Saturday 3 April 2010

Edinburgh's recent heavyweights: The Plumed Horse vs The Kitchin

Mainly thanks to having the bestest parents in the world, I've been fortunate to eat out in two of the hotshot restaurants of the time in Edinburgh in recent months. Edinburgh's restaurant scene has been described as "burgeoning" since the middle ages, with dockland Leith, in particular, the focal point. Both The Plumed Horse, and The Kitchin are in this area. Both lived up to their illustrious reputations.

The Plumed Horse is in real Trainspotting territory. On an unpromising street in...well, nowhere to be honest, it's an inauspicious start. We went there courtesy of my mum as a joint celebration for differing successes for myself and my dad. The atmosphere is robust and lively. In a side room there was a group getting loudly and enjoyably smashed; happily, the staff didn't look embarrassed or apologetic, but got on with their jobs amicably. The rotund maitre d' provided exceptional banter, of the sort that makes you feel at home and at ease. Enjoyment was the name of the game here.

The food, though far from cheap, was excellent. Canapés and amuses bouches were a cracking start, but my foie gras terrine took things to the next level - lush, rich, but not over the top. An undoubted highlight. We universally agreed that the main courses were oversalted, but that was a minor detail; I plumped for a pork offering, consisting of pork fillet (superb) combined with belly (less so). The fudge and ginger parfait for dessert was highly inventive and tasty, although I felt it was overly chilled.

Fast forward a few months to today. We've been meaning to go to The Kitchin for years now, but have always been foiled either by circumstance or lack of space. It's always been top of our "must do" list, and finally today was the day - in my birthday honour, no less. It's a different experience. Part of the "trendy yet bleak" Commercial Quay restaurant development, which is the sort of place you parachute yourself into for a meal, then escape from in a taxi forthwith, the decor is a stylish and well thought out charcoal grey, in a spacious, modern interior. Very impressive. The canapés, this time cheese pastries and parsnip crisps, were forgettable, however the amuse bouche of cock-a-leekie soup was superb; clearly a showboat for the chefs' broth-making skills, it did the job perfectly. From then on the quality was uniformly high. I had langoustine ravioli in a langoustine bisque for starter. I had a slight quibble that the foam on the bisque would have been better removed as the texture wasn't quite right, but the flavour was wonderfully rich. Julienned and grated vegetables in the bisque added interest. Elsewhere "thumbs up" reports came for the ox tongue and pig's head terrine.

The service was the downer. Identikit skinny, twenty-something males promoting the Auld Alliance with their peculiar brand of Franco-Scottishness, were overly obsequious - one even bowing as he introduced the canapés. It was all a bit much and a hint of personality and even individuality would have been nice. They do have the natural advantage, however, that they are serving top grade food, and the main course of mutton did not disappoint. Consting of a chop, a herbed and spiced croquette of minced pork, and what was either a sweetbread or even a piece of veal, all sitting on a bed of cumin-enhanced aubergine caviar, this was a real winner, with the croquette the highlight. Other corners of the table expressed their approval of a squid dish. The chocolate soufflé was a knockout winner - with superb caramel ice cream just taking the mickey. A nice glass of Australian Muscat rounded off the meal admirably. The set menu was unusually interesting and didn't make you look longingly at the expensive a la carte.

So - which to go for? The Plumed Horse was one of the best all round restaurant experiences I've ever had - only slightly let down by slight basic errors like over salting and over chilling. At this level, anything less than perfection can be a let down. The Kitchin, on the other hand, edged it on the culinary front, but suffered by comparison where ambience was concerned. I'll call it a (high-scoring) draw; if you can see past the "yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir" slender youths serving your food, the the Kitchin may be the best bet; personally, I had a slightly more enjoyable time at the Plumed Horse. This is all hair splitting though; both are exquisite.

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