioli. A crab bisque was then poured over the top. The fish was soft and the bisque was velvety. A solid course, just a bit uninspiring after the previous dishes.

Spelt risotto - Castle Terrace

Spelt risotto – Castle Terrace

Onto the meat course. This was a spelt risotto with various beef elements on top. I first had a spelt risotto here several years ago and fell in love with it. I’ve yet to have a spelt risotto as good and was as tasty as I remembered it. On top was heart, beef slices and oxtail. Each element was packed with flavour and was quite a rich dish and felt quite opulent but somehow homely at the same time. One of my friends described this course as spectacular.

Apple and mascarpone cheesecake - Castle Terrace

Apple and mascarpone cheesecake – Castle Terrace

Lastly came the dessert. This was an apple and mascarpone cheesecake. A swirl of caramelised sesame seeds sat on top with a slice of confit lime and apple sorbet. This was not too heavy for dessert and the flavours were relatively subtle, apart from the confit lime which was quite tart and make me pucker up. One of the staff was fiddling around in opening a bottle of wine for the next table at a little side table between us and them. Whilst he did this he encroached on my friend’s space while she was trying to eat, with his side rubbing up against her arm. This isn’t a good set up at all and needs to be adjusted.

Petit Fours - Castle Terrace

Petit Fours – Castle Terrace

My friends ordered an espresso and a breakfast tea, which arrived with petit fours for us all. My friend who had chosen tea wasn’t offered milk, so had to ask for it, which yet again was a little disappointing. The petit fours were cute and tasted nice though but not as fun as the amuse bouche at the beginning of the meal.

I know from what I’ve written sounds as if I didn’t have a great time but that’s not true. Overall, I did enjoy the experience but it wasn’t as good as times gone past. The food was excellent but elements of the service took the shine off it. At another restaurant I wouldn’t have found such things annoying but at this standard of restaurant, there is more scrutiny. My friend also found some of the insistence of the sommelier a little pressurising, particularly as they had already made their choice. As an aside, my lunch experience was different because I went with someone who was a regular and was recognised by all the staff – plus it wasn’t busy. This shouldn’t really impact on the experience. Perhaps this is why they lost their Michelin star.

Food – 9/10
Service- 8/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 8/10

Overall – 33/40

Would I eat here again? Yes but I’d probably pick the Kitchin instead.

Cost £320 for three tasting menus, two half bottles of wine and a cocktail

Venison - Monteiths

Monteiths

23rd November 2017 7pm

www.monteithsrestaurant.co.uk

Well the day had come – my 40th birthday (did I hear someone say I don’t look 40?!). I had quite a few foodie related plans in the weeks surrounding my birthday but my friends had organised a surprise outing to Monteiths. The last time I had visited was before the birth of Edinburgh Feasts, so I was intrigued to see what they now offered.

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Monteiths can be found down a pretty path off the Royal Mile, easily spotted by the wicker and fairy light arch. The restaurant isn’t that large but they have managed to slot in a small bar area too, so you can visit just for drinks if you wish. Whilst perusing the menu one of the waiting staff came over with a cocktail for me for my birthday, which was a really nice touch. It was a Rosehip Gimlet and had a highly entertaining head of foam. Back to the menu – we were a little surprised that there wasn’t really much for vegetarians. However, our veggie diner spoke to the waiting staff who said they could rustle up a risotto and asked for vegetable preferences. It does amaze me in this day and age that there aren’t at least a couple of vegetarian options as standard for each course on a menu. Anyway, we chose an array of foods. I opted for the crispy squid to start, followed by the venison. My friends chose items such as seafood chowder, liver parfait, smoked bacon rashers and heritage tomatoes for their starters and mussels, steak, risotto and chicken for their mains.

All the starters looked great. My squid had a lovely batter with a good flavour. The squid was not chewy or rubbery and the accompanying side salad had a beautiful dressing on it (to the point that I wondered whether I preferred the salad to the squid!). Everyone seemed to be enjoying their food, with nods specifically to the parfait with port jelly and the bacon rashers, which came with a butterscotch sauce.

