Having survived a flight delay and (temporarily) lost bag, by the time I reached the hotel in Edinburgh, Monsieur’s stomach was audibly protesting its emptiness. Mine rumbled back in sympathy, so out we went in search of decent grub. This we found, by chance, at the North Bridge Brasserie attached to The Scotsman Hotel on (strangely enough) North Bridge. How lucky we were.
We didn’t have a booking and this was Friday night, but the staff quickly found us a corner table in the gallery overlooking The Scotsman’s former reception hall. The building had housed the newspaper of the same name for almost a hundred years, prior to being opened as a Leading Hotel of the World in 2001, and the old-fashioned header is still emblazoned on a stone wall outside. It was an unexpected bonus to be sitting in a place of such national significance. The brasserie’s decor had been sensitively restored with dark wood panelling and balustrade around the gallery where we were positioned. Fat square columns of marble rose from the ground floor to the ceiling above us, and Robbie Burns’ portrait was reproduced and hung at frequent intervals around the main dining room. The starchiness of the white tablecloths was enlivened by blood-red glass tumblers and red leather chairs, and when our water arrived, it was (quite naturally) Highland Spring.
Our waitress was superb. If I could give a blog award for Best Waitress 2008, it would be to her. Linda was English but had spent a long time in South Africa and had somehow returned to Edinburgh, where she’d surprised herself by settling, at least, for now. “I fell in love with the place,” she admitted, once she’d answered the most-asked questions about the menu for us, namely “What’s Stornoway pudding?” (black pudding only more delicate), and “What are champit tatties?” (that would be Scots for mashed potato).
The bread arrived – freshly baked caraway or tomato, with a crockery tray of 3 bread condiments: regular butter, tomato and parsley butter or oil and balsamic. So far so good, but the meal itself was nigh faultless. Not feeling up to a full two courses, I chose two starters, instead. First up was one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted: Shetland Mussel, Garlic and Parsley broth. At £5.50 it was a bargain – creamy, light but tasty, with the sweetest little mussels throughout. I was sad to finish the last spoonful.
Monsieur chose the classic smoked salmon, which arrived encircling a pile of leaves, drizzled with lemon and baby capers, and served with onion bread. He’s not easy to impress, but on this occasion, the praise was high. “That’s the best smoked salmon I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant.” he raved. He loved the taste, thought the capers created a perfect accent, and commented that the balance between fish and salad and bread was just right.
As a main course I chose the seared scallops with the Stornoway Pudding that Linda had been raving about, all cooked in a garlic butter. A fresh tomato and shallot salad with champagne dressing was added as a side dish. Linda was right: the Stornoway pudding was much lighter than a regular black pud, and its intensity combined well with the subtle taste of the scallops. There’s not much that can go wrong with a tomato salad. Suffice to say, it was fresh and dressed to perfection.
Monsieur’s plate of tuna steak was served with bitter onions, bearnaise sauce and, Monsieur’s perennial favourite: fries. He’d asked for the steak to be cooked medium rare. In fact, it was more like medium but this wasn’t a serious issue, especially as the fries were so good that he pronounced them ‘home-made’.
We were now feeling so like Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the stomach department that we could not consider a single mouthful of dessert, even though the cider poached pears with honeycomb ice cream and fudge sauce beckoned from the menu. Then again, at a place like the North Bridge Brasserie, it’s always wise to leave something worth returning for.