_ Capital starters
Catherine Fellows adjusts her bib and samples the menus at two of Edinburgh’s newest restaurants: Les Partisans and The Rock Cafe.
It‘s always exciting to see restaurants opening — and particularly now when shop fronts are being boarded up more often than painted by enthusiastic new owners. Amongst Edinburgh‘s recent arrivals are the Rock Cafe in Howe Street. and Les Partisans. which has certainly made a splash on the Royal Mile with its bright yellow portal.
Both have been conceived in full awareness of the recession. The team behind Les Partisans has gone for the no-frills approach: their small. inventive French menu Changes daily and you can eat for £6 at lunchtime. £13.51) in the evening all in. By contrast. John Mackay of the Rock (‘afe is offering a fixed
7 OLD FISHMARKET CLOSE
W Open seven days food served all day fri 8: sat
tuesday- soturday I900 - 2200
menu focused on top quality Aberdeen Angus beef. Scottish salmon and maize-fed chicken. Because most of the dishes rely on these three basic ingredients and are simple to prepare. the restaurant is able to offer better food for less money.
It‘s easy to see why people have accused Mackay"s baby of having an identity crisis: is it a ‘serious‘ restaurant or a theme cafe? The faces looming from the walls are
‘You can order a BLT attwo, salmon en croute at five and a home-made cheeseburger at
eleven should you so wish.’
straight out of a student’s bedroom:
a mural composed of rock pin-ups. from Elvis to Bowie and Madonna. runs the length and breadth of the restaurant. and there is music to match. And yet. the visible cooking area. the cold cabinet ofsumptuous desserts and the capacious wine rack all promise quality food. Why should this be a contradiction says Mackay. why not have cooking on a par with Cosmo's and Raffaelli's in a relaxed. cafe atmosphere? He does seem to have got the balance right: big windows and spacious arrangement of furniture. modern candlesticks and colourful Ware On [Earth crockery give the place enough sophistication to make it attractive to the likes of the two bejewelled thirty-somethings with painted nails who were sipping champagne while I was there — and a group ofstudents seemed equally at home behind their huge mugs ofcappuccino.
The all-things-to-all-people idea is helped by the structure of the menu — most dishes are around £6. but prices range from £1 .85 for salmon bisque to £12.95 for fillet steak — and by the fact that chef Mark Evison (ex ()ne Devonshire Garden and latterly. Maison Hector) orone ofhis team is on hand at any time between midday and midnight: you can order a BL'I’ at two. salmon en croutc at five and a home-made cheeseburger at eleven should you so wish.
I started w iili chicken liver parfait served with a basket of French bread and a glass of house red — a very fresh. nicely tart C(ites du Rhone. Mackay makes such extravagent claims for his food — ‘best in the city. you‘ll faint when you try this‘ kind of
thing — that I was a tad sceptical when 1 took my first mouthful. but I have to admit the parfait was excellent: smooth. creamy texture and subtle traditional French ﬂavour. with none of that horrible high offal taste that patés can suffer from. It was a huge piece. but it all went. along with the generous garnish of lollo rosso and cherry tomato.
As a main course. I ordered salmon fillets baked with hollandaise sauce. The fish was lean. tender. fresh-from-the-sea-tasting: really among the best salmon l have had. Having it baked in the sauce. which was nicely browned. made it even more delicious. Also on the huge platter were pommes dauphinoises lightly ﬂavoured with garlic. a selection ofsteamed vegetables. and salad leaves flavoured with fresh herbs. The house white was lovely too — fragrant. crisp and dry with the tiniest hint of honey. For pudding I chose a caramel mousse brulee. the light. puffy texture complemented perfectly by the crispy bits where the icing sugar had been ‘bruleed’ in a criss-cross pattern. After an espresso 1 staggered out enormously contented: the meal was too rich. but that was my fault.
The difference that wonderful ingredients and careful. on-site preparation make is here for the tasting. It is no surprise to me that the small number of gourmets who have already discovered Rock Cafe keep returning — I imagine soon we will be fighting for tables.
Exiting at Les Partisans is a totally different experience: less ‘(ilaswegian stylish'. more rough and ready bistro. The three ‘partisans'. Hamish McSwan. Mark Budworth and chef Ian Burdall (formerly of'l‘hc Shore) have transformed what was a long-deserted nightclub into a capacious whitewashed restaurant cluttered with basic wooden tables and chairs. At one end there is a bar
area. and the walls throughout are hung with an assortment of intriguing. often surreal work by contemporary artists. The service is very friendly and laid-back. and when l was there on a Friday lunchtime. the place full of dark-suited lawyers. the atmosphere was mellow and boozy. with said lawyers making full use of Les Partisans‘ impressive and extensive wine list.
Both restaurants have just compiled their Christmas menus and are taking bookings now.
I Les Partisans is offering a choice of leek and butter bean soup. game terrine with cranberries or smoked trout mousse. followed by turkey stuffed with haggis. salmon with hollandaise or venison with blackcurrant liqueur sauce finishing with Christmas pud. chocolate 'delices' with butterscotch sauce or alcoholic ice creams and coffee. The charge is £13.50 a head and they ask for a 1() per cent deposit.
I The Rock Cale chefs are using Christmas as an excuse to ﬂex their culinary biceps: choices will include feulliette of mussels and scallops with cognac cream. breast ofduck with port and apricot sauce. fillet of beefwith madeira and leeks and rack of lamb with rosemary and redcurrant. £19.51) per head.
For more details, contact:
Rock Cafe, 18 Howe Street, Edinburgh, ()31 225 7225.
Les Partisans, 144 High Street. Royal Mile. Edinburgh, ()31 225 5144.
FLAVOUR or THE roermear
THE ROCK CAFE
A wholesome sweet prepared by sous-cheiTom Devlin at Edinburgh’s Bock Cate.
8 egg yolks.
1 pint double cream
1-2 tbsps syrup
small amount water
10 tbsps granulated sugar
10 tbsps water
Firstly line your terrine dish with cling iilm.
Boil sugar and water until it becomes golden brown, like a caramel. Add walnuts. Pour mixture onto a sheet at wax paper. Once it sets and becomes hard break up into small pieces, preferably using a liquidiser. Leave aside.
Panan Whisk yolks, syrup and water over a slight heat as with a sabayon. Whisk while cooling. Once cool add slightly whipped cream, loiding in. Then told in praline. Pour into terrine dish and place in the ireezer. Serve when set.
78 The List 23 October— 5 November 1992