Sometimes you have to know when to quit. So, after two years of sparsely attended lunchtimes, chef Mark Greenaway has finally left the building.
For anyone who doesn’t know him, Greenaway is one of the rising stars of Edinburgh’s culinary scene and the building he’s left is 12 Picardy Place, or what those of us with long memories knew as The Hallion Club.
A Georgian townhouse at the end of York Place with enormous rooms and surrounded by a raft of thriving mid-range restaurants, the place seemed perfect, but suffered from one major problem: it was completely dead until the evenings, with little of the corporate lunch trade a fine dining restaurant needs to tick over until the more profitable evening hours. I hate to think how much Greenaway’s restaurant at Picardy Place lost during the day.
After two years swimming against that tide, the ambitious 35-year-old has finally taken the plunge elsewhere, taking over the building that was, until recently, the Italian restaurant Librizzi. Where his previous site was off-street and away from any other conspicuously top-end restaurants, his new 60-cover home could hardly be more obvious – it’s on the corner of Queen Street and North Castle Street, right opposite Martin Wishart’s brasserie The Honours.
Despite having been open for only a couple of weeks, the move is already having the desired effect, and this despite the fact that for much of the first week the phones were up the spout, so he had to rely on walk-ins. But walk in they have: I have wandered past a couple of times at lunch and on both occasions the place was full of ‘suits’ from George Street, Charlotte Square or the West End, all of which are a short stroll away.
What those lunchtime (and evening) diners found was a space that is much changed from the Librizzi days. Under Greenaway, the place has gone all Victorian, with dark bluey-green walls and a cluster of chandeliers in the middle of the high ceiling. Although it’s had a thorough makeover, complete with Greenaway’s logos, the building itself remains a classic New Town venue: high ceilings, shuttered sash windows and an unmistakable air of stentorian grandeur.
In fact, before it became Librizzi, the place used to be a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has turned out to be a very handy fact because in the basement, next to where the 12-person private dining room will soon open, is the restaurant’s remarkable little wine cellar. Housed in the old walk-in safe room, the wine is literally behind bars, although it is also unusually accessible as young sommelier Loic Deruyver offers every guest the chance to see the cellar and try the nine wines available by the glass before ordering wine to accompany their meal.
This is a nice touch, especially as Deruyver is as enthusiastic and personable as he is knowledgeable. In fact, the same goes for the rest of Greenaway’s crew, who joined him en masse from 12 Picardy Place.
His four under-chefs and the rest of his staff aren’t the only aspects of 12 Picardy Place he has teleported from his old billet. If the new place bears little resemblance to the old, the menu is as unchanging as the staff. Generally speaking, his adherence to the bones of the old menu is a good thing because Greenaway had undoubtedly found his feet, having won three AA rosettes, been voted Scotland’s rising star chef of the year in 2011, been shortlisted for Restaurant of the Year in 2012 (the winner is announced later this month) and having represented Scotland on the BBC’s Great British Menu both last year and this year.
Things certainly started off well with a huge amuse bouche of shallot espuma with basil oil. Rich, viscous and with an almost velveteen texture, the intensity of the flavours left us in no doubt that Greenaway hasn’t been put off his stride by the move.
And on the off chance there were lingering doubts, they were dispelled by two diverse starters connected only by the surefootedness of the chef who produced them. Bea’s Loch Fyne crab cannelloni with smoked cauliflower veloute, lemon and coriander is Greenaway’s signature dish, and it was faultless, with the gimmick of the still smoking veloute paling next to the richness of the flavours and inspired meshing of the sweet crab with the deep, resonant cauliflower.
My starter was none too shabby either. Not only did my Spartan mix of thin-sliced shards of stonebass, slices of boiled new potato, baby octopus legs and langoustines look like a work of art, it was a near perfect dish that was a beguilingly simple mix of complex but complementary flavours.
Our main courses were pretty difficult to fault too, although Bea’s pan-roasted halibut fillet with a herb crust, confit turnip and butter poached oyster certainly got her vote but probably came under the heading of extremely competent rather than a work of genius. My commendably large Goosnargh duck breast – cooked sous vide so that it had an even succulence – was equally well received, although the twist of compacted water melon alongside a wafer-thin layer of crispy skin, duck leg croquets and the faint but unmistakably sweet, liquoricey flavour of the tarragon jus elevated this way beyond the mundane.
The same was true of Bea’s pudding. The dessert course is Greenaway’s passion, and in Bea’s broken chocolate tart (which included custard jelly, frozen cookies, crème fraîche parfait, salted caramel and kumquat purée) he produced a dish that, against all expectations, tasted as good as it looked thanks to the even division between the sweetness of the jelly, cookies and chocolate and the sourness of the salted caramel and acidic kumquat. Following our waiter’s recommendation, I opted for peanut caramel cheesecake which, while beautifully presented, was just a little too saccharine sweet even for my extremely sweet tooth, so beware.
That, though, is a rare caveat because Greenaway has put in place all the building blocks for a runaway success, which is exactly what I expect the latest incarnation of his eponymous restaurant to be.
Restaurant Mark Greenaway 69 North Castle St, Edinburgh (0131-226 1155, www.restaurantmarkgreenaway.com)
Starters £7-11 Main courses £18-28 Puddings £7.50 (cheeseboard £9.50) Eight-course tasting menu £65 (paired with wines £95) Lunch £16.50 (two courses), £20 (three courses)
Rating: 9 out of 10