It was Tuesday lunchtime, and instead of being hard at work at my desk, I found myself strolling down Edinburgh's Royal Mile. What a rare treat; out for lunch, midweek. The venue was Wedgwood, a relatively new venue in the city. I should clarify what I mean by that statement; I have in recent years taken my finger off the pulse of Edinburgh dining (something I intend to put right), and so 'relatively new' could mean several years in my book. Indeed, after a brief piece of research, I see chef Paul Wedgwood and business partner Lisa Channon have been here at least three years, having picked up a nod as a 'charming restaurant' in the Michelin guide some time ago, as well as a few other trade accolades along the way. In fact, I see they've been here since 2007; a visit is not only warranted, it is plainly overdue. Lunch, here I come.
The interior at Wedgwood is distinctly modern, far from minimalist but there is certainly nothing dated or kitsch. More importantly the welcome was warm, smiling and accommodating, and this standard of service was maintained throughout my visit. It was not as though this perfect demeanour was ever tested though, of about nine covers on the ground floor, and another half dozen downstairs, only four tables were occupied. I had made a reservation, although it was hardly necessary; I'm sure things will be busier in the evening, but I see no reason why, midweek at least, you couldn't saunter in off the street for lunch.
I kicked off with a starter of rabbit, black pudding, croutons and foraged leaves, one of three options from the set lunchtime menu; on the whole I thought this a very good dish, firstly because I enjoyed seeing rabbit on the menu, secondly the combination with black pudding was novel, and on the plate it worked well, and thirdly the foraged leaves were distinctive in terms of their bright, peppery and on occasion aromatic flavours. It was also a feast for the eyes (sorry, I didn't take a camera with me!), the flakes of rabbit and tiny cubes of sausage scattered daintily among the leaves. Where it flopped, sadly, was on one element of the final execution, the black pudding cubes being quite dried out and crispy around the edges, so that there was not much difference between the crunch they provided, and that which came from the croutons. This was a pity, as the rabbit was also on the dry side, not entirely unexpected but I had hoped that the black pudding would compensate for that to some extent, whereas it only added to this feeling. The other starter at my table, hake fish cakes with a chilli dressing, was more successful. It might lack originality (although it was refreshing to see hake replace the universally expected salmon - which was how they were described on the menu, so this was perhaps a last minute replacement) but the execution and flavours were spot on, and that is what really counts.
My main course was a fillet steak, cooked rare as I requested, which came not only with tomatoes and pulses, but also a hefty supplement on my set menu price. The steak could not be faulted; deep and yet dainty, perfectly rare (very rare, in fact), but seared and flavoursome on the outside, this offered no challenge to this hungry diner. It soon disappeared. As for the rest of the dish, the pulses were interesting, forming a bed on which my steak floated, and they had a creamy, risotto-like sensation to them. Where things fell down was with the 'roasted' tomatoes; roasting should bring out the sweetness, blister the skins, reduce the fruit from something tense and watery to something concentrated and more flavoursome. Unfortunately, these tomatoes had been 'roasted' with a quick pass over a candle I think. Two had the classic 'mixed grill' feel to them, one was green-flavoured and watery. In the spirit of clearing my plate, behaviour engrained since childhood, I ate them, but they were of questionable value to the dish. Meanwhile, a platter of seared beef, pear and black pudding (a popular ingredient today it seems) was perhaps more successful, the little chunks of beef carrying a great seared flavour, although the little pieces of pear were too miniscule to make any impact on the dish.
Instead of pudding I opted for a selection of Scottish cheeses, which turned out to be a mix of Scottish and Irish, including two rather milky Cheddar look-a-likes, but also a rather good blue from Dumfries. There was also a rhubarb dessert, but I wasn't sufficiently persuasive to obtain a spoonful - you know what some girls and their puddings are like - so I can't make any comment on flavour. What I can say, however, is that the presentation was excellent (I was allowed to look at it, thankfully).
As for the wines, a half bottle of the 2011 Pouilly-Fumé from Jonathan Didier Pabiot went down well; I met Jonathan Pabiot (Didier is not his middle name, by the way, but his father, who is handing control of the domaine over to Jonathan) this year at the Salon des Vins de Loire this year and was impressed by his wines. He is a force to be reckoned with in the appellation I think, and I look forward to meeting him again, and tasting more from him in the future. With my steak I diverted from the Loire to South Africa, with a glass of the 2010 Vergelegen Reserve Merlot. Sadly this was exactly what I didn't want in a red, all oak on the nose, toffee and chocolate, the berry fruit on the palate smothered in a lactic, milk chocolate suggestion. Why do I do these things to myself?
On the whole, this restaurant comes with a gentle recommendation. I enjoyed myself here, and the bill was fair. Sure, there was not perfection on any individual plate, but that is the lunchtime, sous-chef menu for you. I would like to return one evening, perhaps, for the genuine Paul Wedgwood experience. Of course, evening prices will be a little higher, as detailed below.
Price: For lunch, two courses from the set menu comes to £12, three courses to £16, with supplements for certain options; my choice of a fillet steak for example, set me back a further £9. For dinner, starters are typically £8-13, mains £15-27. An amuse bouche selection with a glass of Champagne is a not-so-amusing extra £10, with a £5 supplement for extra foraged leaves. Puddings are generally £6.50. The wine list options run the usual gamut, from affordable glasses to pricy bottles. If I recall correctly (and there are no guarantees) my half bottle of Pouilly-Fumé was £20, the Reserve Merlot £9.50 for a 175ml glass. Total bill for my lunch was about £80, for two people. (29/3/13)