You want to chat, you want to eat, you want fairly central Edinburgh. Where would you go? Throw in that one of you is veggie but doesn’t mind pizza or macaroni cheese if it helps. You end up at David Banns in St Mary’s Street, where they have been since moving from Hunter Square in 2002.
When David Banns opened in Hunter Square in the mid 90s, it provided a revelation and â€“ a small revolution â€“ Â in vegetarian cooking. Thoughtful menus, with vegetables given just as much loving attention to detail as that of any animal based selection, made it (almost) fashionable to eat veggie. I wondered how well David Banns would have stood the test of tongues over time, now that no restaurant is complete without at least one good vegetarian option on top of the pizza/pasta/omelette fallback and food is the new sex.
David Bann himself is still in charge in the kitchen. Â “Being vegetarian myself it was the only type of cooking I wanted to do,” he says. Â “We have developed our style over those years and as the public knowledge and understanding of food in general has changed.”
It was a Monday night Â so, as the restaurant seats 80, we assumed it would be safe not to book. For once I was early and the suggested corner table was perfect for a serious discussion. Although I had explained I was meeting someone at 6, I was pleasantly surprised not to be pestered for a drink order while I was waiting. Instead, my coat was taken and a carafe of water brought to the table, giving me something a little more sophisticated than the solitaire app on my mobile phone to play with.
I could also admire the decor, dark aubergine or cream walls and deeply grained wood flooring, managing to be restful rather than gloomy and cheery with candles glowing on every table and proper napkins. Then one became two and there was a lot of chatting which delayed the ordering. No problem. Rolls and butter were offered.
Unfortunately for this review, we were both tempted by the Â “Arborio rice cooked in our broth with leek, white wine, mascarpone and Lyburn Farm mature cheese. Served with butternut squash roasted with lemon, thyme and caraway”.Â All food is cooked to order, so we knew we would have a bit of a wait but the rolls tided us over, washed down by glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. When our meals did arrive, we were not disappointed.
Perhaps that’s where my risottos go wrong. Arborio rice is a short grained rice that remains chewy when cooked and is perfect for risotto, so worth seeking out. Similarly, white mascarpone cheese is light and spreadable and perfect for thickening the juice. When you go to David Banns, it’s the little things that make the difference.
The risotto was topped with rich ripe chunks of butternut squash â€“ a relatively new to us version of the pumpkin. This is where, when you are looking for your vegetarian protein, the healthy balance comes in as the butternut squash is a fruit whichÂ isÂ rich inÂ fibre, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium andÂ potassiumÂ as well asÂ vitamins AÂ and E. The leek was less visible but could clearly be tasted and theÂ lemon, thyme and caraway added a lightness and fragrance to the dish, all in harmony.
The wines were as expected, with the Tempranillo complementing but not overpowering the flavours.
I can’t offer you the detailed recipe because, as David says, “Risotto is a dish you can experiment with once you have the basic technique sorted, adding a good stock with plenty of stirring. We use white wine and garlic to cook the leek first.Â We add a little mascarpone and seasoning.Â The Squash is pre-roasted with olive oil, fresh thyme and lemon juice. As I say, experiment!”
So why not give it a go and add your tips for favourite risottos below.