THE KITCHIN: HS'S MEAL OF THE YEAR 2009
The woman at the table of four next to ours lifted her pre-dinner glass of champagne and made a toast.
“Here’s to surprises” she said as her companions looked each other in the eye and clinked glasses.
I glanced down at my menu and thought to myself “wait until you see the bloody prices, love. You’ll get all the surprises you can handle”
The pricing at The Kitchin is not for those faint of heart or wallet. Starters come in at around the £17 mark, main courses nudge and often whiz past £30 as if it was a wheezy fat boy on a cross country run, the puddings are a flicker less than a tenner and the tasting menu is about the same price as a recent model Ford Focus from a reputable dealer.
“It had better be good” I added out loud as Sybil drew in a large intake of breath and did a silent conversion of worthless Sterling to Yankee dollars.
First impressions were less than positive. Bread was cold and workaday, butter hard if not quite fridge fresh. I was beginning to regret having listened to my juniors and betters who had told me that The Kitchin was a must not miss for the Edinburgh portion of our round Britain tour.
Then things got better, much better. Amuse seldom do, but a mini bowl of game consommé was, quite frankly astonishing. Flecked with teeny-weeny diced vegetables and slivers of bone marrow, the crystal clear broth was seasoned generously and layered with flavour. I began to realise why people whose opinions I respect had raved about The Kitchin.
The regular menu is supplemented by a list of autumn specials, but I began with one of the signature dishes in the form of Pig’s Head and Langoustine. This dish has Kitchin’s style all over it, robust flavours complimented by elegance and technique. The head meat had been boned, rolled and laced with cumin, fennel seed and garam masala. In the hands of someone less deft, it could have been too much. Instead the flavours contrasted perfectly with the sweet meat of a small langoustine tail and the creamy base of a sauce gribiche.
Sybil’s razor clams may have carried their Scottish name “spoots” on the menu, but the approach to cooking them was Iberian in nature with chorizo and diced vegetables adding taste to a mollusc that is primarily all about texture. She preferred her dish, I preferred mine. Everyone was a winner.
Our wait for the main course was interrupted by the arrival of a complimentary dish from the kitchen. It’s churlish to be mean about any free food and fortunately, I don’t have to be about the dish which appeared courtesy of this Kitchin. This was the best course of food I have eaten all year, anywhere. A long beef bone had been roasted and split in two, half on each plate. On top had been layered a generous portion of meaty snails, equally robust chanterelle mushrooms and strips of crisp Jamon Iberico. Some sharp parsley added crunch and finally it was topped with a small, perfectly cooked quails egg whose yolk broke to add a glistening coating to the other ingredients. Even Sybil, who is ambivalent to matters cow related when it comes to eating, wiped her plate clean, scooping the last of the hot, blubbery marrow from the bone with a small spoon.
I am a great fan of food being prepared at the table. We don’t see nearly enough of it any more. What ever happened to the likely lads of flambéed steak and the Crepe Suzette? It is time to bring a bit of tableside theatre back to dining. So, we both jumped at the chance of sharing a main course of whole roasted John Dory carved in front of us by our charming Gallic server. Dinner theatre does not come cheap, however, and our fish would need to do some pretty fancy acting to justify the £64 price tag. Fortunately, it was as good a piece of St Peter’s Fish as I can recall being served. The fish flaked perfectly and worked well with some braised seasonal vegetables and a terrific beurre blanc. Only two cloves of garlic let the side down, having been under cooked delivering a harsh raw taste rather than the complimentary sweetness I expect was their purpose.
I was confused by the absence of a pre-dessert. Not that I craved any more free dishes, but what had gone before had been so rich and so densely flavoured, that a mouth cleansing something would have been useful as we waited for dessert to arrive. When they did, my mouth was still filled with the taste of consommé, pig’s head, bone marrow and beurre blanc, which left a competent if uninspiring tarte tatin flailing in the face of such strong opponents. Sybil’s chocolate soufflé was an excellent version, but almost too rich to finish and she needed the help of her future life partner to polish it off. Hey, that’s what I am there for.
These final dishes when added to a bottle of sparkling mineral water for me, a glass of wine for Sybil and a well deserved tip brought the bill to £150 for two, a whacking great amount for anyone. However, although I am still reeling from the cost, for one of those all too rare occasions I don’t feel like I have been bent over when fine dining in the UK.
Although, I may not have suffered the anticipated rectal pain and although the meal at The Kitchin may not have been without its flaws, it still knocked just about every other meal of its type this year into a cocked hat. And, in that plate of roasted marrow bone, quail egg, jamon iberico, chanterelle and snails, it produced a dish I shall be day dreaming about for a long time to come.