Mama Lemur had a significant birthday recently and, in a surprise celebration, we went to Tom Kitchin’s highly-regarded Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin. It was a lovely evening with great food in glamorous surroundings, and Tom even came out to talk to my mum and wish her a happy birthday. It was also incredibly good value for such high-end cooking, further proof of my not-very-original thesis that eating out is at its best at either the very low or very high price points, with the mid-range restaurants often giving the worst value for money. Here, the emphasis on Scottish seafood and meat made for some top quality plates, though there was nothing vegetarian on the entire menu as far as I could see, which is really not on in this day and age. In this case, though, I was planning on ordering a seafood-heavy meal to take full advantage of being in Scotland.
The starters menu had been taunting me ever since I knew I was going. I wanted everything. Razor clams, scallops, langoustine, snails…how was a girl to decide? I eventually plumped for the Pig’s Head and Langoustine, partly because I thought the surf and turf aspect of the dish could give me meaty and seafoody pleasures and partly because of its description of a “crispy ear salad”. Neither Related Lemur nor I could get past the idea of crispy ear salad and we both ordered this dish. Now I know I have to stop talking about my problems with Michelin starred restaurants or people will stop taking me to them, but as it turned out, Pig’s Head and Langoustine was not what I wanted it to be. First of all, it came with a mayonnaise dressing, which I couldn’t eat as I don’t eat eggs. I might be picky but at the same time, lots of people don’t eat eggs and I think a restaurant this fancy should disclose what’s in a dish so that people can select accordingly. I had to send it back, which was awkward, and have them make me a new one, which of course came without any dressing and was thus rather dry. The eggs weren’t my only issue, sadly. The much vaunted crispy ear salad turned out to be a few decorative strands of ear, deep fried to within an inch of their lives. I’ll take Tom Kitchin’s word that they were ear but they could have been deep fried hair for all I know: they had none of the chewy/crunchy texture of pig’s ear, which may have been the point, but for me it missed the mark. The rolled pig head, meanwhile, was tasty but too heavy and the langoustine got lost in it all. I can’t imagine the mayonnaise would have helped even if I liked it: the dish wanted something sharp and light to cut all that fried pork, not more rich creaminess.
So I had a bit of a sad on my first course, which was not alleviated when I tasted the dishes of Mama Lemur and Mr Lemur. Of course, their starters were delicious, amazing, transformative. Mr Lemur had bone marrow with snails, quail’s egg, parsley, mushrooms and jambon de Bayonne. (I’ll note that the menu also failed to mention the quail’s egg on this. It’s boggling to me.) I tasted the end of the bone far far from the egg and was just blown away. Obviously, bone marrow is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts but beyond its natural deliciousness, this dish was a symphony of flavour. The ham, the snails, some kind of meaty juicy sauce…I only ate a bite and I wanted to hit Mr Lemur over the head with a large sausage and make off with his food.
Meanwhile, my mother had chosen from the lighter end of the menu, a ceviche style raw scallop dish consisting of wafer-thin scallop slices dressed in a Thai-style fish sauce and lime dressing with toasted peanuts. I’m generally leery of Asian dishes in non-Asian restaurants but this was very very good. It wouldn’t have been out of place in Nahm, plus of course it had super-fresh Orkney scallops. I won’t go so far as to say that I considered mugging my mum on her birthday, but this was also a delicious dish.
All told, I was happy to move on to the main courses, where I hoped not to lose this time around. Luckily, the mains were all winnners. I shared a monkfish dish for two with Mr Lemur: roasted tail of Scrabster monkfish wrapped in pancetta, served with coco beans finished in basil butter and a mussel and clam marinier. The monkfish was perfectly cooked, as you’d expect, which was in itself a pleasure as monkfish is tricky as well as expensive so I don’t eat it very much at home. The coco beans were a little weird, in a good way. We’d forgotten they were in there and much time was spent trying to work out what exactly we were eating. Basil butter was kind of like pesto without the cheese, and so the whole thing had that totally fictional sense of lightness in which the flavours say ‘spring!’ and yet the textures are all about the fat content.
The most exciting dish of the night was lamb cooked in hay which came with a side plate of assorted lamb bits. This plate included a sausage and some mysterious slices of something that, on consultation with the waiter, we learned were testicles. Yes, lamb testicles. I must confess that I did not eat the testicles – I don’t have many strict rules when it comes to body parts I won’t eat but yeah, that’s one of them. It must be said that all who ate them pronounced them delicious but I’m not sure if that was a psychological trick in which their brains decided that if they’d eaten the fracking lamb bollocks, then they were darn well going to be worth it. I stuck to my monkfish and although the lamb was very tasty, I think we held our own in this course.
I didn’t necessarily need dessert but I felt like I needed something to redeem the starter, or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Mr Lemur and I shared a Yorkshire rhubarb soufflé with rhubarb ripple ice cream and that made up for a lot. (Yes, I know soufflés are made with eggs. I admit it’s not entirely rational. I just can’t stand things that taste of egg. Cakes are fine. Whatever.) The soufflé was one of the lightest I’ve ever eaten, and really rhubarby. I’m a sucker for rhubarb and have been since I was a child and the stuff grew wild in our back garden. This soufflé captured the sour-sweet pleasures of rhubarb perfectly.
Finally, we monstered our way through some fab petit fours, including addictive ginger-flavoured ganaches, and Tom very generously chatted with Mama Lemur and posed for pictures. It was the perfect end to the evening and, ear salad notwithstanding, well worth the flight to Edinburgh.