Last Tuesday it rained in Edinburgh. I worked from home and spent the day running between my laptop and the kitchen to empty over-flowing drip-bowls. We had what the insurance company calls ‘water ingress’. Not fun. The day’s silver lining was that I didn’t have to cook my own dinner. At the end of a thoroughly miserable day, Taisteal was there to make it all better.
The last time I went to the unit Taisteal occupies in Stockbridge it was a Buffalo Grill. Taisteal is a much better use of the space (and, in particular, kitchen). The walls are painted pale, restful colours, the tables are free of cloths and not too close together. It’s a relaxed, inviting space.
I was there to review and they offered us the five course tasting menu which looked fabulous. The only problem was that my companion for the evening was vegetarian that can’t abide cauliflower, the main vegetable on the veggie menu. We had two options: reschedule and go somewhere else or explain the problem to the kitchen and see what they could do. We went for the latter option and were in luck: they came back with a cauliflower-free, five course menu option for Christopher. The evening was off to a great start.
Kudos to Taisteal for being so flexible! Anything cooked that’s not on the menu puts stress on the kitchen – in terms of resources, time and creative energy – so I am always impressed and grateful when people go the extra mile for us. I don’t expect it even if I’m reviewing. We are, after all, not in the business of checking how many hoops a chef can jump through. Rescheduling is an acceptable outcome. After a sodden and depressing day, Taisteal’s care silver-lined our clouds.
But what did you eat?
Taisteal does an interesting and very satisfying line in modern Scottish with a fusion twist. The name means travel and chef Gordon Craig takes inspiration from all over the globe. He wants to deliver fine dining dishes in a more relaxed environment. It’s a great concept, nicely delivered.
The first dish was tom yum soup with a cauliflower fritter. Tom yum is one of my favourite things. This was delicious and nicely judged: not so hot as to catch the back of your throat, but with noticeable bite.
Christopher enjoyed a tangy watercress soup with a perfectly cooked quail egg.
Dish number two was Thai tartar with Thai muesli and cucumber sauce. The sauce was foamy and delicate, the muesli – rich with dried prawns – crunchy and the tartar silky. Steak tartar just happens to be another of my favourite things, so I was a very happy person.
Christopher’s asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and poached duck egg was great too. The asparagus had snap and flavour and the egg was positively unctuous.
Dish number three was cured and charred mackerel with kimchi and kombo dashi and pork scratchings. OK, so this is a menu of my favourite things: mackerel and kimchi are both up there. Mackerel works exceptionally well with the funky tartness from kimchi. It was soft and crunchy, fresh and rich all at the same time. Gorgeous.
Christopher had a guacamole tartlet: crispy pastry and creamy green mash worked beautifully together and a tomato salsa added acidity. It was really pretty as well as tasty.
Main and dessert
Dish number four was lamb rump with lamb sweetbreads, a chickpea and tomato compote, smoked aubergine and home-made feta. Another huge hit with me. Lamb is… you’ve guessed it, another of my favourite things. I could have done with a little more aubergine puré but that’s such a tiny complsint. The home-made feta was lovely: it had full feta flavour but more of a curd texture which I enjoyed. The rump was flawless, the sweetbread fun as well as tasty.
Christopher’s main was battered and deep-fried halloumi on cherry tomatoes with an olive crumb. It was delicious! A simple yet genius idea we hope to see on the menu at some point.
Dessert was an apple terrine with compressed apple and walnut shards, miso butterscotch and apple and tarragon sorbet. The tarragon sorbet added sparkle that lifted and brought together the earthy flavours on the plate. The miso butterscotch was properly savoury, which I enjoyed, and the terrine soft as butter. The tarragon’s faint aniseed flavour was the perfect accompaniment.
Around the world in five dishes
When we left, after finishing our wine and relaxing with a mint tea, I was replete and in a much better mood than I had been earlier in the day. It was still raining and we got soaked running across the road after a taxi. But that didn’t matter: we’d visited a restaurant that offers bold flavours, excellent ingredients and thoughtful service. Food, especially when as interesting and well cooked as in Taisteal, has the power to transform your outlook. I’d been warmed by the sun in Thailand, seen the colours of Korea and rested in Morocco before returning home to Scottish shores. It was a wonderful way to spend an evening.
The tasting menu starts at £35 per head (add £25 for drinks to go with). On the main menu, starters start at £6, mains at £16, desserts £6.50. There’s also a five-courses brunch menu at £25.00 and a market menu. Visit the website for options on when the different menus are available.
Caroline was invited to dine at Taisteal by chef Gordon Craig.