A tale of three courses
72-80 Causewayside, Edinburgh
Tel 0131-668 2255
ADMIT it. It’s well and truly over. And just as your eyes mist up with fond thoughts about all the things to which this may apply - unwise flirtations, overdrafts, nasty little rashes - I’ll be more precise. It’s those vows of eternal austerity which have finally petered out. I should know. I have spent the last few weeks enjoying the doleful echo of almost-empty restaurants, as the populace stayed home and shuffled their credit-card statements. But there’s only so long one can play pelmanism with the bills. Eight weeks max, I’d say. And, right on schedule, the spendthrift, comfort-seeking masses have thundered back into the arena. Last Friday, it took three phone calls to find a table for lunch, so enthusiastic were the hordes of the diet-weary freshly unrepentant.
Which was the principal reason for seeking somewhere a little off the beaten track. Not far enough to require sensible footwear (we urban creatures have an in-built resistance to any heel lower than three inches that is not a previous spouse), but somewhere far enough away from the city centre to add an impression of daring. A mile at least.
Hence we arrived, without the aid of huskies, at the Borough Hotel. My companion, who doubles as Rip Van Winkle on good days, assured me she remembered the address as a snooker hall, which gives us a pretty clear idea of how she spent her mini-skirted youth. I might have guessed a previous incarnation as a DSS office, because no one could accuse this stretch of grey tenement property of overt glamour.
Or even covert glamour. Though the guide books hail the new hotel as stylish, there was something about the alignment of large numbers of high-backed leather chairs crowded in front of a huge television screen which put me in mind of a nursing home. An expensive nursing home, no doubt. But then, aren’t they all?
However, that was only the bar area. The ground-floor restaurant of Borough is farther back, beyond the memento mori rows of easy-wipe upholstery, and here the layout is indeed pleasingly stylish, with large circular booths around the perimeter, some ritzy lighting playing games with itself on the ceiling and a series of artfully angled mirrors.
The full menu is not available at lunchtime, which was a bit of a disappointment - though not to a bank manager, as the table d’hte list offers two courses and coffee at only 8.95; three courses at 10.95. Such attractive pricing (and matching waiting staff) had lured an impressive core of bon viveurs across the threshold on what was a truly freezing day. There are only three choices in each section of the lunch menu, and as there was an Arctic draught whistling around our ankles, we wanted something hot, so the options were soup of the day or mussels.
I nabbed the mussels, Rip Van W the soup, which was carrot and parsnip. Or it may have been carrot and leek. By the time it arrived she couldn’t remember; and, rather unusually, tasting it proved no assistance - as the huge bowlful had been treated to such a searing dose of Worcester sauce, this was the only emergent flavour. The texture was pleasant, the colour a deep gold, but that heavy hand with the sauce bottle had obliterated the rest of the taste troops as effectively as Agent Orange.
Not to be outdone in the grumbling stakes, I was equally critical of my mussels: tiny baby molluscs who shouldn’t have been ripped off their rope so young. The tomato, lime and tequila listed on the menu as their supportive liquor must have smiled on the pot from the far side of the kitchen because I certainly couldn’t detect them. So we were gearing up for a full-scale scunner.
Then the main courses arrived and all was right with the world once more. More than right, in fact. All was consoling, cuddlesome and fine. Hearty and tasty. Pukka as a Jamie Oliver dream routine.
Rip had ordered roast salmon with bashed spuds and sorrel oil, though I’d guess sorrel to be something of a novelty both in these parts and on her palate. The hefty hunk of salmon had been roasted to sizzling crispness on the skin side but was still moist and luminescent within - perfectly timed; while the crushed potatoes offered an ideal contrast of textures.
My pan-fried chicken was marooned in a creamy lake of white wine sauce, studded with sweet onions. Silky, much-envied and repeatedly plundered mashed potatoes with spring onions and herbs invited the building of snowy barricades, the better to sop up the sauce. If only grown-ups were allowed to do that sort of thing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a grown-up at hand to enquire from, so I did it anyway.
We were truly replete after this, and only ordered pudding out of naked greed. A stunning portion of slow-cooked creamy rice, enough for four, and some of the best home-made ice-cream I’ve tasted. All in all, excellent value. Just ignore the serried ranks of chairs, and maybe skip the starters.
Lunch, 12-2.30pm daily; dinner, 6-10pm, Sunday-Thursday (11pm, Friday and Saturday)
SAMPLE DINNER MENU
Game terrine on crisp salad leaves with an apple and grape chutney
Tomato and mozzarella salad with a balsamic dressing
Roasted Mediterranean vegetable gateau topped with emmenthal and a tomato coulis
Roast pork fillet served with fondant potatoes, honey and thyme roasted vegetables and an apple and Calvados sauce
Strawberry cheesecake with blood orange sorbet
Sticky toffee pudding with ice-cream
Around 22 for three-course dinner; set lunches from 8.95 for two courses and coffee
See www.5pm.co.uk; also, deals available with student Snapfax
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west