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Number One, Balmoral Hotel

Number One, Balmoral Hotel, 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 557 6727
Internet:
www.roccofortehotels.com/..../number-one

May 2007

One year on and I returned to this Edinburgh establishment, which has retained its star in the latest edition of the Michelin guide. I was able to enjoy this dinner a little more than on my last visit, thanks to considerably better health this time! I started with a warm pork & potato terrine with a foie gras cromesque (more commonly referred to as cromesqui, judging by every other menu I have encountered) and a gribiche dressing, which I must confess gave me slight cause for concern. This layering of sliced potato and roasted pork was rather weak, lacking the depth of flavour I expected. But it was suitably enlivened by the foie gras and dressing, so as a whole the dish was enjoyable, whilst having an appealingly delicate nature. It worked well with my choice of wine, a Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett 1999. I followed up with wild sea bass, served with a ventreche cassoulet, artichoke barigoule and truffle foam. Although seemingly complex on paper, this dish worked very well indeed, the sea bass was clearly fresh and perfectly cooked, and unsurprisingly was again nicely complemented by the Riesling. I finished off with a gingerbread soufflé, which I found disappointing. It was undercooked. This was a fairly basic error which simply shouldn't happen at such an establishment. I was able to console myself with a glass of Warre's 1980, which isn't usually available by the glass but, lucky for me, there happened to be a bottle open on the night I visited. Many aspects of the dinner were top notch; I had a fabulous selection of cheeses before dessert which were a four course meal in themselves. The array of breads are delicious and obviously baked in-house, and the service I found to be faultless. But if Number One is to hand onto that coveted star, it needs to make sure that the sorts of slip-ups I experienced on my visit simply aren't repeated.

Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett 1999: Fine, delicate, fresh and vigorous. Perfectly poised on the palate, refreshing and very complete in style. A really fine choice for both the pork terrine and sea bass, and even matched a number of my cheeses very well indeed. Lovely wine, approachable now, but with fine potential. 17+/20 (May 2007)

Warre's Vintage Port 1980: Not usually available by the glass, but a regular customer had left behind much of a bottle he had purchased the night before and it was being sold off at a good price per glass. Only a month or three since I last had this. Deep colour, typical of the 1980. Lots of fruit, character and depth. Firm, sweet, creamy, structured. Decent length. Really very good indeed. 18/20 (May 2007)

Prices: as below. (30/5/07)

March 2006

I coughed and sniffled my way down to Number One, the Michelin-starred restaurant in the basement of Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel, determined not to allow some minor viral illness to spoil my dinner. Stiff upper lip, and all that. Well, I found a stiff gin and tonic more useful in warding off the symptoms of my cold, to be honest, and I sipped and relaxed in comfort as I made my choices from the menu.

Like many restaurants of this ilk, head chef Jeff Bland has a tasting menu, and this one really caught my eye. Nevertheless, for various reasons, I ordered à la carte, from a menu of five starters and five mains, and I was helped along the way by a small, complementary platter of savoury bites including an appealing swirl of foie gras on a tiny cracker, a theme which I continued into the meal. The wine was ordered and decanted, and we made our way into the dining room, being seated on one of the semicircular benches, covered with plush golden cushions, at the edge of the room, the table pushed in to meet us.

The first amouse bouche was worthy of comment, a soup of butternut squash with king prawn and pine nuts, with a little walnut oil, if I remember correctly. This wan't a combination of ingredients I would have expected to work well together, but they did, and there was a great intensity to the flavour. Then came the second foie gras of the evening, a terrine accompanied by a sweet pineapple chutney; there were two perfect rounds of foie gras, densely packed and creamy, which was set off very nicely by the chutney. This was a very good start indeed. On the other side of the table, crab ravioli with spinach and a shellfish bisque also went down very well. But this was merely a precursor to the highlight of the evening, a divine loin of Perthshire venison, with a perfect, meltingly pink centre and just slightly crisp, textured exterior. Alongside was beautifully flavoured truffle mash, some heavenly caramelised baby onions and a juniper sauce. 'Simply fabulous' is the most apt description; these were certainly the words I used on the night. A breast of Gressingham duck, complete with parsnip chips, was also of very high quality. I'm not much of a pudding person, but after a second amuse bouche based on blood oranges, which was quite fine but didn't float my boat in the way the soup did, I did enjoy a hot chocolate fondant with macerated prunes, although the pear tart also at my table was immensely superior. It all went down with the help of a glass of Chambers Rutherglen Rosewood Vineyard Muscat, which would not normally be my first choice for a dessert wine, but if there was one criticism to be levied at Number One, this section of the wine list was not particularly inspiring.

Overall, this was a meal of excellent quality, backed up by excellent and attentive service. The various breads, it goes without saying made in-house, are also worthy of a mention. And the wine, Lafon-Rochet 1996, was very complementary to the food. This is one establishment to which I am certain I shall return.

Château Lafon-Rochet (St Estèphe) 1996: Young, but well priced compared with many more illustrious names on the list, and I've always enjoyed the 1996s, even in their youth, for the classic, left-bank Cabernet character that they show. This was no disappointment. Decanted shortly before dining. Full colour, classic stony black fruit nose, and a surprisingly full, ripe, almost creamy texture. Very well poised though, still some youthful fruit, but a nice backbone of approachable tannins, and a lovely, hard and stony St Estèphe character to it. This has moved on somewhat in the last three years (when last tasted), but will still benefit from cellar time. Very good. 17.5+/20 (March 2006)

And that cold? Within three days it was pneumonia, honest. I should have had a couple more shots in that gin and tonic.

Price: This dinner cost £95 per head, including water, one bottle of wine and a rather pricy glass of gin and tonic. Lafon Rochet 1996 was good value at £60, and there are a few similarly well priced bottles amongst the illustrious names with three-figure price tags. The G&T was the wrong side of a fiver, which seems a lot; people don't usual charge this much on planet Chris, but perhaps I need to get used to Edinburgh prices. (17/3/06)