Let me set the scene. Lesley and I returned from a L_O_N_G 5 – day trip through the Scottish Highlands late last night. The days started early and the schedule was strenuous, so we agreed to have a couple of days to ourselves before leaving for Inverness. And it’s raining.. hard.. continual, Edinburgh rain. People shuffle past wrapped in puffer jackets looking grim- so would I be.. this is their summer! They must be feeling very cheated. Porridge and coffee from Pret a Manger equals breakfast and I trudge the streets, not quite knowing what to do with myself today. I shop a little, buy The Times, which I’ve missed in the Highlands and retreat to my apartment. The rain is unrelenting and challenges me to find meaning in today. But I’m low energy. And it’s 3pm. I’m antsy, hungry and I hear my inner voice ……This is not a life fully lived Nora.. Get thee to something interesting... and that’s when I decide to check in on Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in St Andrew’s Square.
It’s warm inside and I’m greeted by a young woman in a black tailored suit and white shirt. I’m shown to a lovely seat, central to the restaurant and with enough room to spread out. No white table cloths just black marble tables and tan leather banquettes. The space has the industrial look of exposed pipework on the ceiling, but all painted grey. There’s a long mirrored bar along one wall, a spiral staircase to the toilets and upstairs dining area. Mirrors, chrome, high bar tables define the bar area and the dining space wraps around the bar. It feels like a place where you can have a drink and cheese platter or come for dinner or lunch. Smart, definitely not a pub and yes…pricey. There’s a gentle hum to this place, casual yet special.. Waiters glide… like black – suited swans. Attentive but never intrusive. Their timing is like a good symphony orchestra and it meets my needs, not their routine. Superb service.. warm, friendly, informed professional wait staff. They look the part. They are the part. You’ve got this Gordon Ramsay… you don’t get 7 Michelin stars across your restaurant empire for nothing!
The menu is extensive. A range of steaks and hamburgers, fish and even beef wellington. Three types of fish and also a good range of vegie options like a Superfood Salad which has kale, cucumber, quinoa, grilled corn, avocado puree, orange dressing and spiced nuts. (12.00GBP or about $20.00)
But I’d like fish, which in Scotland has been the freshest, most beautiful food I have eaten. There’s no rush to order and my waiter – who looks like a Tom Ford model, chats with me about the wines. I decide on the roasted cod with crushed potatoes, artichoke, salted capers and red wine and lemon sauce. (22.50GBP or about $40) This is accompanied by a glass of Pinot Grigio, from Alto Adige, Italy. (12.00 GBP or about $20)
I look around. On the next table, pleasantly social distanced, is a young couple with an older woman, his mother. They are Scottish and it’s her birthday, all conducted as a polite, restrained but friendly interchange. There’s no hurry and they are enjoying a slow lunch over a fine bottle of wine.
I look across at a table of Asian tourists who sit with their masks on, looking at their phones. Across from me is a young couple who are excited to be in this restaurant and taste each other’s food in delight. They decide to score the dishes out of 10 and become Masterchef judges for a moment. They’re having great fun.
My fish is delicious and perfectly cooked and the artichoke and potato, complementary. Nothing overwhelms the fish, and the dish has balance and different textures. The wine is simply wonderful. My waiter, let’s call him Tom, checks in gently and then drifts away..” Is everything to your liking madam?” ……. Oh yes Tom Ford…. and I love being called Madam!
Then I go a bit crazy…. the dessert menu is a bit limited but I would like something, so I decide on the ice-cream trio of salted caramel and raspberry, and strachiatella ice-cream. The raspberry gelato was delicious and tasted like a bowl of fresh raspberries but the ice-cream was dull and insipid. I imagined creamy, cholesterol challenging, rich, exotic, lush, hand churned from the milk of Scottish Hairy coos….but it was the Weight Watchers version…limp and insipid…. Oh well…(5.50 GBP or about $9.00) I should have had the Single malt whisky cranachan cheesecake with raspberry sorbet…or at least the single malt whisky!
Then the world becomes really interesting. The evening crowd will be descending soon. The office workers catching up for a cocktail..the bankers, fund managers and IT crowd who frequent this area. In walk two barmen for their evening shift… but that is oh such a wrong name for these young Adonis cocktail impressarios. They strut. They don’t walk. They have black pants and crisp white shirts, black braces and shiny metal sleeve bracelets like my father wore to impress in the 1950’s…. remember the old films where these arm bracelets pushed up their sleeves – and emphasized their muscles! These are serious Bar Gods, here to mix the most exotic cocktails from small batch, bespoke gin palaces and herbs grown in the Outer Hebrides.. all secret recipes of course. They are serious, committed craftsmen (and part-time models) and when the in-crowd descends they’ll be ready with their heavenly elixir!
But I finish my coffee and pay the bill, plus tip and must leave the warmth of this restaurant with its interesting people. Tom Ford appears to help me on with my coat. ” How often does Gordon Ramsay come up here? ” I ask…” Oh he’s present every day.. but we see him every few months…” says the waiter.
What a great afternoon! I think about what makes this place work and as with most things, its the quality of the staff. Even in this climate where hospitality is struggling to hire staff, Ramsay has managed to attract, train and retain outstanding people. The food was very good but not outstanding, The ambience and service was 5 star.