Restaurant Review: L'Escargot Bleu
Does the capital really need another French restaurant? If it's as good as this, absolument
EDINBURGH already has more than its fair share of French restaurants, most of them doing a roaring trade. So L'Escargot Bleu, the new bistro which opened on Broughton Street earlier this year, has entered a cluttered market in a city where devotees of French cuisine already have plenty of options. Still, Betty Jourjon and Frederic Berkmiller, the duo who brought us the highly successful Petit Paris, clearly know what they're doing to judge by the success of their thriving operation in the Grassmarket.
Once again they have scored a direct hit with a conspicuously gallic approach to eating out. Everything from the big vintage posters to the rustic Pierre Victoire-style furniture and stripped floors reeked of France without ever crossing the line into kitsch. Even our charming waitress, who had such a tenuous grasp of English that we chipped in with promptings in our best O-level Franglais, was an instant reminder of small-town France.
Yet most of all it was the food which brought images of France to mind. There was a significant number of generic dishes you could find in restaurants anywhere in northern Europe, but there were also a few real gallic gems. While we were waiting to order, an earthenware carafe of excellent house wine arrived, together with a huge basket of sliced baguette. As soon as we'd ordered, along came an amuse-bouche of silky-smooth rabbit terrine on toasted brioche, as enjoyable as it was unexpected.
That set us up nicely for a meal that was relaxed and informal even if it was also a little chilly. The restaurant – which until recently was a dusty old antique clock shop – has high ceilings and big, draughty windows which are best avoided in midwinter – even if they do give a great view of the endless comings and goings along Broughton Street.
We instantly forgot about the temperature as soon as our starters arrived, however. On their own, any one of the constituent parts of Vicky's fish terrine and salmon gravadlax with herb potato blinis would have been in danger of being a little bland, but combined they formed more than the sum of the parts: the very essence of good cooking, even if it was still not enough to elevate this combination to something out of the ordinary.
There were no such misgivings when it came to my provenal snails with parsley risotto. For a man shivering next to a frosty picture window, this dish was close to perfection. The shell-less snails were gloriously garlicky lumps of succulent meaty flavour, and formed a magical combination when added to the perfectly produced herby risotto. This is the sort of comfort food you'd travel to Tashkent to find, never mind France. If it hasn't already been adopted as the restaurant's signature dish, it should be.
From there, the only way for me was down and, sure enough, my ribeye steak with a Roquefort sauce was good without ever promising greatness. The sauce was delicate enough, and the steak cooked as I'd asked, but it wasn't particularly tender.
Vicky, though, loved her braised shoulder of pork. The dark, extraordinarily succulent, shank-like meat meshed beautifully with a layered sauce that blended both the sweetness of honey and the force of the grain mustard to create a superb accompaniment.
If our meal had been a mixed blessing so far, that theme was continued with pudding. Quite full, we gave the large specials board a sideswerve and instead shared a portion of bread-and-butter pudding, only to come to diametrically opposed conclusions. Vicky didn't mind the fact that it was slightly burnt on top, preferring to focus instead on what she described as a smooth, subtle dish. I just thought it was burnt and bland, case closed.
Yet the one thing we could both agree on was the fact that L'Escargot Bleu was a very worthwhile addition to Edinburgh's restaurant scene. To judge from the way it has been packed out every time I've passed by, it also looks likely to enjoy significant durability. Which is good, because I have every intention of heading back there in the not too distant future.
56 Broughton Street, Edinburgh (0131 557 1600)
Out of pocket Starters 4.40-5.40. Main courses 11.90-16.90. Puddings 4.70. Two-course pre-theatre menu (served noon-3pm or 5.30pm-7pm) 11.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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