IF IT’S archetypical Edinburgh Georgian elegance you’re after as a backdrop to your meal, No 11 Brunswick Street has everything from the egg and dart cornices to the sash and case windows, and so it should, since the building was designed by William Playfair himself.
Formerly the home to the Black Watch club with a stint as a hotel, it’s been given a makeover to restore its original splendour and the results are impressive. The brasserie is located in a large drawing room at the front, with huge windows and plenty of space to seat 26 diners and accommodate a small bar at one end. With dark Farrow & Ball-type grey walls, a stripped pine floor, plush grey chairs pulled up to tables muffled by thick white tablecloths, the look is both contemporary and classic.
It’s probably better to go undercover when reviewing a restaurant to get a bone fide experience, but after my dining partner informed the waitress we would be having the brassiere menu as opposed to the tapas, a malapropism that saw me snorting like a Tamworth, he proceeded in his embarrassment to give the game away with: “We’d better have different dishes so we can review them properly.” Cover blown. It was hard to tell whether our waitress had heard him as her demeanour had already been pleasant and efficient, but she proceeded to take subsequent quibbles in her stride.
However, even the most rattle-proof waitress can’t do much when several items on the menu are “off”, surprising when you’ve rocked up at 7pm. Two out of six starters were unavailable and the puddings were subject to change too, but since No 11 are cooking seasonal local produce which may depend on supply, we gave them the benefit of the doubt.
Asking what they did have proved the most efficient way to order our starters, and we were rewarded with a lighter than air stilton, asparagus and spinach pastry tart (not on the menu) that we fought over, and a rich, thick mushroom soup that delivered flavour and depth in such abundance that we called a ceasefire. Unfortunately it was served tepid and had to be sent back to be heated up – well, it was a dreich Edinburgh evening and our bones needed warmed – and my dining partner thought it too salty. Another minor quibble, was over the butter served with the crusty bread. Being a bit of a lardass who likes her dairy, I strongly suspected it was more utterly than butterly and enquired whether this was the case. I’m not usually so picky, but the vacationing Richard Bath’s shoes are big ones to fill and I felt obliged to find out. The waitress came back and explained it was meant to be butter but there had been a mix-up in the kitchen. She apologised, replaced the marg with butter and said she’d take 20 per cent off our bill by way of apology.
Next came the main courses, and my partner tucked in to a 200g Aberdeen Angus Ribeye Steak with new potatoes and portobello mushrooms, served up with a generous ladle of peppercorn sauce. The steak was succulent and pink, served just as he had ordered it, and the sauce rich and creamy. He was happy enough with his meat and one veg, but missed the lack of any other accompanying vegetables, so perhaps side dishes of seasonal greens would be a good addition to the menu. Meanwhile, my chicken supreme roasted chicken breast, served with a whisky cream sauce, haggis croquettes and dauphinoise potatoes seemed to have more going on, not least because it came with asparagus, the latter I was forced to share (see above). Again, my partner found it all a little too salty. For me, the chicken was well executed, but it was the garlicky potatoes and asparagus that stole the show. As for drinks, we were schoolnight sedate and washed it down with a single large glass each of a Californian Marmesa Syrah and Berninger Stone Cellars 2009 Merlot, at £5 and £4 respectively.
There were no complaints about portion size and by now we were too full for pudding. We ordered two anyway. There was a choice of five, but again, the raspberry cranachan was “off”. No worries, we’d have the replacement bramble and blackberry version which was packed with cream, oatmeal and fruit, yet seemed to have sworn a temperance oath. The crème brûlée was standard, apart from the addition of a few random blueberries that added interest and a slight acidity to offset the sweetness.
Happily sated we lingered over coffee as what had been a half-full dining room cleared and we listened to the ambient departure lounge music and the only other remaining table’s conversation about how to entrap a man, while gazing at the artworks on the walls. No 11’s dining room also operates as a gallery, showcasing the work of young Scottish artists and the current offering is an edgy take on stags, hares and highland cows, served up in bright colours and patterns.
With the reduction for the butter incident the meal came in at £43, which was reasonable as the food was well executed and presented and the atmosphere pleasant. The service was friendly, fast and efficient too, with any problems addressed, but they were the kind of things you wouldn’t expect to have to point out in an establishment that bills itself as offering fine dining. Overall, something was missing, and it wasn’t just the veg. As Richard Bath always says, the key test is, “Would you go back?” and at the moment the answer to that is, I’m not sure that we would.
11 Brunswick Street, Edinburgh (0131-557 6910, www.11brunswickst.co.uk)
Starters £4.95-£6.25 Main courses £13.65-£19.95