I’M PRETTY comfortable in quiet restaurants, but not everyone feels the same.
Galvin Brasserie de Luxe
The Caledonian, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh (0131-222 8988, www.thecaledonianedinburgh.com)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £65.50
Recently, I recommended this place to a colleague.
“I haven’t been yet, but it’s sure to be good,” I gushed.
The odds were in its favour. After all, its executive chefs are Michelin-star-winning siblings, the Galvin brothers, and it was opened as part of The Caledonian’s multi-million-pound transformation into a luxury Waldorf Astoria hotel (though, the brasserie also has its own entrance round the side, on Rutland Street).
His verdict: the classic French-style food was very nice, but the space was almost empty, thus no atmosphere.
Indeed, when I got round to visiting this eatery, which is in the former premises of Henry J Beans, there were 136 empty seats in a space that sits 140.
Granted, it was a Tuesday lunchtime, but it seems slightly ironic that this place, with its white tiled floor and horseshoe-shaped crustacea bar, is styled on “a bustling Parisian brasserie”.
Maybe it’s just the tricky time of year, but this lack of buzz gives one the impression that potential customers are circling round this place, like a pack of painted hunting dogs, trying to decide if it’s good fresh carrion or not.
Come hither, scaredies.
Yes, it’s pricey, but there is an affordable menu prix fixe at £15.50 for two courses, or £18.50 for three, which is available all day.
We went a la carte with starters of terrine presse of chicken, ham hock and foie gras (£9.50) and a vichyssoise (£5.50).
The latter was the sort of highfalutin soup that would make a Heinz tomato feel insecure. It featured a chive-topped surface of creamy froth, and was rich, stocky and buttermilk-coloured, with shards of smoked haddock, onion and leek swimming in its silky depths.
It was served hot – as befits this sort of weather, when simply exhaling creates a dry-ice effect akin to that on an Eighties dance floor.
Our other option resembled one of Martin Creed’s marble Scotsman Steps, with tightly packed strata of beautifully seasoned meat, thrown into relief by dark veins of cooked spinach. On the side – a brittle-crisp slice of sourdough toast and a dollop of clean-tasting sauce gribiche. Lovely. This is how the other half would picnic.
Mains were equally swoonsome.
My tagine of lamb (£18.50) featured a sticky-surfaced and feathery-soft shank, topped with a few crumbs of preserved orange peel (I would’ve liked a few more of those sweet-bitter gems).
The meat was perched on a mound of yellow capsicum-flecked couscous and came with a strawberry-coloured rose harissa, which was served separately so you could control its heat.
Another butch main – crispy duck leg confit (£15.50) – boasted a thick tile of burnish-skinned flesh.
This was flanked by three stubs of sooty-looking boudin noir, saturated with and softened by the meaty red wine jus that was dribbled across the plate. Wow.
A few leafy sprigs, and endive curls, prevented this dish from resembling an unabashed meat tombola.
Mention must also be made of our side order, a super smooth slick of pommes mousseline (£3.50). It was hard to know where the butter ended and the potato began. Wicked.
On to pudding, and my mandarin soufflé with chocolate ice-cream (£7.50) was probably the best dessert I’ve had in months. This golden-lidded, icing-sugar-frosted soufflé was concentratedly zingy, and the cold cocoa sidekick like a snog from the Cadbury’s bunny. THIS chocolate orange is not the Galvins’, it’s mine.
Our other dessert, oeuf a la neige (£5.50), aka ile flottante, featured a vapour trail of aerated poached meringue in a sea of vanilla-dotted custard, topped with a nutty handful of crumbled pink praline.
Sadly, though, I’d guess you could compare some upmarket restaurants to expensive shoes – they’re better when they’re worn in, or they feel stiff.
Granted, this place has no soul yet, but I think that side of the bargain might be up to us.