It has taken a long time for me to get around to visiting Castle Terrace, which lies in Edinburgh's old town, in the shadow of the city's most famous tourist attraction. A lot has happened in that time. Established in 2010 by Dominic Jack, with support from his comrade-in-arms Tom Kitchin, Jack had barely picked up a saucepan before he also picked up a Michelin star, and it seemed like his place on Edinburgh's dining top tier was assured. But it wasn't to be, as the newcomer lost this coveted (or cursed?) accolade a few years later.
After graduating from culinary college Jack cut his teeth at the Gleneagles Hotel which was where he and Kitchin met, but he soon moved on to bigger and better things. His curriculum vitae includes stints at L'Arpège and Taillevent among numerous others, before he came home to Edinburgh in 2008. After helping out at The Kitchin for a couple of years he established himself at Castle Terrace, with support from Tom (ongoing support, if the many similarities between their menus and wine cellars are anything to judge by). In five years the restaurant seems to have established a good reputation, regardless of its starry oscillation, and business looks to be good. After my recent visit the restaurant closed its doors, only reopening them after the completion of a £1-million overhaul. Who said the banks weren't lending money these days?
Having settled in on a chilly winter's evening I opted to begin with pâté en croute of roe deer from Saltoun Estate, with pear, prune and port, which was not the most inspiring start to the evening. There is no doubt that from a technical point of view this dish was very skilfully produced, in particular its very clean, razor-sharp presentation was immaculate. As I found with the venison terrine I had at the Scran and Scallie (another Tom Kitchin establishment) though, the texture of the terrine was for me overly dense and cool, and the soft and rather anaemic pastry did little to lift the dish, even if its perfectly curled edges and detailed cornicing did suggest they had a Renaissance craftsmen working in the kitchen. Thankfully the purée of pear alongside did help it along, but the overall feel of the dish was somewhat underwhelming. In contrast a velouté of East Lothian celeriac with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli was rich, warming and the ravioli provided an obvious flavour highlight. This was a wiser choice, and it warmed both the stomach and the soul.
The Scottish borders hare 'à la royale' with roasted winter vegetables was an interesting choice for my main course. A remarkably complex dish originating from rural France, recipes appear to differ, but as a rule they involve a sequence of marinating, ballotining (this bit is optional), and generally toiling away over a deboned hare for no less than three days. For the sauce, depending on your chosen guide you might need three hundred cloves of garlic and a field of shallots, alternatively it may be enriched with foie gras, minced hare offal, truffles or maybe a dash of hare's blood. The use of the brain is another option. I'm guessing powdered unicorn horn is another. The dish was presented in a fairly classic style, a disc of hare, tenderly cooked and still moist but frankly lacking in any hint of gamey flavour, covered in a thick, chocolate-brown sauce. Although this latter part is what really makes the dish, I found it only detracted, being heavy on the palate but lacking the umami-richness I felt it should have brought to the dish. Where was the glossy, gamey, truffly, offally intensity of flavour? Great effort went into making this dish, I assume, but I found it ultimately rather underwhelming. Suffice to say that, when dining at The Kitchin a few weeks later and finding hare à la royale on the menu here as well (I did say the two had similar menus), I quickly read on to look for other options.
Having analysed that dish in more detail than I would have cared to I can happily report that the roasted rump of Inverurie lamb served with shepherd's pie and parsnip was delicious, with a much more contemporary feel to it, and it was sensitively cooked. The added nuances of cinnamon and orange did nothing to enhance the dish in my opinion, but maybe this is just personal. A cheese course was worth the money, and it helped me finish off the rather delicious Lucien Crochet Sancerre La Croix du Roy 2009 which seemed ideal as a foil for the entire meal, whether the dish be deer, lamb, hare or otherwise. A Guanaja 70% dark chocolate soufflé (historical aside: Guanaja, an island off the coast of Honduras, was where Columbus first encountered cacao) that was also pretty good.
Dominic Jack offered an ambitious menu here, although in the end I came away from this dinner feeling vaguely underwhelmed. On paper it looks great, but on the plate it seems a bit more hit-and-miss, and sadly it seems that on my side of the table I scored the misses rather than the hits. Slightly slap-dash service along the way didn't really help.
Prices: Our starters were £13 and £16, the mains were £30 and £34, the dessert £15 and the cheese £14. Including wine, the bill for two came to a rather significant £181, a price I anticipated and which may well have been a contributing factor to my taking so long to get around to visiting Castle Terrace. There is also a policy (here and also at The Kitchin) to collect a £1 charity donation with every bill. (12/3/16)