The name Waldorf Astoria conjures up images of grandeur, wealth and fame, hotels that have housed (sometimes as residents, for many decades) retired presidents, business moguls and movie stars. As soon as I began to contemplate booking a table for two at The Pompadour in Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria hotel (perhaps better known to some as The Caledonian Hotel, or even The Cally), I realised I had better brush up on posh-hotel decorum. I racked my brains for where I had seen or heard the name referenced before, and eventually it dawned on me – the 1988 flick, Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and the great James Earl Jones, among others. The decision was made; if I was to have dinner in the Waldorf Astoria’s restaurant, this trio would be my style guides. I telephoned the restaurant, putting on my best Darth Vader voice (easier to remember than any of his other characters, but obviously I went easy on the heavy breathing), and made a reservation in the name of King Jaffe Joffur. With my second phone call I booked a fleet of limousines, one for me, and two for the attendants to scatter flower petals wherever I was to walk. Finally, I turned to the internet for the really hard part; if I was to really look the part, I needed to find a lion-skin to drape around my heavily padded shoulders.
Sometimes compromises have to be made, and it is testament to the training of the staff at Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria that nobody batted an eyelid when I walked in wearing my plastic lion mask. I wandered around the lobby for a while, my search for the restaurant a fruitless one, partly down to the lack of any signs, partly down to difficulty seeing through the little eye holes. Eventually I gave up and enquired as to its location. “It is up on the first floor, through there, up the stairs on the left, turn right at the top”, came the informative reply. I was perhaps expecting to be escorted, but I suspect the staff thought I really was King of Zamunda, and thus assumed I should perhaps already know my way around the hotel quite well.
The restaurant was deserted, and being seated quickly I was soon perusing the menu which had been brought over by the maître d’ with all the bubbly enthusiasm of a children’s television presenter. His demeanour was so infectious I couldn’t help but mirror it back to him, which sadly didn’t go down too well, although I did think for a split second that we could have had a possible future in the upcoming movie Chuckle Brothers – The Next Generation. Reflecting on this missed opportunity for fame and fortune, I consoled myself by munching on some delicious watermelon-sized green olives while checking out the menu. By which I mean wine list, as I always turn to that first. I stuck a pin in at random and happily it just missed the 2004 Michel Niellon Chevalier-Montrachet (£450) to land on the 2008 Bourgueil from Domaine de la Butte (£60). And although the list didn’t declare it, when it arrived it turned out to be Jacky Blot’s top cuvée, Mi-Pente, so this was a bit of a bargain in my book. Being full of deliciously cool, savoury, tobacco and graphite-laced fruit, this was a real success. As is so often the case, the last glass was the best.
I kicked off with a pressed terrine of St Bride’s chicken, ham hock and foie gras, with a salad of smoked pear, which was just divine. The three main ingredients worked beautifully both individually, and as a whole, each one succulent, tender and melting. I had been nervous – a recent encounter with a roe deer terrine at The Scran and Scallie had felt like an unanticipated back-alley contretemps with a William Gibson razor-girl – but if there is one take-home message from this meal it is this: not all terrines are the same. This slipped down with joyous ease. As for the wine at this moment, it worked pretty well with the terrine, although I think the dish would have certainly worked just as well (perhaps even better) with a white, a Savennières perhaps (you didn’t expect me to recommend outside of the Loire Valley, I hope). Meanwhile, a lasagne of North Berwick lobster, shellfish emulsion and sea purslane (on the opposite side of the table) was pretty good, although the filling had a slightly weird, spongy consistency. Nevertheless, the flavours were very appealing indeed.
With the main course, roast Chateaubriand, you would imagine that the chef couldn’t go wrong, and in this case you would be correct. This came with creamed spinach, potato millefeuille and confit garlic, and I think in every element I found perfection. The beef itself was deftly carved at the table by the waiter who served us with a combination of good humour and professional demeanour, and he really was a highlight of the evening. Sometimes, having the right staff makes all the difference. The beef was cooked to a perfect tender pinkness, the gravy was off-the-scale intense, a concentrated explosion of flavour, while the potatoes were totally correct, with crisp edges in all senses of the word. Hats off to The Pompadour here. In fact, clearly on a roll, the staff then went out on a high, plating out a superb selection of cheeses on one side of the table, and a mouth-watering platter of Valrhona Manjari chocolate crémeux, Provence cherries and cherry brandy ice cream on the other. The cheeses were divine. So, apparently, was the chocolate dessert, although obviously I wasn’t allowed to taste it for myself.
I left The Pompadour a happy diner, replete and contented. It is not necessarily Edinburgh’s least expensive dining experience, but it comes back to the old adage – you get what you pay for. Well, in truth that idiom doesn’t always hold true, but happily here it did; this was a top quality dining experience, perhaps with just one minor glitch in the lasagne, but I would happily return here, as on the whole this dinner was well worth the money. Not that I, King of Zamunda, need to worry about such financial quibbles of course. I have subjects. And they pay their taxes.
Prices: The terrine was £16.50, the lobster lasagne £17.50, the Chateaubriand (for two) was £34.50 per person, the dessert £10.50, the cheese £12. Dinner for two was £221.10. Despite name-checking an expensive wine above the wine list is rich in affordable choices, such as Olga Raffault Chinon Les Barnabés 2012 at £42, and many other options between £35 and £60 (and many above that as well). (29/8/15)