Two years ago, friends took me to L’Escagot Bleu for a birthday dinner. It was a wonderful birthday present for someone like me. The restaurant used to be a favourite with me when I worked off Broughton Street. It was close by, the food was superb and the ambiance was relaxed and charming. The service is friendly and professional. Now that I work in Gorgie, L’Escargot Bleu is not quite so convenient but it is still where my mind turns whenever I want something authentically French, like choucroute garni.
Readers of this blog will know that I have a thing for French food. My first real food memory is about French food and most of my favourite dishes are or have strong French influences. I was therefore quite excited about going back to L’Escargot Bleu last week to review it.
L’Escagot Bleu is off the street, up the stairs on Broughton Street. The room is warm and cozy and we had a rather delightful table with a view of the street. Three white candles in a silver candelabra lit our romantic table and I had a good view of the bar.
Spectacle and steak
There are certain things that I cannot turn away from if I see them on a menu. Crème brûlée used to be one of those things, but I have managed to break the habit and now go all out for cheese instead. Steak tartare is one of those dishes that I absolutely love and don’t see on a menu often enough to dare turn it down when I do. Luckily, it’s having a moment rights now and in the last year its appeared more often than in previous years. Nowhere have I seen it served the way it was at L’Escargot Bleu where it is prepared at the table.
It’s quite a spectacle when a large board of ingredients is brought out and combined, to your specifications, in a shiny metal bowl. It starts with hand-cut Buccleuch beef steak to which egg yolk, mustard and olive oil is added and quickly incorporated to make a kind of steak mayo. Then texture and flavour is added through the addition of finely chopped gherkins, capers, parsley and shallots. When that is all incorporated a few more flavour enhancers are added: Worcester sauce, Tabasco, ketchup, salt and pepper. A final, gentle mix and the steak is ready to be served. I enjoyed mine tremendously. The flavour of the steak was still there, under the flavourings, and the whole was very tasty indeed. it was served with a green salad, which worked well with the fairly spicy steak, and more crostini than I needed.
C. had a goat’s cheese pithivier (a covered, flaky pastry pie). It broke a pattern of “when in Glasgow, have a pithivier” that started last year. It was flaky, had the right amount of goats cheese and was really good.
I go for capers. Again.
For the main course I had the fish of the day: ling with caper beurre blanc and blue potato pure. Oh, yes, and mussels for decoration. Lovely. The beurre blanc was very nicely balanced and the capers were not allowed to over-power the sauce but only give it depth. The fish was perfectly cooked and the blue pure worked really well both in texture and colour on the plate.
C. has a compte cheese risotto crosquis (a breaded risotto cake) with mushrooms and green salad. The risotto was richly cheesy and the mushrooms were a great. For the joy of it we shared a side of honey-glazed carrots and celeriac. We didn’t need a side: there was plenty of food on our plates, but it sounded really good. And it was.
A worthy cheese board
I sometimes wonder why restaurants bother having cheese boards. At L’Escargot Bleu it’s obvious: they love cheese. The cheeseboard meets you as you come in the door and teases you all through dinner. I had a blue, a soft goat and Langres, a washed rind cheese, each full of flavour. The goat’s cheese was fresh and zingy; the blue full of tingly umami and the Langres had that creamy texture and a gentle version of the big aroma that makes me such a fan of the class. I also tasted a treat: a truffle stuffed brie. Cheese all come from Maitre Fromagier Hervé Mons.
I remember seeing a picture of truffle stuffed brie on Twitter last autumn. One of the several restaurants or chefs that I follow posted a picture. (Sorry, I can’t find it.) As far as I understand, the process is deceptively simple. You take a good brie, before it’s completely mature, slice it in half as if it were a birthday sponge, and fill it with a heady mixture of truffle and mascarpone. The brie is then wrapped up and returned to a cool environment to finish maturing. The result is a brie plus: more mushroom, more flavour, more creaminess. Yes. I liked it.
C. had a selection of macaroons for dessert. The vanilla one was particularly pretty – a pale cream with candy coloured speckles – but they were all good. The green tea and caramel macaroon was the only green tea flavoured sweet that C. has ever enjoyed.
It was cold outside but we were happy and comfortable when we left. I would warmly recommend a visit. The food is great and the atmosphere is relaxed. You know you’re in a French restaurant: the lights are made from wine boxes and there are nostalgic French prints on the wall. It’s classy rather than kitsch, though. The sister restaurant, L’Escargot Blanc, in the West End, is a little bigger and feels a little busier. (I had my first duck egg there. Then I lost a scarf. Good times.)
56 Broughton Street
EH 1 3SA, Edinburgh
Telephone: 0131 557 1600