The Vintners Rooms
The Vaults, 87 Giles St, Leith, Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 554 6767
A return to The Vintner's Rooms provided me with another successful dinner, on the whole. I dined here on a Friday evening, and unsurprisingly the dining room, lit entirely by candlelight, a fact I hadn't noticed on my last visit, was packed out. Nevertheless, it didn't feel overly noisy or crowded in the room.
The evening didn't start with a bang, as an amuse bouche of salmon, caviar, pink peppercorns and dill wasn't particularly inspiring; the salmon was all texture but no flavour, and the dill had to do what it could to compensate - which wasn't quite enough. Fortunately for me, however, it was all delightfully uphill from here. First up was breast of woodpigeon on a puy lentil salad, which unlike the mouth-teaser had plenty of flavour, with the lentils a pleasure either in isolation or in combination with the pink and tender meat. Then came venison and chestnuts with a chocolate sauce, a rather classic theme to the dish which was well turned out; the venison was of good quality, the sauce well balanced although rich, with just a an appealing trace of bitterness. On the other side of the table, the grilled Crottin de Chavignol was pretty straightforward in my opinion, but tasty and well presented, and lamb noisettes were also well received; I tried both, and found nothing negative to say. The lamb, pink and tender, with a redcurrant jus, was particularly delicious.
The wine list remains interesting, with a number of interesting bins, some mature, some inexpensive, some familiar and some unknown. I plumped for:
On the whole the Vintner's Rooms remains a trustworthy name; there is, however, one little point of criticism. The staff insist on keeping the wine, decanted, on a separate table and pouring for you. This is fine, but all too often I found myself sitting with an empty wine glass and empty water glass, thirsty for more. I could, of course, walk around my table and carry the decanter back. Or, obviously, ask for it to be left with me on my own table. But proprietors Silvio Praino and Patrice Ginestière clearly have something else in mind; that is fine, but more attentive service is required to make it work. But this was a minor disappointment on otherwise an enjoyable evening, and the service was friendly and otherwise appropriate and certainly unobtrusive. No doubt I will be coming back here again. (14/3/08)
Where more appropriate to start exploring Edinburgh's restaurants than The Vintners Rooms, located in the historic Vaults Warehouse in Leith, where ships have offloaded their cargoes of wine for centuries? The building dates from 1785, and the restaurant is housed in what was once the saleroom, and was established by Silvio Praino and Patrice Ginestière in 1985.
I started with a terrine of foie gras with thyme which I thought very good indeed. Good, firm, yet creamy and melting foe gras obviously of very high quality, cut through with powerful notes of fresh thyme, woven within the terrine. The fig chutney on the side was fine. Likewise, a duck rillette, accompanied by red onions, was rich, meaty and very good. Following my terrine came roast duck breast, with the usual sweet sauce, but with a twist; honey and prune makes a real change from the more usual fruits that are used. Although the sauce was not as focused in its flavour as I would have liked, I thought this worked well, helped by a superb flavour to the meat. Similar quality was found in a fillet of highland beef, with seared foie gras; both were cooked to perfection, as evidenced by the firm, cool interior of the latter. Pudding was a hot chocolate fondant; sponge on the outside, and a surprise of melting chocolate sauce within. Delicious pistachio ice cream accompanied it.
As would be expected with such a vinous history, the wine list at The Vintner's Rooms is exemplary. There is plenty of choice; I failed to make my way through the entire list, settling on one of a small selection of well chosen half bottles:
Les Tourelles de Longueville (Pauillac) 1988: The second wine of Château Pichon Baron. A half bottle. No need to decant. Good, mature colour. Classic left bank nose, with mature, gravelly, Cabernet fruit. Firm, savoury palate. Still rather upright tannins which will improve over the next three to four years. Good flavour though. Meaty, masculine, serviceable claret of quality but not finesse. Very good. 16.5+/20 (February 2005)
Price: Dinner for two, three courses, with the half bottle of Pauillac (£29), water, coffee and some unique petits fours, was £105. (9/2/05)