Mark Greenaway has a bulging curriculum vitae, so much that it seems a challenge to introduce him succinctly. In a nutshell, Scottish by birth, he began working in kitchens back in 1992 before leaving his native land for a lengthy stint in Australia. On returning to Scotland he gained further experience at a number of notable venues, not least One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow. Noting this I was reminded of a passing encounter I had there a few years ago with Dave Myers, a television presenter and chef best known in the UK as one of the 'Hairy Bikers', who was checking in to the hotel as I was leaving a wine tasting. With his mufftacious beard, flowing black locks and cool leather jacket he looked every part the Easy Rider who, I thought to myself, had surely just roared into town on the back of a Dyna Wide Glide, or for the classic fans maybe an Indian Chief. Then I spotted the little black travel case on wheels he was pulling along. So perhaps not. The 'Hairy Taxi Passenger' lacks a certain something, doesn't it?
Getting back to Mark, for the moment anyway, he then decided to go it alone and set up in York Place in Edinburgh, and by all accounts he struggled a bit from lack of trade, and so after a year or two relocated to a new venue at the foot of Edinburgh's New Town. I decided it was about time I checked it out.
The architecture in this part of the world is naturally Georgian, four stories of elegance, although in the case of Mark's restaurant a prominent corner door - a later addition to the building - perhaps spoils the lines somewhat, but at least it makes the entrance easy to find. Inside, the main dining room feels relaxed and yet it still carries a sense of the venue's external elegance, on my visit the great windows (including a beautiful archway of glass where the original door once stood) overlooking Queen Street and the Botanical Gardens bathed the dining room in a glorious early-evening light. Happily, these elegant lines and forms are carried through into at least some of the dishes.
The service is friendly and confident, so much so that I soon stopped noticing that my chair went up and down by a centimetre every time a member of staff stepped on a loose floorboard running under my table. Sometimes it can be good to adopt a state of Zen and accept such situations; I am sure that is what the Hairy Bikers would advise, anyway.
After a very promising amuse bouche of sweet potato with toasted pumpkin seed and crispy sage I kicked off with a rabbit ballotine, which came dressed with a savoury granola, pomegranate, wild flowers and hazelnut milk which although elegantly presented didn't really fulfil my now raised expectations. Served cold (not what was I expecting, but fair enough) the rabbit was on the whole cooked well, the meat moist and tender; I feel rabbit has a tendency to dry out a little more easily than some other meats, but I would surmise that the ballotine technique helps with this. There was some gristle hidden within, however, and no amount of ballotining, galantining, forcing, stuffing, wrapping or skewering will sort that out. The fripperies around the side were barely noticeable, except for the granola, which had all the texture of road gravel, and was certainly sufficiently granitic for me to chew carefully on the opposite side to my rather pricy crown. I like dentists, except for that one who goes around shooting lions with his bow and arrow of course, and Steve Martin's Orin Scrivello is mildly frightening, but the truth is I have no wish to visit mine any more than is necessary. He's always ready with all the most painful tools of his trade; you know, very large needles, big drills, his credit card terminal.
For round two a monkfish was sacrificed, its tail taken and wrapped in Parma ham, and served with baby turnip and confit carrots in a brown butter jus, all in all a rather safe combination. Strangely, however, and not for the first time - as I previously experienced this at Angels with Bagpipes - the fish came wearing a couple of diminutive crispy chicken wings. I ordered not quite knowing what to expect; after all, why chicken wings, what is the origin of the combination, which influential fish-and-chicken chef is being emulated here? Dave Myers again? My mind whirled with the possibilities until the dish arrived, at which point time stood still for a moment. The presentation here was sheer joy for the eyes, so much so I actually stopped to take a photograph of it. I have of course since deleted it from my smartphone, and signed up for a course at my local Food Porn Anonymous self-help group ("My name's Chris, and I took a picture of my dinner....."). Please look at this confession as another step on my road back to normality.
Seriously though, for a moment I thought I had been teleported to Noma. The little crispy wings were mere microns across (yes, a subtle exaggeration, but you get the idea I hope), and joining them were crispy crackling crisps, little curls of vegetables and flowers, the whole effect a vibrant array of colour, a miniature and quite psychedelic Stonehenge. Admittedly, on eating (this is what you do after photographing), the brown butter jus brought a little too much sweetness and weight to the dish for it to be perfect, but all the same the dish was deliciously appealing. A real highlight of the evening.
Oh, by the way, I drank some wine here. It was - yet again - the 2013 Pouilly-Fumé from Jonathan Pabiot, a now ubiquitous wine in Edinburgh, present on every wine list going. Which is fine, because it is brilliant. Good with rabbit ballotine, super with monkfish, and more than adequate with the cheese. It is available in half bottles, which is very convenient if you are feeling that way inclined. I wasn't. I had a bottle. Alright, I shared a bottle.
I finished up with a selection of cheeses which ranged from sublime - a very good Sainte Maure de Touraine - to the, umm, less sublime - a blue cheese the name of which I have thankfully eradicated from my memory but which tasted of paint. Not that I have ever knowingly eaten paint (or road gravel for that matter), it's more a question of the aromatics. It wasn't an auspicious end to it all. All in all this was a somewhat erratic evening, swinging wildly from a dramatic high point to regretful lows. The business, however, seems to be going strong (there was certainly not an empty seat to be seen the evening I stopped by) and Mark's trophy cabinet is crammed full, so I assume he is a chef hitting more highs than lows. I just hope some of the former come my way next time I visit.
Prices: The rabbit ballotine was £10, monkfish was £27, the cheese £10.50. The Jonathan Pabiot 2013 Pouilly-Fumé was £48 per bottle, £25 for a half bottle. Dinner for two including wine was £146. Starters range from £8-13, main courses £22-32, desserts £8-10.50. The wine list is attractive, with fizz by the glass £7-12, a dozen other wines by the glass £6.50-9.50, and wines at £26 up to £570, from Picpoul de Pinet up to Vega Sicilia. (1/8/15)