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The Kitchin

The Kitchin, 78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6LX.
Tel: 0131 555 1755

January 2009

The Kitchin is a relatively young affair making a big splash in an old city. Situated in Commercial Quay, Leith's waterfront, Tom Kitchin and his wife Michaela opened this temple to nature, freshness, seasonality and local produce in 2006; by 2007 Tom had picked up (alongside numerous other plaudits) a Michelin star, and two years on he is holding onto it, having seen two subsequent editions of the guide come and go. With that in mind I figured it was about time I paid this Edinburgh restaurant a visit.

I booked several months in advance, accepting a date later than I would really have liked, because the restaurant closes (no doubt for a well-earned break) in early January. Even with such foresight, however, there was only a 6:45pm table, to be vacated by 9pm, or as an alternative I could take the 9pm table. Hmmmm. Sequential sittings are a necessary curse with high-flying chefs, but they aren't commonly encountered in Edinburgh. I took the 6:45pm table, an early dinner, as did about three other pairs of diners on the evening in question, and then watched as numerous other parties were seated after me, closer to 8pm. Did I book too early, or too late, to take advantage of what would have been a much more convenient kick-off time?

Anyway, onto the food. As I alluded to above freshness and seasonality is a big feature of The Kitchin, which at this time of year can mean game, and indeed there were seasonal specials of teal, woodcock and hare alongside the à la carte menu, which already included venison. The evening kicked off with canapés, a small square of onion tart (or pizza, as it was introduced) with anchovy, which had a really good sweet-onion flavour, and little mouthfuls of chicken on the bone, with a rather homely, sweet and smoky glaze, and thereafter there was a fine amuse bouche of artichoke soup. There was bread too, a selection including sourdough, olive, rustic and others, although we munched on this dry, somewhat envious of the butter, oil and balsamic vinegar that graced other tables; this was perhaps the only significant omission of the evening, a slip-up in what was otherwise attentive, discrete and knowledgeable service.

As I awaited my choice for starter I watched Kitchin and his team at work, a feature of the restaurant being a large window between the kitchen and dining room. I was disappointed; there was no swearing, no shouting or screaming, nobody was fired and I would deduce from the air of calm serenity that lay over the scene that the language was free of expletives. No wonder Kitchin doesn't have celebrity-cult-chef-kitchen-reality-TV-show status. My dining companion suggested that this was in fact nothing more than a high quality widescreen television, playing a repeating loop of calm and controlled cooking activity; meanwhile, behind the kitchen door there might in fact be (a) bedlam, or (b) a row of ready meals waiting to go into a similar row of microwaves. Neither, I must stress, would be true of this establishment. Turning around, there was little else worthy of comment, although three weighty tomes placed atop a shelf behind me, reference texts from Larousse, Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse, the latter having been Kitchin's mentor at Louis XV, in Monte Carlo, for a year or two perhaps give some indication of Kitchin's aspirations.

Back to the food. I started with snails and bone marrow, which came with a garlic and parsley risotto. There were numerous high points here; the snails, sourced in Devon, were fine, soft and just gently seared at the edges, having been sautéed. These were very pleasing, whereas the risotto was just superb; bright and lifted flavours, like spring water from verdant pastures, it would be difficulty to find a fresher mouthful. The only disappointment was the bone marrow, which was a touch watery, and lacked flavour in comparison with the other elements on the plate, and also in comparison to my previous encounters with this little delicacy. At least the portion size was hearty, which was more than Oloroso could manage. I also managed to grab a taste of Lonswood Farm duck, served as a dodine with foie gras, salsify and pear; the meat was meltingly divine. Following on, I opted for the woodcock special, which was overall a treat. From the bottom up, a square of minced woodcock offal occupied much of the plate, and it had an intense, gamey flavour which was impressive. Then in layers, the breasts and the legs, topped off by a bisected head, which would have any student of bird anatomy squealing with delight. On the side, an array of winter vegetables each of which deserved a moment of savouring, and a rich salmi sauce which matched the bird in terms of depth of flavour. Overall this was very appealing but also hugely flavoured and certainly one for game fans; the tender, soft meat was exquisite though. My only complaint was that by the time I was finishing up it was going cold; perhaps I just spent too long savouring everything, but maybe slightly hotter dishes coming out of the kitchen would help? From the menu, I also had a momentary bash at the Bramley Old Spot pork, which came with some super crackling and a finger (think gigantic fish finger) of shin meat, which was delicious.

I finished off with a spiced chocolate gateau, which was good rather than exciting, and a brilliant sea buckthorn sorbet; what a vibrant delight this was. Intense, fresh, acidic but sweet, this was a high point of the meal, and certainly one of the best desserts (or deserts, as the online Kitchin menu spells it - "I'll have a Gobi, please") I have experienced in a long while.

The wine list here is extensive, and there is an attentive sommelier. There are no half bottles, sadly, and when I enquired why I learnt that he does not perceive a need for half bottles when he has such a good range of wines by the glass. Hmmmm again....he may be right though. We opted for a glass or two of the Château Haut-Gleon, France Corbières Cuvée Claude Viallat 2003, which was good, warm rich and spicy, just as you might expect for a southern French blend of Syrah and Grenache from such a hot vintage; it was just fine with the woodcock, that is for certain. Overall, this was a great meal. Sure, I have pointed out a slip-up with service, and one or two points which detracted, but these are outweighed by the high quality of food emanating from Kitchin's kitchen. I look forward to returning, and hopefully not before too long.

Prices: This little evening came to about £140, a bill which provided two aperitifs, three courses each and two glasses of wine (£10.50 per 125 ml). There are a little more than a dozen wines listed by the glass, starting at £7 and topping out at £16. For those who choose Kitchin's tasting menu, which is £60, there is the option of a glass per course for £40. And for those not driving, a bottle may be more appropriate than the little pair of glasses we chose; there is a good selection, and plenty of well-priced options, matching what I paid for our two glasses, for the more frugal diner. (23/1/09)