Before the Covid crisis, Ms B and I visited Edinburgh. As it happened, the anniversary of our first date fell into that period. So we decided to treat ourselves to a meal at Edinburgh’s first and longest-standing Michelin-starred restaurant: Martin Wishart.
The restaurant’s homonymous owner and chef is a proud Scotsman who was born in town. At the age of 29, after years of training under Albert Roux, Michel Roux Jr, and Marco Pierre White, he founded this eatery in 1999. Two years later it was awarded its Michelin star and has kept it ever since. Well done there.
French traditions with a modern twist
Wishart’s cooking is based in French traditions and techniques, but with a modern twist. He puts a strong focus on locally sourced, high-quality ingredients wherever possible.
Since opening his flagship restaurant, he successfully opened two more restaurants, one in the same city, and one in Cameron, Loch Lomond. He also runs a catering service and a cooking school.
“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.”
When Wishart opened the restaurant in Edinburgh’s Leith district, this docklands area had only just begun to recover from decades of neglect and deprivation. Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting is set here in 1993. The quote from the heading is taken from the novel, as many of you will probably have recognised.
Today the area is upmarket and hip, with many restaurants, cafes, nice paths along the river, and an overpriced middle-class street food market a few minutes’ walk away over the bridge. The royal yacht Britannia is also anchored near-by.
The restaurant itself has a pleasant atmosphere. Bright, with a lot of space, and beech panels alternating with wallpaper on the walls. Elegant but modern, and not too pretentious.
The menu and our choices
The menu choices were limited: two four-course set menus called “A La Carte”, even though “A La Carte” usually denotes the opposite of a set menu. One of the menus was a regular one and one was vegetarian. Moreover, there was a five-course “Tasting Menu”.
The regular set menu came at £90 and had two options for each course. The tasting menu was in effect very similar to the set menu, except that there was no choice and an additional course. The first, second, and third course of the tasting menu were identical with options available for the first two courses of the set “A La Carte” menu.
It is not unheard of that high-end restaurants sometimes have a very short menu. But having only three options for mains aside from the vegetarian option and only six options for the first few courses seemed a bit lazy. Luckily enough, all the options looked attractive.
Ms B opted for the four-course set menu, while I chose the five-course tasting menu, which to our amusement came ten pounds cheaper at £80, despite the additional course and same-sized portions. Probably a good thing.
The four-course set menu had a 1st course of foie gras and apricot, caramelised nuts & seeds, and Oloroso sherry jelly. The 2nd course was Feuillantine of veal and sweetbreads, buttered cabbage, and truffle puree. For the 3rd and main course Ms B had been ready to choose one of the two options from the menu. However, she was informed to her delight that there was a special of the day, grouse (at £10 extra), which she happily ordered instead. As dessert she went for the Scottish strawberries, fennel crémeux, and strawberry sorbet.
My five-course tasting menu had a 1st course of Peterhead mackerel, beetroot, burrata, tomato, and avocado. My 2nd course was identical with Ms B’s 1st course: foie gras. The 3rd course was Orkney scallop, sunchoke and sweet potato, truffle and hazelnut pesto. The 4th and main course was loin of Borders roe deer, braised baby gem, goats cheese gnocchi in sauce grand veneur. As 5th course I opted for the cheese platter (at a very reasonable extra £5).
Considering we had plans to enjoy a few drinks that night, we decided not to overdo it and only ordered a jug of water with two glasses, no wine. We can’t be sure, but it is possible that there was a slight hint of disapproval in the waiter’s face at his guests “cheaping out” on their £200 meal. We didn’t spend another thought on it.
Shortly after we had ordered, the waiter arrived with the first amuse-bouche: gazpacho with sweet basil, tomato and swede in a hollow, savoury meringue and a crisp with pureed cabbage and herbs. Nothing mind-blowing, but easy on the eye and not unpleasant.
The sourdough, that was served next, was so amazing that we asked for another helping twice. It went rather well with the light, creamy, mild, and almost foamy salted seaweed butter, the black olive tapenade, and the Italian tomato garlic basil concoction it came with.
The pea veloutés and horseradish croquettes with apple curd on celeriac sauce sounded like an interesting combination at first, but were for the most part lacking in flavour.
