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Friday, 22 May 2009

Review - Restaurant 21212

On Wednesday I attended the opening night of Paul Kitching's new operation, Restaurant 21212 and it was really rather good; the restaurant is the ground floor of a Georgian Townhouse (the old 3 Royal Terrace for those who remember) with a drawing room and private dining area on the 1st floor and plush rooms above. It's been decorated in sympathy with the period features yet has a contemporary edge; it feels as effortlessly stylish as Per Se coupled with a relaxed and welcoming ambiance.

Anyway, we arrived to a warm welcome and were invited to repair to the dining room for some opening night Champagne, all very civilised. It was here that we saw Paul popping in to speak to the waiters, checking they were ready for the night ahead; he looked understandably anxious but still made time to say hello.

The menu was as billed, a choice of two starters, a soup, two mains, a cheese course and two desserts; bread was offered which was stuffed with pistachios, dried fruit and curry notes, I found it lovely though my wife, who doesn't like dried fruit, was a bit disappointed in the lack of choice. Technically it was great, light and airy, it excited the palate without being filling.

To start I had the Chicken BLT while the rest of the table opted for Scallops with "seven peas". The Chicken was a wonderful deconstruction of an otherwise indifferent sandwich, the distinct flavours all worked together and were stunning individually. The Scallops were almost as nice, I suspect they were butter-poached as they were plump, succulent and scallopy, the "seven peas" seems to be peas prepared in seven ways, most successful though my wife and mother-in-law felt some of the peas were too hard, I tried a couple and suspect they may have been dried.

Next came the soup, it was cauliflower, carrot and apple with a slice of salami and, randomly, a confectionery apple string; for all this was the stand out dish of the evening, every mouthful brought a different combination of flavours that were a wonderful symphony in ones mouth. Seriously, I can't rave enough about this, equally I can only hint at the depth of flavour - as it constantly changed it would take far too long to describe.

For the mains I opted for the Turbot and Chorizo while the others had the Beef. The Turbot was as good a piece of fish as I've had in a long time, accompanied by lentils, caperberries, a baby chorizo and a couple of sauces which I couldn't even identify but were wonderful (am I beginning to overuse that word?), the lentils were slightly underdone for my taste but didn't bring the dish down. The others enjoyed the beef, it was served with what looked like some gremolata and they reported further lemon hints coming from what they called "the white stuff", not too technically helpful but they loved it.

Until the cheese came, all conversation at the table was suspended when the dishes arrived, only to resume while waiting for the next course. I would say we fell silent in reverence at the altar of Paul Kitching, but that might be a bit too melodramatic. It was seriously good though.Anyway, the cheese course allowed us to eat and talk, there was a great selection of 10 British and French cheeses served with porridge biscuits and a couple of others which I ignored. Can I just commend 21212 for having this as a separate course and for having it in the correct place (jamais le sucre avant le sale).

A pre-dessert came out of coconut and porridge infused milk, served in paper shot cups from a cute cow-shaped milk jug; this was great and fun, the flavours developed in the mouth like those of a good wine with the coconut surging and then ebbing to leave a delicious oatyness. Not too impressed with the paper cups though, they do look like something you'd find containing ketchup in an Ikea canteen, shot glasses would be preferable.

For dessert I had a baked custard which was flavoured with cumin and caraway and loaded with sultanas and kumquat and which was accompanied by a raspberry and linseed trifle; both dishes packed a flavourful punch that I'm still salivating over. The rest of the table enjoyed cheesecake and a fiery ginger sorbet that was so well received I didn't get to try any of it.

We had to leave at this point, our substitute babysitter having a time limit, so we didn't have time for coffee but Katie kindly presented both my wife and mother-in-law with some bon-bons to take home. I've eaten my wife's as I'm writing this, they are unctuous and mellow and could almost have converted me to dark chocolate. Fiona's going to kill me when she finds them gone.

Anyway, in summary: Restaurant 21212 is fantastic, Paul's dishes are going to challenge the culinary status-quo in Edinburgh by offering intelligent and complex flavours that excite the palate, all done with humour and a deft and skillful had. Even at Per Se, I only had one dish that made me this excited, at 21212 I had 5.The wine list is rather good with some interesting bottles there, though I do wonder if some of the mark-ups may be more London than Edinburgh (I'm thinking of a £60 bottle of Frank Phelan here, it was only a 2005 and I'm sure the last bottle I bought at retail was £17). The staff are pretty much faultless, welcoming and attentive but informal; they are really quite knowledgeable and seem to be proud of where they work. Justifiably.

On the down side, this was an opening night and there are a few things I think we'll see tweaked over the next weeks and months, lack of choice in bread, some of the cutlery is a bit more style over substance - I'm thinking of the two pronged forks that the others were given for the beef in particular and I don't think the room is large enough to be served napkins from a tray, it was nice but perhaps just impractical.

Is this worth £60 per head? Certainly.
Is this deserving of stars? Definitely 1, a few tweaks and possibly 2.
Should people go? Yes, but not too many of you, I always want to be able to get a table.

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