Friday, 23 August 2013

Review - Angels with Bagpipes, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

It's that time of year again and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is in full swing. In need of a break from the stresses of our recent house move, myself and Nicola took our annual pilgrimage to the Comedy Capital to see popular Irish comedian, Neil Delamere. As the weekend approached, I realised that I had completely forgotten to book somewhere for us to eat before our show, so I asked for recommendations from my Edinburgh Twitter buddies. Within seconds of asking the question, fellow blogger JDRecommended in Edinburgh came back suggesting that we try one of his favourite places to eat, Angels with Bagpipes on the Royal Mile. After a quick look on their website, I was hooked, the food looked great and the reviews were very strong too. The only downside was that it was already Thursday evening and I was hoping to sort out a table with just 48 hours notice which is no mean feat in the middle of 'festival fever'! With a couple of well versed tweets fired off to the restaurant, they kindly got back and arranged to squeeze us in for a 5pm sitting. Result!
We arrived in Edinburgh just after lunchtime and the capital was already very busy. With a few hours to spare before our early dinner appointment, we spent the time wandering around the arts and crafts at the West End Fair, before working our way up onto The Royal Mile to take in some of the street performers. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival brings a weird collective of creative minds out onto the streets, all keen to demonstrate their hidden talents whilst pedestrians look on bemused. We could have watched the street performers all all day but before we knew it, it was time for dinner so we squeezed our way through the crowds and made our way to the restaurant.

Angels with Bagpipes takes it strange name from a beautiful wooden carving that is housed within the Thistle Chapel in St. Giles Cathedral opposite the restaurant. Artist Lex McFadyen was commissioned to create a version of the angel and it is his stunning bronze sculpture that dominates the stairwell that we passed as we were shown to our seats.

The restaurant is a blend of ancient meets modern as clean lines and sharp colour fill the 16th century Old Town building. When you are part of the Royal Mile, you are part of history, and Angels with Bagpipes is no exception. The restaurant’s courtyard is known as Roxburgh’s Court and it takes its name from a man called John Roxburgh. Happily for a restaurant business, it seems that Angels with Bagpipes is continuing a well worn tradition. Roxburgh was a professional chef who lived in the building from 1635.
Rather harder to explain are the paintings which were uncovered on the ceiling of Roxburgh’s Close during renovation work. You can see them by walking through the close and looking up to the floor of the Halo Room.
Most of the Royal Mile’s history is well documented but the symbols daubed on Roxburgh’s Close remain a mystery.
As we were eating fairly early, the Table D'Hote menu was still available to us. (This great value offering is served until 5:45pm) With a choice of four starters and mains, we both had no problem ordering something that would satisfy our growing hunger.

To start, Nicola ordered the Hot Smoked Salmon Potted with Horseradish Marscapone & Caviar. Presented in it's own little vacuum seal jar, the hot smoked salmon was flaked then seasoned, mixed with dill and some other flavours that we couldn't put our finger on ,then served with little melba toasts. The starter looked and tasted great however Nicola did feel that the accompanying horseradish Marscapone could have had more kick! In fact, had she not seen the word horseradish on the menu, she doesn't think she would have identified its flavour on the plate.

I opted for the Terrine of Chicken & Leek which was served with truffle, pickled mushroom and white beans. My starter looked like summer of plate! The contrasting colours, coupled with the balance of texture and flavour was perfect, whilst the combination of flavours on the plate had my taste buds dancing! The terrine was bursting with the flavours of roast chicken, leek and asparagus, and topped off with what I believe to have been a piece of confit chicken skin. Crispy chicken skin is delicious at the best of times, this crisp yet fatty treat was divine! (Incidentally, what's the past tense translation for a French word that is already in the past tense?)

With our starters proving a hit, we sat back in anticipation for our mains to arrive. By this point the restaurant was filling up nicely and I was even more appreciative of the fact that management managed to squeeze us in on this busy early evening.
As many of you will now know, Nicola is a fish'n'chips connoisseur. No matter where we go, if her favourite dish is on the menu, then you could bet your life savings that that is what she will order. Sure enough, the AwB Fish'n'chips with crushed peas and home made tartare sauce soon arrived at the table.

It didn't last long though as Nicola set upon the huge piece of crispy battered haddock and miniature bucket of golden chips. My resident fish'n'chips expert was hugely impressed by the flaky fish and crushed peas and after much deliberation she proclaimed that the chips were the 'best chips that she had ever eaten'! I did steal one to sample and have to agree that the chips were mighty impressive.
I had ordered the Beef short rib, spinach, shallot, carrot, peas & red wine, which when it arrived proved to be yet another visual wonder. This plate of food was perfectly balanced with succulent, tender beef nestled on top of the creamiest mashed potato and surrounded by a delicious red wine jus. Fresh peas, peashoots, sweet braised shallots and wilted spinach made sure that the dish had the right mix of tastes and textures. This was one of the best plates of food that I've eaten in many years!
So after two delicious courses, we finished off our wine and cast our eye back to desert menu. Nicola chose the Strawberries & Cream, gin infused Pittormie farm strawberries & vanilla panna cotta. Huge gin infused strawberries were suspended in a strawberry jelly and topped with a rich and creamy vanilla panna cotta, with grated dark chocolate on top. The botanics from the gin made sure that there was no mistake that this was a grown ups pudding.
When i first picked up the menu and seen the words 'sponge pudding', I knew that I was having a pudding. Sure enough, I opted for the Sponge pistachio & olive oil, apricot sorbet & nut crumb. Again, this was a proper adult dessert, with warm pistachio flavoured sponge pudding, which thanks to the olive oil, seemed to be a lot lighter than most other sponge puddings that I've eaten. The sponge sat on a thick bed of dark chocolate sauce and was served with an intense apricot sorbet, and topped with a good sprinkle of pistachio nut crumb. Once again, this was a masterpiece in taste and texture. The flavours were great together, soft warm sponge and nutty crumbs, sharp fruity sorbet, rich dark chocolate, this was a perfect pudding in my opinion!
The Table D'Hote menu offers two courses for £13.95, and three courses for £17.95. The menu whilst stripped back, has a enough choice for most diners, and although the menu is put together to allow the chef and his staff to provide an efficient service, (all of the starters and desserts are either prepared in advance or easy assemble at the time of ordering), you cannot take anything away from the quality of the food that is served up. We can both honestly say that the meal that we enjoyed at Angels with Bagpipes was easily one of the best meals that we have eaten, and it was definitely the best value for money meal for the high end quality that we were served.
Angels with Bagpipes is definitely somewhere that we will be returning to in the future, although next time I'll be sure to book in advance.
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