The mains continued on the same theme. However, there did seem to be a bit of variety in the sizes of the portions, with the risotto being quite large and the venison being relatively small. My venison was exquisite though. The flavours really worked together on the plate. The meat itself was cooked pink (which you were advised upon ordering), and came with a cauliflower puree, spring onions and beetroot. It felt like a good winter dish without being too stodgy. The mussels, which were a special, were plentiful and had a good sauce. It would have been useful to provide finger bowls at the time of eating rather than needing to be requested at the end of the meal, but that is a minor quibble. The steak and chips were good, but the cooked tomatoes were not really cooked, which would have been fine with me but meant my friend who had this left them uneaten. The chicken dish was also really good, with the peppercorn sauce giving a peppery kick. The additional flavours of haggis, shallot and turnip worked well.

We didn’t end up having dessert as Monteith’s were really kind and allowed us to have a cake (of the caterpillar variety) and set it up and brought it over. In fact, the staff in general were really good at ensuring they knew it was my birthday, looking after my needs as priority in the group and wishing me a happy birthday as soon as I sat down.

We all enjoyed our visit to Montieths and is well worth a try.

Food – 8/10
Service – 9/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 7.5/10

Overall – 32.5/40

Would I eat here again? Yes!Cost £377 for 8 starters and mains, a few sides, two bottles of wine, 6 cocktails, a gin and tonic and some sparkling water.

Quay Commons

Quay Commons

27th October 2017 6.15pm

https://www.quaycommons.co/

After having a booking at Black Pig and Oyster, which we found to be shut on arrival, we took the opportunity to try Quay Commons. This restaurant is from the same people as Gardener’s Cottage (although we’ve yet to visit there). Quay Commons acts not only as a restaurant but a bakery and bar, which results in the dining space feeling relatively informal.

The dining menu is relatively short. I went for whitebait followed by mussels and my dining companion went for starter sized mussels followed by beef short rib. We also ordered some soft drinks, although they had run out of Appletise, which was a bit disappointing considering they only had a short list of options. The server gave only one of us a spoon for the mussels (and then to me having it as a main rather than to my friend who was having mussels first as a starter). The starters were great. My whitebait was decent and plentiful. They came with a scurvy grass mayo, which worked well with the fish. My friend adored her mussels. She loved the white wine sauce, which wasn’t overly creamy. The toasted baguette on the side was a nice touch.

Braised Beef Short Rib - Quay Commons

Braised Beef Short Rib – Quay Commons

The chef brought out the mains (and had a look on his face as if the waitress had forgotten). Again, the mussels were good and was essentially a larger portion of the starter. However, the cost provided better value along the way at Café Tartine, which we had dined at a few weeks previously. The beef short rib on the other side of the table was massive. It was nice but she couldn’t finish it. It would certainly be too fatty for some people the potatoes and mushrooms were also good. We waited getting on for 20 mins for our plates to be cleared and then she only took one plate and proceeded to do other jobs around the restaurant before clearing the second when we got her attention to ask for the bill. What was weirder was that by that time, we were the only diners in the restaurant so shouldn’t have been receiving such service. All in all the service was pleasant enough but just a bit odd.

Our experience was a little bit underwhelming. Not bad, just not enough that I want to rush back.

Food – 7/10
Service – 5/10
Atmosphere – 6/10
Value – 7/10

Overall – 25/40

Would I eat here again? Unlikely

Cost £46 for two starters, two mains and two soft drinks

Steak, Egg and Chips - Ivy on the Square

The Ivy on the Square

3rd October 2017 6pm

https://theivyedinburgh.com/

There was much fanfare around the Ivy opening in Edinburgh. Set in the much regenerated St Andrew Square, the Ivy on the Square is compact but visually appealing. Inside, we didn’t find the seating as comfy as it was nice on the eye. That being said, it wasn’t terrible. The cocktail list a bit short and nothing took my fancy so gave it a miss. They do offer an early evening set menu but we decided to order from the a la carte. I went for steak tartare (which can also come as a main) followed by braised venison. Across the table my friend chose wasabi prawns with salt and pepper squid followed by steak, egg and chips.