As soon as we had gobbled down our amuse-bouches, our starters were served. I have never been a huge fan of foie gras, but Ms B does have a taste for it (whenever possible the more ethically produced variety). The waver-thin slice had an astonishingly strong taste and went well with the apricot, caramelised nuts & seeds, and the sherry jelly. Even I had to admit that as far as foie gras goes, this was one of the best ones we had enjoyed outside France.
If I’d have to put my hand down on my favourite dish of the day, though, it would have to be the simplest dish of the day: the vinegar mackerel with beetroot, burrata, tomato, and pureed avocado. It might not require a lot of skill or finesse, but still: nicely executed and so refreshing. With one exception perhaps: no one needs pureed avocado with a dish like this one.
Before the mains
Next up where my pop at foie gras and the Feuillantine of veal and sweetbreads, buttered cabbage, and truffle puree. Ms B liked the presentation and I can see why. I had a strange feeling about the dish as soon as it appeared in my sight.
I could spot bits of ligament in the veal slices and I couldn’t for the life of me see how the combinations of textures would ever work out well.
Being a brave little marine, I cut a bite-sized portion vertically off the meaty layer-cake, put it into my mouth, and started chewing the rubbery and very oily bit. A minute later I was still chewing, but my teeth weren’t able to split the veal chunk into smaller bits that would be easier to swallow. Considering that Ms B and I had some other plans this afternoon, I made the mistake of trying to swallow the whole bit in one go.
For a big feller I have a small mouth and what was bound to happen did happen: I swallowed only part of the veal chunk, while the rest of it was still sitting on the rear end of my tongue, connected with the swallowed piece through strings of ligament. I started feeling very uncomfortable, almost panicky, and tried hectically to swallow the remaining bit of the veal chunk too. A strong urge to vomit overcame me. Just before disaster was about to strike, I finally managed to swallow the remainder of the veal chunk and the nausea subsided.
Ms B did not feel tempted to try any of the dish, so we let it go back to the kitchen nearly untouched. The waiter did not ask why we had chosen to do so and we could not be bothered to offer our vile views to staff who at this point showed so little interest in our well-being.
Before the mains were going to be served, Ms B & I shared my 3rd course. Personally I prefer my scallops either as sashimi or reasonably à point, but I concede that I might well be in the minority here, so no judgement from my side.
The scallop was pan-fried on each side for a short while, but largely raw inside. The combination with pureed Jerusalem artichoke and sweet potato did not work for me. Equally, the truffle and hazelnut pesto might have sounded interesting when I spotted them on the menu, but on my actual plate this turned out to be a no for me, too.
Grouse and venison
The mains were both solid, rustic cooking with no attempts to add flair or panache.
First arrived Ms B’s grouse in a cast iron pot. It was fun to watch the waiter serve it step by step. Then my loin of Borders roe deer was brought to the table.
The goats cheese gnocchi did not look or taste like any gnocchi I had ever encountered. However, that is, of course, fine, and they went well with the sauce. For a long time, and rightly so, sauce grand veneur has been a favourite among French chefs like Alain Ducasse for their game. Plenty of red wine and cognac, no complaints, except that maybe twice as much sauce would have been even better. The braised baby gem was mainly watery and mushy. Who came up with the idea of braising baby gem anyway…
The venison was absolutely delicious, even though perhaps a tad overdone and not quite as tender as I would have hoped.
Ms B was happy with her grouse. I found the taste and texture of the meat very appealing, but the sides and the sauce slightly below average, even for a good country pub. And I normally like any sauce with Armagnac.
Strawberries and cheese
The strawberry sorbet and cheese platter were both delightful. Not convinced this was the right plate and time for fennel crémeux.
The petit fours were entirely out of this world. Some of the best ones either of us had tasted. We were pleased to finish the meal on such a positive note.
Will we be back?
We will certainly not be back. There were some pretty decent dishes among the courses during our lunch. However, when we visited Edinburgh that time, we had so many fantastic meals at so many different restaurants, usually for about half the price or less. We don’t think this meal was worth the price tag or the Michelin star, so this will have to be 2.25 out of 5.