Never mind a COVID test. Today, Tom Eats! requires you to take a mood test to ascertain if you are a fit and proper person to be its reader. Are you in jabtastic mode, or are you Googling about blood clots? Are you viewing spring with a springy step, or are you an institutionalised wretch who may never cross your own front door again? Is your champagne glass half empty and sparkling, or are you morosely staring at flat stale beer midway down your pint tumbler?
You are fans of eating out, otherwise you wouldn't read this column. Today's question is how much are you looking forward to getting back out to eat, how well is your love outlasting The Great Plague? (OK, that's two questions, but I'm on a roll, I don't care.) As you may gather, producing a restaurant column has certain tiny difficulties when you can't pitch up, sample the wares and knock out 800 words or so. Sitting at the desk this sunny March morning, I confess I did half a fleeting half-empty moment, contemplating those restaurants which didn't make it, those who have fallen. The shattered livelihoods, the lost jobs, the broken dreams: let's not forget these. But, I suggest, this should make those of us who are able even more determined to get out and support the returning wounded as soon as we can.
Yet I hear the sadness in your voice as you recall your best loved, your local, your special place to which you won't be able to return. Well, love has no limit to its endurance and can outlast anything. (That must be right. It says so at the top of the page.) The purpose of today's column is to reverse the fading of hope. If your favourites will no longer be reopening (and that applies to a few of mine) what next? Let's look at some regular haunts which are no more, and consider excellent substitutes. The alternatives have all been reviewed in Tom Eats! at some stage. Their scores are given in brackets. Do be aware that some may not have been visited for a few years. As we won't be able to travel out of our own areas for some time, this is Edinburgh based.
If you liked L'escargot blanc, Queensferry Street, I have a couple of options for you-
1.1 L'escargot bleu, Broughton Street (22)
Yes, I know this was a pretty obvious one. Run by Fred Berkmiller and Betty Jourjon, this provides some of the best French provincial cookery ever seen in Edinburgh. Fred's skill (very hard earned as you will know if you read his blogs) is allied to the best produce he can source in Scotland and France, and the best he can grow in his Newton Garden. The results are spectacular. While the White Snail was handier, the food at Bleu was, and is, much better. But there's more.
1.2 One20, Dundas Street (19.5)
Latterly our visits to L'escargot blanc were as likely to be to the wine bar on the ground floor. Good quality wine, and great for people-watching; but if you were hungry, the assiettes of charcuterie and cheese were something to behold. Most was imported - down to reasons of quality not chauvinism.
Pop down the hill to Dundas Street and you can (Nicola permitting) enjoy great wine with some pretty decent cheese and meat platters. Different styles, perhaps not to the same quality, but with a lovely relaxed vibe.
If you liked The Pompadour Room at The Caley, you'll enjoy
2 Number One, The Balmoral, Princes Street (24)
Being a basement, the room can't quite compete with the beautiful diningroom that was The Pompadour along by, but Rocco Forte's renowned design team (still headed, I believe, by his sister Olga Polizzi) have done a pretty good job. The restaurant itself is arguably the place to go in Edinburgh. For a long time now, Executive Chef has been the spectacularly inappropriately named Jeff Bland. He has kept a weather eye over a series of Head Chefs at Number One, with no impact on quality. The latest is Mark Donald. The food will be fabulous, the bill hefty.
If you liked Otro, you'll like
3 New Chapter, Eyre Place (21)
I'm maybe not comparing apples with apples here. Otro was more informal, especially at dinner time; however they were sister restaurants. What they had in common was not only ownership, but also a streak of originality allied to great flavour. You have to head downhill to Eyre Place to find her, but you won't regret your jaunt to New Chapter.
If you liked Le Roi Fou, you'll probably enjoy
4 Taisteal, Forth Street (23)
In fact if you turn up at the site of Jérôme Henry’s Le Roi Fou, what you'll find will be Gordon Craig's Taisteal. At the time of going to press he is relocating to Jérôme's old place. Perhaps appropriate, since taisteal is the Gaelic word for journey. Le Roi Fou was more classically French, whereas Gordon's cuisine is more eclectic. Both establishments, however, were of a very high standard. Good luck, Taisteal, in your new home.
Finally, if you enjoyed The Apartment, go to
5 The Outsider, George IV Bridge (21)
I never got round to visiting the Apartment at Bruntsfield, but I know its sister very well. The fact that reviews for The Apartment could vary widely seems to stem from the fact that the owner couldn't stand fools. Sounds like my sort of guy. A philosophy of the customer always being right is one of the many reasons I could never have made my living running a restaurant.
In my review of The Outsider I wrote, were I ever sufficiently deranged to open a restaurant, I think I would like it to be like this. Well located, quite hip (no, I don’t need you to tell me it is not in my image, thank you), bustling and fun. And, it goes without saying, featuring excellent food and great service. Need I say more?
When we raise our glasses, let's not drink to long lost friends. Instead, let the toast be, Pleasures to come.
Help Tom Eats! Help You
Help you, that is, by keeping it going during lockdown. Five star columns such as this require fuel in the form of information and opinion. You know how much I value my guest reviewers. You, like me, know that it's not an easy thing to do. That is why there are so few of you. But everyone can manage a few lines.
I invite you to tell me-
- Which restaurant will you visit first when lockdown ends, and why; and/or
- What dish are you most looking forward to.
Either post details in the Comments section, or email me directly at email@example.com
To quote Delia, Where are ya? Let's be havin' ya!