Restaurant review: La Garrigue in the New Town, Edinburgh
It's usually the smell of a bacon sarnie that scuppers things. "My flatmate was cooking it, and I didn't have any Quorn in the house," they say. "I took one bite, then it was all over."
Before you know it, they've joined the ranks of the ex-vegetarians. Which, in the capital, can make for an easier lifestyle if you enjoy eating out.
That's mainly because of recent closures, which include vegan hang-out Susie's Diner, as well as L'Artichaut, which opened in 2009 and closed last month.
The latter was run by chef Jean Michel Gauffre, owner of the decade-old and ever popular La Garrigue restaurant on Jeffrey Street.
Unfortunately, he seems to have discovered that there aren't a lot of beans to be made from beans, so has re-fashioned his veggy venture into a second branch of La Garrigue (albeit with added herbivore-friendly options on the menu).
In fact, my other half, Rolf, opted for one of these for his starter when we visited this place, which specialises in meaty treats from the Languedoc region, on a weekday evening. His twice-baked souffle (part of the three courses for 30 a-la-carte menu) was good, with a salty roquefort-spiked depth that worked well alongside a salad of sweet diced pear and rocket.
My option, the potted rabbit, featured a pale-pink disc of a meaty, yet surprisingly light, terrine, which was dotted with nonpareil capers. There was also a transparent finger of crunchy brioche to spread the bunny on, plus a side salad of crisp chicory, rocket leaves and pomegranate seeds.
However, the main courses were to completely trump these comparatively B-list starters.
"The bad news is that the roast partridge takes a little longer than the other options," said the waitress, after we'd been waiting a millisecond longer than one might usually expect. "But the good news is that you get a huge helping."
And it was. My whole bird was strapped up with layers of crispy bacon and surrounded by bullets of waxy potato, salsify and crunchy lardon nibs. I hadn't thought that I was feeling ravenous when it landed on my table, but after the first bite I was possessed by the spirit of a truffling boar, which meant that I couldn't stop troughing.
In fact, I had already devoured half of the dish on autopilot before I discovered that the game had been stuffed with a fluffy and slightly citrusy bread sauce. This made for a plate that would be very, very hard to forget.
Rolf was equally pleased with his fishy main course, a large tile of Polo-mint- coloured halibut atop a heap of Camargue rice, which had been cooked in a beautifully rich stock. This offering was surrounded by four "squid sausages", or cephalopod body tubes stuffed with a fragrantly-herby sage and minced pork mixture.
"The dish of the year so far," said Rolf, and he'll be a lucky boy to get anything better in the next 11 months.
There are also some tempting-sounding pudding options here. It's nice to know that not only is Gauffre an unashamed champion of the vegetable (until recently, at least), he's also a supporter of all things sweet.
I chose the walnut tart, which was as delicate and light as an eggshell. It came with a single scoop of silky coffee ice-cream, which was surrounded by biscuit crumbs. A soupcon of each element in a single spoonful was about as close to sugary perfection as you can get.
My dining partner hadn't been too sure about his dessert (which I'd, oopsy, made him choose). That's mainly because the creme brulee contained lavender, which he dubbed 'the scent of a granny's drawer-sachet'.
But only, in this case, if your nan is Dita von Teese, as this was a creamy, dreamy and perfectly-perfumed delight.
I have to admit I was a big fan of L'Artichaut. However, with food like this, I think the capital has more than enough space for a second branch of La Garrigue.
La Garrigue in the New Town
14 Eyre Place, Edinburgh (0131-558 1608, www.lagarrigue.co.uk)
How much? Dinner for two, excluding drinks, 60
This article was first published in The Scotsman, 22 January, 2011
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