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Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Castle Terrace – truly a stellar dining experience

A dish of spring barley risotto with chicken
Stupendous spring barley risotto with chicken.

One of the great things about living in Edinburgh is that, for a relatively small city, it boasts a fantastic range of eateries, both in terms of cuisine type and level of sophistication. Within a stone’s throw of the Royal Mile and Princes Street it’s possible to feast on excellent yet modestly priced burgers or mezze, as well as indulge in some extremely fine dining. As someone who is obsessive about all things culinary, I appreciate good food whatever the context of its consumption. Yet every now and again it can be a real treat to push the (gravy) boat out with a meal at a gastronomically renowned restaurant.

And so it was a couple of Saturdays ago, when JML invited me to share a 40th birthday present by joining him for lunch at the Michelin-starred Castle Terrace. To be frank, there would have been tears if he hadn’t have done so, such is the reputation of this sister restaurant of Leith’s The Kitchin. Jointly established in 2010 by the vastly experienced Edinburgh-born chef Dominic Jack and his long time culinary pal Tom Kitchin, the quality of the food at Castle Terrace is such it took a mere 15 months for the restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. So having experienced a superb meal courtesy of The Kitchin late last year, and knowing that both Chefs share an ethos of “from nature to plate”, I have been champing at the bit to sample Jack’s cooking.

Amuse bouche of three canapes
An amazing amuse bouche.

Right from entering Castle Terrace it was apparent that we were in for a classy dining experience. The interior is beautifully designed, without being over stated; the muted burnt-ochre and plum decor giving the place an immediate mellow air. Warmly greeted and immediately seated, it was also obvious that the front of house operation is a well-oiled machine set up to provide exactly the right level of attentiveness. So within just a couple of minutes of stepping through the door, glasses of sparkling water had been poured and we were already perusing the set lunch menu.

Once our order was dispatched to the kitchen, it was only a matter of moments before the culinary concerto commenced. An amuse bouche consisting of a trio of beautifully crafted canapés was so artistic it seemed almost a crime to eat them. However, the fantastically fishy salt cod tortellini, caper-filled mini burger, and liquid-centred hors d’oeuvre that immediately exploded with Caesar salad flavours, were nonetheless consumed with eagerness. A deconstructed take on a cheesy baked potato was to follow – except this was presented layered in an espresso cup and packed with umami flavour. All were extremely clever and perfectly judged to thoroughly whet our appetites for the main event.

Ballotine of ox tongue with beets and balsamic jus
A beautiful ballotine of ox tongue with beetroot & balsamic.

Now it might be pertinent to point out that the menu at Castle Terrace is an accomplished piece of minimalist prose. Each dish is introduced by its main ingredient, followed by a concise description of how this is prepared and the other constituents accompanying it. Thus JML’s starter of “salmon” transpired to be a generously plump and glossy raviolo that concealed a superbly moist morsel of Loch Duart salmon. This was all bathed – by the waiter at the table no less – in refreshingly light consommé that brilliantly combined the piscine and pasta flavours with undertones of lemon, tarragon and cucumber. It was a dish that was both superbly simple and satisfyingly theatrical in equal measure.

My first course of “ox” presented an alluring pink disk of ballotine of Blackford Estate ox tongue surrounded by shards of heritage beetroot and tiny jewels of aged balsamic reduction. It looked like a gastronomic reproduction of an ancient Greek sunburst motif. It tasted heavenly, with the rich gaminess of the tongue being in complete harmony with a light touch of horseradish heat, earthy beet flavours, and a sweet acidic accent provided by the vinegar jus.

Hake fillet with squid, peppers and olives.
Succulent hake on a bed of squid, peppers & olives.

For my main dish I went for fish, or “hake” to be precise. This was a chunky fillet from the North Sea, placed on a bed of sautéed North Sea squid, peppers, black olives and garlic. From the menu’s description, this was to be an uncomplicated plate with “gently cooked” fish. Delivered to our table was something truly memorable. The hake had an incredible succulence and depth of flavour that suggested it had been cooked a la confit. Combined with sweet-savouriness from the peppers and olives, and the subtle seafood overtones contributed by the tender squid, this was a really accomplished and massively enjoyable dish.

Across the table, JML’s modestly described main of “chicken from Burnside Farm served on spring pearl barley risotto” was a feast for the eyes, as well as the mouth. The intensely pea-green barley risotto burst with complex spring-vegetable flavours. The chicken atop this displayed a crisply golden exterior that concealed tender flesh that packed a really meaty, but perfectly judged, punch on reaching the taste buds. Altogether, this was another top-rate plate.

Zesty lemon cheese cake with ginger ice cream.
Zesty lemon cheese cake with ginger ice cream.

Now I don’t know if it was because our first two courses had been so outstanding in terms of their visuals and flavours, but our puddings seemed a little more straightforward by comparison. JML certainly tucked into his creamy, vanilla-infused, caramel crusted crème brûlée with gusto. Equally, I really enjoyed the citrus tang of my lemon cheesecake, together with the ginger kick provided by the accompanying quenelle of ice-cream, which was also another beautifully presented dish.

They were both very nice sweets, but maybe by this point in the meal we had come to expect fireworks. The white desert wines that accompanied our final course were smashing, as were the other glasses of white from France, Spain and New Zealand specifically chosen to match each of our other dishes. All were excellently paired with our food.

In anyone’s terms, our visit to Castle Terrace turned out to be a truly terrific dining experience. But when you consider we were treated to a three course lunch from a Michelin-starred chef, accompanied by matching wines, for less than £55 per diner, what we sampled was incredible.

It most certainly won’t be long before I pay a return visit to the restaurant, maybe this time to sample the more expansive à la carte offering. With a venue that pays so much attention to what they serve, and how they serve it, surely it won’t be too long before Castle Terrace is displaying two Michelin stars above its door.

Food – 9/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Service – 8.5/10
Value – 9/10

Ambience – Expect a welcoming, high class restaurant ambience.

Castle Terrace Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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No Comments

  • Reply
    Beauty Balm
    April 13, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Great review Chris! We thoroughly enjoyed lunch at Castle Terrace on Thursday and can't wait to go back!

  • Reply
    Chris Berry
    April 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    It really is a great dining experience, isn't it? I do like trying places that are new to me, but we have already booked a return visit to Castle Terrace, too!

  • Reply
    July 16, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    It doesn't beat Martin Wishart though!

  • Reply
    Chris Berry
    July 16, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Though I've been to cookery school – which was a great experience – I've still to dine at Martin Wishart's restaurant. Shall have to reserve judgement until I do…

  • Reply
    Anato Chowdhury
    March 18, 2015 at 10:47 am

    I've yet to read a bad review of Castle Terrace – this really makes me look forward to going there next month. Can I ask what the portion sizes were like? I'm a bit wary of small plates and I was thinking of going a la carte.

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