Edinburgh restaurant review: one's company at L'Escargot Bleu

I had been hoping to emerge eventually from lockdown – perhaps like a contestant on Stars In Their Eyes, in a haze of dry ice – with a whole new svelte physique honed by a combination of running, online workouts and green juice.

The restaurant on Broughton Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
The restaurant on Broughton Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

But the carbs-to-cardio seesaw I’ve been on all this time hasn’t exactly tipped in the right direction, nor have the scales – a matter helped in no way whatsoever by the fact that I eat what is meant to be a takeaway dinner for two from L’Escargot Bleu “toute seule”.

In my defence, I spread it over two nights, my plans to share it (in accordance with strict physical distancing guidelines) waylaid as I have a bad cold.

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I’d already put in my order earlier that week as per the restaurant’s takeaway/delivery protocol, but I was thankfully still able to eat everything.

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The pretty extensive menu updates every week – with some mainstays, as far as I can see, such as a sharing platter and cheese fondue, and an evolving selection of casseroles for two comprising the mains. There are also sides, puddings, reasonably priced wines, and beers.

The restaurant – which has a sister site, L’Escargot Blanc, in the West End, where I’ve tried the fondue – is run by chef-patron Fred Berkmiller and his wife and business partner Betty. She takes the orders over the phone, and charmingly calculates the total out loud in French.

I order just one starter, fish soup. While I’d had my eye on the cassoulet on offer the previous week for the main, this isn’t an option, so I go for the coq au vin – free-range chicken marinated and braised in red wine, served with glazed onion, lardons and mushrooms. Also added to the list is the tian of Provençale vegetables.

French-born chef-patron Fred Berkmiller (file picture). Picture: Catriona Thomson.

To finish I select both chocolate mousse and a selection of three cheeses from Mons affineur – while the whole meal is accompanied by thorough, but manageable-sounding cooking instructions – and the restaurant sensibly asks for feedback.

The delivery arrives at the tail end of the 2pm to 6pm slot on a Friday, and as I’m unpacking it I think of the so-called French Paradox – the disputed observation that the nation was found to have relatively low levels of coronary heart disease despite its famously rich diet. Berkmiller has in fact gone on record saying that you can never have too much butter – a man after my own heart.

As dinnertime comes around I prepare the fish soup, and it’s fun topping the crouton slices with rouille sauce and grated cheese, and adding them to the ochre liquid.

Layers of flavour

The dish is sensational, packing layers of flavour as deep as the ocean and led but not dominated by salty, crustacean-rich depth. If I shut my eyes I could almost be seated outdoors in a bistro en France, rather than in my own messy living room.

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I then get to work on the chicken, which is tidily presented in a plastic tub, with sizeable, rustic-looking chunks of enticing bird which are snuggled up alongside the likes of carrots plus white and purple potatoes in the rich, gelatinous gravy.

The instructions call for adding some water, bringing it to the boil, and leaving it to simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. I leave it to the longer end of the timescale as I think I’ve been a bit too generous with the water given that I’m only cooking half of it tonight.

My kitchen starts to fill with the red-wine-tinged gravy scent – ah, bistro! – and I dish up. The chicken has taken on an almost gamey taste, magnified by the gravy’s intense depth of flavour.

I then move on to the chocolate mousse. Who am I kidding? I tucked into that as soon as the delivery arrived as I was famished – and it was rich and moreish. This evening I have half of the cheese portions. Their identities aren’t specified but they’re all good, with a fig chutney and mini oatcakes.

It’s round two the following night, the casserole seeming to have deepened in flavour, while I also heat up the tian, a surprisingly fiery option including sweet peppers. I then polish off the rest of the cheese.

I also collect the chicken bones left over from both evenings and make a rich stock that prolongs enjoyment of the gravy, and I have this with rice noodles and veg for lunch the next day. Whatever bug I had is well and truly sent packing after this.

L’Escargot Bleu and Berkmiller have racked up numerous awards, and in tough times the restaurant provides a slice of authentic French cuisine at a time when a visit to its homeland is hard to come by.

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