My tartare came out on a wooden board with a glass casing. A piece of wood with a small sprig of rosemary was smoking inside. The glass was lifted and the smokey aroma swirled. This dish came with a side of two full slices of granary toast. I usually complain that the tartare to toast ratio is off, with not enough toast, but it was actually the other way round. However, it was all very nice. The egg on top provided the right amount of creaminess and the capers delivered some sharpness. Across the table, my friend was swooning over her prawns and squid. The batter was delicious and could be dipped in a wasabi mayo with miso sauce.

Our mains looked nice but not overly practical in the eating. My braised venison smelt delicious and was a bit like a casserole but the mash was served on a separate plate which whilst kept the mash fresh, it was a little cumbersome. However, the mash was excellent and probably was the saviour to what would have been a mediocre dish. On the other side of the table, the steak, egg and chips were presented well, but the chips were served in a tall silver cup and couldn’t be taken off the plate due to the juices on the plate touching the bottom of the cup, and my friend felt it wouldn’t have been appropriate to take it off to sit on the pristine white tablecloth. She had been offered her steak to be cooked pink or well done. She chose pink, but ion slicing the meat, it was apparent that it was not. It wasn’t well done either and we do appreciate that it is difficult to do with this thickness of steak but perhaps an option shouldn’t be offered. Overall though, the flavour was good but the chips were a bit disappointing.

Desserts were enticing, so I chose the chocolate bombe and my friend went for the apple tart fine. These both had a bit of wow factor when brought to the table but unfortunately the photos do not do this justice, by both taking the one of the chocolate bombe after the hot sauce had been poured and just not adequately capturing the flambé on the apple tart – so you will just have to take my word for it. The chocolate bombe had a vanilla ice cream and honeycomb centre and the hot butterscotch sauce was poured over the chocolate shell to make it melt. This all tasted wonderful. The butterscotch flavour in particular was exquisite. Across the table, my dining companion felt there was too much alcohol poured on her dessert and not enough was burnt off, which led to a harsh flavour. As she went on, the flavour eventually absorbed and the tart was good from that point on, but who wants to sit for 5 minutes with their food in front of them not being able to eat it? It was also a rather large tart, so she was unable to finish it.

The Ivy on the Square was a bit hit and miss but certainly more of a hit. It will do well on name and location but needs a bit of tweaking to be considered comparable to other fine establishments in the city.

Food – 8/10
Service – 8/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 7/10

Overall – 31/40

Would I eat here again? Yes but it wouldn’t be my first port of call.

Cost £80 for two starters, mains and desserts plus a glass of wine.

Brewhemia

Brewhemia

13th September 2017 5.30pm

https://brewhemia.co.uk/

Brewhemia opened in August and is easily identifiable on Market Street by their floral front entrance. The place seems quite large, with a variety of spaces for drinks and food. We were seated in a booth that had a handy buzzer for bubbles. No doubt this feature is going to be very popular! They also offer tank beer, with six of their own copper beer tanks. As we both scoured the menu, we found our eyes were drawn to virtually all the options, one after another. In the end, I settled on the 6oz Scottish beef burger, with an additional side of onion rings (the burger already came with chips). My friend changed her mind at the last minute and ended up choosing the Scottish sirloin steak sandwich with a side of truffle and parmesan house chips. I also ordered a long bramble cocktail and my friend chose a large glass of red wine.

