Author: Suse Coon

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Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
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Restaurants

Something Special on the Edinburgh Eating Experience

Having poached chef David Scott from nearby Howie’s, and given him a brand new kitchen complete with Josper oven, Blackwood’s owner Mr Manvinder Puri promised something very special when he invited members of the press to Nira Caledonia in Gloucester Place last week. Not surprising then, that the 20 setting restaurant was full. Yes, we journalists have a tough time of it.

First impressions were of a friendly but not intrusive welcome to a classical Edinburgh Georgian townhouse. Because that’s what Blackwood’s restaurant is. While I suspect that the Planning Department would have had a say in this, the modernisations have done nothing to spoil the period features typical of Georgian terrace houses in this desirable part of the city and the decor does everything to enhance them. Despite black walls, the high ceilings, gold coloured upholstery and brilliant chandeliers helped to create a feeling of bright cheeriness on a cold winter’s evening and the decision not to squeeze as many covers as possible into the room allowed for a comfortable layout.

cosy bar at Blackwood's restaurantWe began in the bar, where an array of cocktails were on offer, including a whisky cocktail from the barman, Robbie Douglas, who has a licence to produce his own whisky.  Thoughtfully, there was a non alcoholic cocktail but I tried the crême de menthe, prosecco and peppermint leaves which was very refreshing.  One hesitates to start with a disappointment, but despite being informed that there were vegetarians coming, the canapés on offer were all taboo. And they looked so tempting! I can only tell you that the spicy prawns disappeared very quickly!

As we were seated, it became clear that the vegetarian issue was going to continue and would we mind skipping one of the four courses. Believing in quality rather than quantity I wasn’t complaining. In fact only one of us at the table took the first course of Shetland mussels, David avoiding the white wine and garlic cliché and cooking them instead in white wine and chilli – apparently delicious and of course, smoky, from the Josper oven.

David Scott with Josper grillThe Josper oven, it should now be explained, is a two tier affair with charcoal in the bottom. The idea is that it is very hot – and David has the scars to prove it – and lets you initially sear your meat to seal in the flavours, then shift it further up the oven to cook through. It’s very much an art – certainly there isn’t the controllability that busy chefs appreciate – but the smoky taste imparted to everything is very interesting and rather fun. This is only the second to appear in Edinburgh.

The next course was pheasant, partridge and pigeon terrine, accompanied by a spiced apple chutney and oatcakes. For the non meat eaters, there was a most acceptable mushroom risotto, again with the ubiquitous smoky flavour.

The main course was a masterpiece of Scottish meats, a mixed grill platter of beef fillet, pork loin chop and lamb cutlet. David is so particular about the sources of his meat he practically makes friends with the animals before cooking them. Peelham Farm in Berwickshire is the source of the organic free-range pork and lamb while Highland Drovers of Perth supply the pedigreed Highland Cattle beef. The side vegetables consisted of wilted spinach and new potatoes, also cooked in the grill and a green peppercorn and Glenkinchie whisky sauce provided a bit of fun.

Sea bass was another option for the main course and appreciative moans came from those who enjoyed that. My own stuffed pepper may have sounded dull but was anything but. For a start it was a sweet pepper rather than the usual bell pepper. It was smoky – which isn’t an option from my oven – and it was stuffed with David’s personal version of spinach and cream cheese, the cream cheese being Scottish Crowdie from the local market, rather than ricotta. Fearful that it may have been Caboc, which is also used in the Blackwood’s kitchen, I was grateful for the low-fat option and again this attention to using Scottish produce impressed me.

The conversation never flagged and we were hoping for a rest before the deserts, but there was no rest. We were there to work.

Cruelly, there were four tasters of desert – banana sticky toffee pudding, Chocolate Fudge Cake with Chocolate Ice Cream, a delightfully light raspberry and Drambuie cranachan trifle and a white chocolate and Baileys cheesecake, which I confess I had to take away.

Coffee and brandy (or something from the fine selection of malts behind the bar) followed. It was only then, as we sat back in our chairs in slump mode, that we realised that while I had been sitting slightly lower than comfort dictated – I’m used to that – the six foot tall gentleman at our table had had the same difficulty. Perhaps they don’t like you to rest your elbows on the table, although I’m told it’s quite acceptable these days.  Once the cutlery is down, it wasn’t an issue but we thought it odd that a restaurant of this calibre didn’t have dining chairs the right height.

But that seems like nit-picking so, who is going to enjoy a night at Blackwood’s restaurant? Mr Puri believes that his hotel guests will wish to explore Edinburgh and not dine there as a matter of course. Indeed, only 20 people at a time can eat there. His target is discerning local residents who appreciate the ambiance, who call in to the bar of an evening often enough to be recognised by the staff and who will come to the restaurant every so often because it is like a home from home.

Gourmets will love (though I suppose you could get tired of it eventually) the Josper experience and appreciate the attention to sourcing excellent, sustainable, local produce. Like all good chefs, David Scott regards the published menu just as a starting point. He is happy for pescatarians and vegetarians and those with allergies to negotiate and indeed has a range of starters which are perfectly suitable for upgrading (size-wise) to main course dishes. He has developed a new menu to allow him to show off the best features of the Josper oven while keeping a couple of personal favourites.

The prices are around £7 for a starter, mains around £20 and you can find a bottle of house wine at under £20 so bring the credit card. At Blackwoods you are paying for excellent food and a rather special atmosphere – and I would suggest that many people will be more than happy to do so.

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