When The Castle Terrace beat fellow nominee Bocca di Lupo to one of the UK’s most prestigious “Best Newcomer” dining awards the year before last, many London critics raised an eyebrow. One by one, they’ve braved the East Coast Main Line and returned convinced. This isn’t just the Best Newcomer, it’s one of the best twenty restaurants in the country.
First impressions are… slightly peculiar. The space that used to be another fine dining restaurant, Abstract, has been entirely remodelled. It’s plush enough, with a gold leaf ceiling and large patterns in muted colours, but it’s hotel-posh, and slightly dated perhaps. The weirdness comes with the attempt to shut out all natural daylight with blinds and heavy drapes. If you have an early table for dinner, you’ll see fringes of light on the floor and above the pelmets, and feel an urge to rise up and – with a dramatic flourish – run around opening all the curtains. It’s unsettling. But this is Edinburgh, so the frequently dreich evenings are worth keeping them closed for.
Dominic Jack runs the kitchen here, and the menu has been put together in association with sibling Leith restaurant, The Kitchin, a long-standing favourite destination for anniversaries and landmark suppers. “From nature to plate” is the mantra for both restaurants, with a focus on Scottish ingredients, a mod British menu and French leanings. The wine list is heavyweight, in every sense, but accessible – if these guys can put a wine on for £20 a bottle, so can everyone. There’s a lot of well chosen wines available by the glass, some well-priced New World bottles, and a lot of French gems. Break out the amazing Puligny-Montrachet for £310 if you’re feeling flush.
I chose the Chef’s Land & Sea Surprising tasting menu with wine pairings, an epic, beautifully presented nine-course affair. I loved just about everything that came out of the kitchen, but some things inspired instant infatuation: Ceviche of halibut was a slab of sushi-style raw fish that came with a scoop of wasabi ice cream… Amazing. Seared hand-dived Orkney scallops with an endive tarte tatin and a grapefruit confit, ditto. Both were delicate and aromatic and woke up the tastebuds. Based on the frequency with which they appear on this menu, Jack is clearly fond of, and an expert with, citrus accents.
The dishes kept coming and got richer and denser. I could have eaten a small mountain of the ravioli of fresh herbs with Highland crowdie cheese in tomato sauce, while risotto of organic spelt with crispy ox tongue and veal heart confit was dark, sexy, slick… Even if you’re a touch squeamish – as I am – and labour over which element the heart is, you’ll soon give yourself over to its absolute pleasures. Then there was grouse and lobster and then finally an orange soufflé with ginger ice cream that I was far too full to eat (wave away the bread basket if you’re in the for the long haul!), but managed to devour anyway. I’d allowed myself two and a half hours for dinner, which really wasn’t long enough – having wolfed down that incredible pudding I had to jog, full as an egg, up to the Royal Mile to make the start of a show at the Edinburgh Festival. I won’t make the same mistake again – food this good deserves a whole evening’s attention. C
Castle Terrace, 33-35 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2EL
0131-229 1222; castleterracerestaurant.com