30 – 34 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2AD
01310 524 8350 www.harveynichols.com
A la Carte
Starters: £7.00 - £13.00 | Mains: £15.00 - £35.00 | Desserts: £7.00 - £9.00
Cooking 7/10 | Service 5/5 | Flavour 5/5 | Value 5/5
Edinburgh dwellers just don’t realise how lucky they are. Even from my room a couple of miles out of the town centre I’m surveying Corstorphine Hill to my right and the Pentlands to the left. (More or less straight ahead I spy the dreaming spires of Wester Hailes, but let's move swiftly on.) Get into the centre of the town and there are just too many wonders to behold. And for one of the more unusual slants on the city take yourself to the top of Harvey Nicks and grab a bite at the Forth Floor (not a misprint).
It has always seemed odd to me that an emporium which peddles size zero frocks should also be synonymous with good food. Long before the Multrees Walk outpost was even thought of, I ate stunningly well in Knightsbridge, the stoves then being manned by the now legendary Henry Harris. I used to lunch at the restaurant here (there is an adjoining brasserie) on a fairly regular basis when Stuart Muir, now of Dine, was in charge. The food was great and, for years, ridiculously cheap. When they raised their prices to a sensible level, it became less of a place you would go to on a whim, and more of a destination, so we got out of the habit. But it was worth it for the view alone. The castle on the left, Fife to the right, and, straight ahead, the roofs and chimneys of Craig’s New Town, with, in the foreground, the Gothic curiosity that is the National Portrait Gallery.
I suppose you want to know about the food. Judging by the prices – 3 courses will set you back 35 quid, with sides an extra 4 – it’s aiming at the high end. Sadly, it’s now well wide of the mark, something which could never have been said in Mr Muir’s day. To begin there were a couple of soups. Roasted red pepper and tomato is a standard, but it needs a little care. This one needed both salt and sugar. Oh, for a chef who licks his own fingers. Celeriac, apple and golden raisin tasted a little sour until you got a spoonful with a raisin in it, when it became just right. Roast pumpkin hummus, dukkah, charred vegetables, red onion marmalade and pitta bread was a collection of things which should have worked together, but didn’t quite. Nice enough components – apart from a couple of odd discs which I assume were meant to be the pitta – but you can tell they wouldn’t be together for long after their first date. A dish of roasted salmon, cream cheese and herb tortellini, crosnes, purple sprouting broccoli, crispy capers and beurre blanc was much better. If any of you out there know what crosnes are, then please cancel your subscription to this column. No one likes a smart arse. They are in fact a type of Chinese artichoke, which bear an uncanny resemblance to witchetty grubs. There were a lot of them and, to be frank, they were a little dull. Our lovely waitress told us that the chef refused to tell the serving staff what they were, so they had to go and Google it. Never let it be said that there is no place for a mobile phone in a dining room. Oh, for a chef who can communicate with his colleagues. And also for one who can sauté potatoes. These could have passed for boiled in a blind tasting.
Saving the best for last, pan roasted stone bass came with parmesan gnocchi, courgettes, tomatoes, basil pesto and parmesan foam. Skilfully executed, well matched flavours of the Med. Confusingly in a set menu, desserts are individually priced on the menu. There is a selection of three, plus a selection of ice creams and sorbets, and cheese. Unusually the cheese is the cheapest option. When I give the dessert price ranges I always omit the cheese, as it’s invariably the priciest. Choices included apple crumble custard tart (no, I haven't omitted a comma), cranachan and Devil’s food cake. All sounded good.
I mentioned a cheery waitress. I also spied a waiter who has been there for ever. Disgracefully I have forgotten his name, but he’s one of the old school. Quiet, self-effacing but ready to smile and to engage if and when the diners so wish. Sadly, he wasn’t assigned to our table. By contrast, our other waiter had clearly just had his appraisal. Engage more with customers, he had been told. What’s the weather like today? he asked. We gestured to the huge plate glass window six inches away, rain speckled. Back to finishing school, perhaps.
Remembering the past glories of the place I was sad. Was it just a bad day? Possibly, but at these prices I’m not going to go back and check. I’ve quoted the prices which applied when we were there a few weeks ago. If you go online, you’re being quoted £35 for 2 courses and £40 for 3, but I have a sneaky feeling that they just haven’t taken down the Christmas menu. If that’s the case it’s another sloppy touch spoiling the overall effect. And that, perhaps, sums up our experience.