We didn’t come to Edinburgh to eat.
We came to see a castle – and some comedy.
We arrive smack bang in the middle of the Fringe Festival. I haven’t seen this many unwashed 22 year old boys handing out fliers, hoping to make someone laugh over a beer since at orientation week at University.
Out by the docks, it’s a touch more civilised.
We’ve spent the morning wandering around Leith.
First we totter into Kinloch Anderson to sticky beak at highland costume (and discover an excellent place to buy long wool ski-worthy socks for tall men).
We take a look at the Britannia. It’s a big boat.
And we scrape into lunch at The Kitchin, thanks to someone else’s last minute cancellation. Their loss is our gain.
The Kitchin first opened in 2006. It’s where at 29 Tom Kitchin became the youngest chef/patron to get a Michelin star.
Tom Kitchin’s food prizes seasonality, marrying French techniques from working with Alain Ducasse and Pierre Koffmann with prime Scottish produce.
He also does a pretty appealing set lunch.
It’s 12.15 pm when The Hungry One and I make our way in through the front bar. It’s a mix of stone and glass with a modern mash of colours- from the Thomas The Tank Engine green eaves, beetroot curtains and bright blue chairs.
Out the back in the belly of the restaurant it’s more subdued- exposed stone walls, slate grey walls and display shelves that step up and down like Tuscan terraces. The tables are set with elegant glass ware and nifty placemats that look like chainmail but bend like rubber.
We can glimpse into the kitchen through a rectangular window at shoulder height. It’s easy to recognise Tom Kitchin’s moppish curls from his appearances on UK Masterchef and the Great British Menu.
As soon as we’ve sat down a gift is ferried to the table. It’s a bouquet of crudités, house baked crispbreads and a wee pot of blue cheese dressing. It’s a light and inspired reminder of the summer season, even if the weather outside is doing a better impression of a Sydney winter (cue grey drizzle and a need for light woolens).
The set menu includes three choices for each course, plus the option of play time with the cheese trolley. My eyes immediately go to grouse; it’s some of the first from game season. That’s until I see the supplement of £25 listed next to it. It’s nearly the same price as the three other courses put together. Maybe next time.
Next there’s a second compliment from the kitchen.
A small bowl of gazpacho is pocked with a lesson in knife skills; an itty brunioise of celery, red pepper and some croutons which shatter under tooth. The textures are lovely, but what makes it dance is a back note of acidity and heat. If an amuse bouche is supposed to amuse the mouth, this one fills the bill.
For starters there’s a terrine of Eyemouth mackrel and a celebratory wreath of heritage tomatoes. Dotted over the top are dehydrated discs of black olive. They crumble like shortbread, but are as salty as sucking rocks from the shore.
A ravioli of Clash Farm ham hock with Perthshire girolles is a waltz between comfort and refinement. The combination of mushroom, dairy, fat and ham is a lazy morning under a duvet, yet the sauce and pasta remain ethereally light.
There’s an obvious celebration of Scottish produce at The Kitchin, with provenance highlighted in the menu. Ox tongue is specified as coming from Peter Flockhart, while roasted duck hails from Loomswood Farm. Both are very, very good.
The ox tongue surprises as crisp nuggets hiding in a pale green garlic and parsley risotto.
Over the top there’s a gently set hen’s egg, which floods the plate with a luridly orange yolk. For crackle there are fried parsley leaves.
The other main course at our table is slices of duck, which are pink as a lolling tongue. The sweet meat is paired with beetroot, carrot and a sticky orange sauce. Jutting out the side, like a lost child is a lone slice of Chinese green.
Desserts are stamped from France. A lemon soufflé is a castle on a cloud with a whiff of lemon and sugar crepes in its crust. What is curious is the chocolate ice cream to the side. Lemon and chocolate isn’t a combination that holds hands in the same way as lemon and cream, or chocolate and orange- but it works. The density of the cocoa provides a sturdy foil for the air puffed pudding.
Lastly it’s a raspberry vacherin with vanilla ice cream, poached peaches and Perthshire raspberries. The ice cream is sandwiched like a yoyo between two discs of meringue. It’s a sweet play on peach melba and as pretty as a picture.
There’s the option of wine pairings and for £22.50 three wines are matched. The service is a little brusque and the din of the other patrons makes the descriptions tricky to discern- but when most other wines are listed at £10-£14 a glass, it’s a sound path.
The Kitchin may be down by the harbour, but there’s little view and the dining room is relatively dark. Yet a meal here still manages to provide an escapist journey across Scotland – via the produce on the plates.
It’s an indulgent, but not excessively formal meal. The Kitchin cleverly clutches to some trappings of starred service (many which come on wheels; there’s the bread trolley, cheese trolley, and another for whiskey), but it also has a young and vibrant floor staff who dole out smiles as broad as their accents.
We didn’t come to Edinburgh to eat.
That was a mistake.
78 Commercial Street, Edinburgh,
Midlothian EH6 6LX, United Kingdom
+44 131 555 1755