Brewhemia

Brewhemia

When the food arrived, they looked appetising. My onion rings were perched on top of my burger, so I got stuck into them straight away. I was really impressed with these. They were crispy and had managed to avoid the usual blandness you get with below-par onion rings. The burger was huge and I did struggle on an eating strategy but ended up cutting it in half and using my hands. The meat patty was excellent and had great flavour. The bun held up against the burger juices. The accompanying chips were fine but hovering around the average mark. There was an additional slice of pickle and a beetroot slaw, which were acceptable but didn’t add masses to the dish. Across the table, my friend’s steak sandwich was a little on the rare side but as long as you are fine with this, you will enjoy this dish. She wolfed it down, finding the mushroom jam and the IPA onion compote particularly nice additions, along with the very lovely side of truffle and parmesan house chips. She didn’t think the crisps on the side were up to much though.

We were so tempted by the desserts on the fist sift of the menu, we couldn’t deny ourselves the experience. I chose the rhubarb Edinburgh Gin crumble and my dining companion chose the Brewhemia sundae. My crumble turned out to be quite large. However, it was delicious. I liked the crumble as it was, only lightly toasted and plenty of goo. My friend commented that if it had been her dish she would have preferred it to be darker. It was accompanied by a sorbet and a cold crème anglaise. Whilst both were excellent, I think that no sorbet and either a warm custard or a cream would have worked better here. I didn’t manage to get through all of the crumble but I did make a valiant attempt. On the other side of the table the sundae consisted of vanilla ice cream, macaroon and IPA cherries. My friend inhaled most of this but began to struggle near the end as the cherries became more potent. That didn’t stop her picking a couple more out before the plates were taken away.

Brewhemia is a decent offering, with a nice drinks list and a sturdy option of pub grub. Definitely worth a visit.

Food – 8/10
Service – 8/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 8/10

Overall 32/40

Would I eat here again? Yes. It’s a good location and a large space.

£52 for two mains, two sides, two desserts, a cocktail and a large glass of wine

View from Old Chain Pier

Old Chain Pier

12th September 2017 7.30pm

http://oldchainpier.com/

A friend had just moved along the road from Old Chain Pier and conveniently there was a voucher deal for two grazing platters and four glasses of wine at said establishment, so we snapped that up and visited. In a beautiful location overlooking the Forth, we were delighted to be given a table by the window. We ordered our platters knowing that we may order some supplementary food later.

Grazing platter - Old Chain Pier

Grazing platter – Old Chain Pier

The platters came in crate type boxes but weren’t completely identical, with only one having balsamic vinegar and olive oil dip and only one had bell tomatoes, but nevertheless, these were tasty. Each also had a salad, cornichons, sundried tomatoes, mixed antipasti, olives, hummous, blue cheese, brie, cheddar, bread, oatcakes and butter. The bread was plentiful and soft. The hummus was delicious. All the antipasti was beautiful and full of flavour. The voucher was really good value for money.

However, we were all quite hungry before we arrived, so still had space for a little more. So we ordered the half kilo bowl of mussels, chilli and a portion of chips between the four of us. I have to say that the mussels were exceptional. They were nestled in a garlic, white wine and cream sauce and served with crusty bread. The chips were also decent. The chilli had great flavour but was not a thick enough consistency, which was a shame. The nachos looked a little lacklustre but actually were tasty.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (half eaten) - Old Chain Pier

Sticky Toffee Pudding (half eaten) – Old Chain Pier

Two of the table decided to share a dessert. They went for sticky toffee pudding and chose ice cream over cream as its accompaniment. Whilst this was nice and light, neither of them would say it was strictly a sticky toffee pudding as it had a strong cinnamon flavour. Apologies for the photo of it half eaten!

Old Chain Pier

Old Chain Pier

We had a really lovely time at the Old Chain Pier. The staff were friendly and the settling was delightful. A few little wobbles with the food but nothing detrimental and actually some wonderful stuff to enjoy. Certainly worth checking out.

Food – 7.5/10
Service – 8/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 8.5/10

Overall – 32/40

Would I eat here again? Yes

Cost £26 for the voucher plus a further £31 for two mains, a side of chips, a dessert, a glass of wine and a coffee