Review by Lucas Miller.
Prices (in British Pound Sterling): Moderate.
Dress for the theatre.
Just off Lothian Road – a few minutes north of the Kings Theatre and Cameo Cinema, across from the Filmhouse, beside Usher Hall (now undergoing renovation) and the Royal Lyceum, and in the same complex as the Traverse Theatre – is the restaurant, Blue. Its proximity to Edinburgh’s main cultural venues makes it ideal for an early dinner before heading to the theatre or cinema. But to describe it simply as being near to these places and therefore handy, is to miss the point. Blue is too good for that – it is a place that stands on its own, while happily catering to this appreciative audience. It is a great restaurant.
My first Blue experience occurred at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, when Rotten Tomatoes graciously hosted their award ceremony and party there. “Gracious” here is a word not used lightly: the cocktails (Into the Blues and Cherry Margaritas, ingredients detailed on Blue website by clicking here) and hors d’oeuvres were provided for, and abundantly so. This editor-at-large was much contented. So contented, he thought he’d come in for dinner.
One enters a modern, cylindrical façade and ascends some stairs to reach the restaurant. The space is divided into two sections – the bar and the dining room. The atmosphere is contemporary. The mood, relaxed and calming with stones artfully positioned about the place and mellow lighting to suit the stylish chairs from Denmark and the complementary oak panelling.
Before ordering, there are a number of cocktails available at the bar. These are mostly light, fruity and sweet, good for spring and summer. The Hemingway Daiquiri, for instance, adds grapefruit to that simple classic, and is an enlightened addition mixing in a bitter quality to the sweet of the syrup and sour of the lime, while being sweet and sour in itself. There are three appetizing non-alcoholic cocktails prepared fresh at the bar: Pink Lemonade, Shirley Temple and Fresh Fruit Cobbler. The Shirley Temple has ginger beer along with the ginger ale, which makes the ginger more pungent and the drink more flavorful.
Blue has two menus to choose from: one, of dishes regularly served (available at the website by clicking here) and the other a changing pre-theatre prix fixe (£13.50 – 2 course, £15 – 3 course, served from 5.30 to 7.30). We opted for the latter, which gives you three options per course. Martin ordered a dish of smoked salmon and rocket to begin with. The fish was exquisite and fresh, with a light, refined texture – he was very pleased. As his main, he ordered the venison stew. This was good and classical, but not so ambitious in its seasoning. I decided to start with the venison croquette, which was also served alongside a small rocket salad. It was wonderfully crisp on the surface and loose within. I then had squash with more rocket (a recurring ingredient tonight) served atop a savory pastry. The pastry was delicate and flaky, very fine. These dishes all had a lightness of quality – perfect for a night of sitting at the theatre or cinema.
Andrew, our waiter, was kind, professional and helpful. He noticed a small chip in my glass and had it promptly replaced before the wine was poured. When asked about the cheeses, he did his best to find their names (see below). He was also pleased to recommend from the wine list the Bourgogne Blanc, Les Setilles, Leflaive, Burgundy, -07 (27). This complemented both our selections nicely, particularly Martin’s salmon and my squash pastry. It had a vibrant, flourishing taste, but remained so suitably light in keeping with the spirit of the rest of our dinner.
The Speyside Glenlivet spring water is superb, bottled especially for premium restaurants such as this one. The water has a very low mineral content (a chart comparing it with other famous mineral waters can be accessed by clicking here). Its relative purity means that it does not interfere with its drinker’s palate, allowing him or her to focus instead on the food and wine. That it comes from Scotland (in Speyside, where many of the great malts are distilled) reflects Blue’s mission to use fresh, local foods wherever possible. Close by, overlooking the western facet of Edinburgh Castle, there is a weekly, award-winning farmers’ market (click here for the website), which occurs every Saturday from 9am to 2pm. Much of the ingredients Blue employs are supplied by this excellent source.
To finish, we ordered the pecan pie and the artisan cheeses with chutney and oatcakes (6.50, on the main menu). The pie was splendid. It had a strong, rugged texture, not too sweet and entirely reflective of the nut from which it is based. The whipped cream served with it, was assuredly fresh and prepared there. No unnecessary sweetener was added. The cream was tasted in its full, rich glory, cool and strong. A great end to the meal.
The cheeses (to be enjoyed with a dram, perhaps something light like Glenmorangie), of which there are three types, are changed biweekly with the menu. For us, there was Mull cheddar, Dunsyre Blue and the third was a soft, white cheese, not unlike Brie, but presumably also from Scotland (the chef, who selects the cheeses and knew their names, had left for the night). Mull is from the Inner Hebrides, one of the more famous Scottish cheeses. The cows that make it reputedly feed on the same barley used by the Tobermory distillery, giving it a malty taste. Dunsyre is a farmhouse cheese from South Lanarkshire. It is rich and markedly flavorful. The pungency of these two cheeses is attributable, at least in part, to the fact that neither of them are pasteurized, a process common, but harmful to the taste of the milk. The small oatcakes were delicious, a real Scottish treat.
Sated and content, we sat and talked in the pleasant setting for a while longer before leaving, glad not to have any performances or viewings to get to, but to reflect on what a fine dinner we had.