Restaurant review: Haldanes, Edinburgh
George and Michelle Kelso are back where they belong, in a freshly revamped basement, but with a menu that is asreliably excellent as ever
THE wanderer has returned. After being unceremoniously turfed out of its traditional home, in the basement of Edinburgh's Albany Hotel, a shift in the hotel's ownership has seen a change of heart and a swift move back to its original position for George and Michelle Kelso's restaurant Haldanes. It's a welcome return to base camp for one of the city's more traditional, if peripatetic, eating venues.
In its previous incarnation at the Albany, Haldanes suffered slightly from being a hotel restaurant, a species that has to work hard to forge its identity. Happily, however, the recent and costly refurbishment of the 40-bedroom hotel has meant the basement has also been given a revamp, which has updated and smartened the surroundings in which Haldanes operates. These days, from the moment you walk in through the front door, the whole operation looks and feels remarkably slick.
The food hasn't changed, though, and remains based on solid Scottish staples with a twist. It's the style of cooking that won chef and proprietor George Kelso the title of Scotland's top city chef five years ago. Since then he seems to have added an array of interesting flourishes that make for an interesting menu and provide numerous dilemmas when ordering.
After concluding that I'd be happy to eat virtually anything on the menu, I decided to start with pan-seared pigeon breasts with butternut squash and pancetta. The results weren't remarkable: the pigeon had been cut a little thinner than I'd have liked, so the meat was cooked all the way through, while a little more of the red-wine sauce it came with would have been helpful. I was left with the impression of a dish that was just good enough.
If my starter missed the mark, the same couldn't be said of Vicky's choice. She had plumped for the caramelised pork belly with roasted king scallops and the result was a delight. The pork was moist and tender, and the scallops were beautifully succulent, but it was the addition of pesto made with cashew nuts, drizzled across the top of the combination, that transformed this into a masterful mlange.
Our main courses were pretty impressive too. Vicky's baked fillet of halibut with a pork cheek ravioli, served with a buttery tomato sauce, and my roast rump of lamb were both outstanding. The hefty fillet of fish was well cooked and nicely complemented by a sauce that never threatened to drown the fish's subtle flavours, while my slices of lamb were enlivened by a deep, rich sauce of tarragon and oyster mushrooms and a great combination of root vegetables.
Even pudding contained two nicely judged dishes, although I remain convinced that my small but perfectly formed slice of lemon tart – and it was fantastically tart – was the pick of this bunch. Vicky didn't agree, arguing that her selection of sawn-off rhubarb puddings was at least as good. The rhubarb souffl was certainly impressive, but the pannacotta was a bit bland even if it was comprehensively saved by the topping of ginger beer jelly and a layer of rhubarb compote at its base.
The restaurant has had a comprehensive makeover since I was last there six years ago, and a lot of thought has been put into the dcor and layout. The basement has a low ceiling but is sumptuously comfortable without being over the top. Just one thing jarred: the Jack Vettriano prints on the wall. Unlike Scotland's art establishment, I have nothing against Fife's finest, but given how ubiquitous and polarising an artist he is, it struck me as an odd touch that was out of kilter with the rest of the conspicuously upmarket feel of the place.
And that upmarket feel stretches to the bill. A touch under 30 isn't bad for the three courses, but it's surprisingly easy to overlook the 6 surcharge on a couple of the dishes, given that they're written in bold on the menu. With a 20 bottle of house wine and a tenner for service, which was cheery and efficient, that brought the total to a little under 100. That's a price tag which takes it into the realms of a special night out, but then these days Haldanes just about fits that description.
39a Albany Street, Edinburgh (0131 556 8407, www.haldanesrestaurant.com)
Out of pocket
Set menu 22.75 for two courses; 27.75 for three courses Lunch from 10 for two courses.
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