Cafe St Honoré
One recent Thursday evening I paid a visit to Cafe St Honoré, which is located just off Thistle Street in Edinburgh’s city centre. In a dark side street, this is a real slice of Paris hidden in the heart of Scotland, and this is apparent even before entering the establishment. The building bears a street nameplate coloured blue, with white lettering and a green border, which seems immediately familiar; it is of course a good replica of a Parisian street nameplate. We are in Paris, it seems. And inside, this first impression is continued; extensive use of wood panelling and wall mirrors, low level lighting, closely spaced tables and a general bustle and hubbub are all reminiscent of any good Parisian bistro. Suitably won over by the decor, I weaved my way between the other diners – no easy feat as there is not much room here – and edged my way in behind my table in the corner.
The menu here is detailed and despite the obvious French theme it is strongly influenced by local Scottish produce. Local scallops, venison and duck, Scottish beef, and a considerable range of locally-grown potatoes – with each variety individually detailed – graced the menu. I plumped for a starter of fresh scallops, and when the dishes arrived I noticed the majority of my dining companions had done the same. Suffice to say these were extremely good; they were plainly very fresh, and had been precisely cooked to produce a tender, gently meaty texture in the mouth. Some others on my table had opted for the carpaccio of beef, which was also good (even if for me it is more redolent of Italy than France). Then I followed this with a special of sirloin, mushrooms, poached shallot and a red wine sauce. I requested this as pink although due to a rather uneven cut it was a little overdone for my liking, but there was no denying the good flavour here, both in the meat and the sauce. It was simple fare, admittedly, but it was well executed, I sensed that the raw ingredients were of good quality, and isn’t skilfully cooked simple food just what the classic bistro meal is all about? I finished off with a classic crème brûlée which came with a tiny portion of red berries and associated compote; there were no complaints with this dish, that is for certain. I scraped the shallow bowl to remove every last scrap of crusted caramelised sugar and the creamy underbelly.
The wine list provides plenty of interest, and we tried three bottles. The food may be French in style, but the wine list is rather more broad with plenty of choices from outside France and indeed Europe. We started with Marqués de Murrieta and a 2002 Rioja Capellania, which was very typical, rich and heady, full and firm, with plenty of complex fennel and spice notes from the rich oak treatment that characterises this wine. It was a wine I have already tasted, when I visited Murrieta in 2007, and I didn’t make a more detailed note than this. Then came a 2001 Gigondas from Domaine du Grand Montmirail which was also very good, full of substance and flavour; the texture – and the heavy stain of sediment left within the bottle – suggesting that this appealing wine was unfiltered. To finish off we tried, enthused by the success of the Capellania, a 2002 Rioja Reserva also from Murrieta. This was too oaky for some, and I must confess it didn’t display the same density of fruit that it possessed when I tasted it in the summer of 2007. Nevertheless, there was plainly some good potential here.
After a very decent espresso, the meal was finished. And in reflection, it was in fact extremely good. This is not fine dining; it is too cramped and perhaps a little too noisy for that. But the quality of food, simple but hearty and well executed, is good, the wine list interesting enough, and the price fair. This is one establishment that I will be only too happy to return to.
Prices: There is an evening set menu of three courses for £25. About £50 per head bought us three courses, half a bottle of wine per person (although this will depend on what vinous choices you make), coffee and mineral water. Our wines were £29.95, £32 and £33 respectively, although the house wines start at £15 per bottle or £3.75/£5 per small/large glass. (26/9/08)