Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Cosmo, North Castle Street, Edinburgh.
According to an interview in American Airline magazine, Sean Connery's favourite restaurant in Edinburgh is Cosmo's. You can see why. Tucked away down the quiet, north side of Castle Street, with curtains draped over the windows, it's intimate and discreet with an air of club-like exclusivity. Cosmo is a well established and well loved Edinburgh institution, created by Cosmo Tamburri in 1969. Now owned by Keith Murray, (son of entrepreneur David Murray) it has recently undergone redecoration and more significantly a change of cuisine from classic Italian to contemporary European food, based on Scottish local produce.
The fresh new look in fact recreates the colour scheme and style of the original restaurant of 30 odd years ago. Enter through the pillared reception hall into the oh-so-classy and sophisticated cocktail bar. It has that moody romantic ambience of a bar in downtown Manhattan. The colour is a rich burgundy red and polished dark wood. A line of high back leather stools line the long bar, beyond which are intimate chairs and tables, perfect for that martini, shaken not stirred or a flute of ice cold champagne. A new addition is the piano in the corner, entertaining diners with a medley of soft jazz or light classical, depending on the time of night. From the lounge bar, there are a couple of steps up to the restaurant itself. This is a rather grand room decorated in classic Georgian red, glittering chandeliers and white linen tablecloths, all set for a first class dinner to follow.
Head Chef Alex Thain is a remarkably talented young man, whose claim to fame is based on the fact that he won the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship in November last year, (2005) receiving the title, Best Chef in Great Britain under the age of 26. His CV reads like a dream. After an apprenticeship aged 16 at a hotel in Moray, he began moving up the ladder at Kinnaird, One Devonshire Gardens and Etain, before being invited to run the kitchen at Cosmo. Like many young Scottish chefs, Thain is extremely ambitious: "I want to make my name for my cooking," he admits. "My ultimate aim is to get a Michelin star, but I know from great chefs like Andrew Fairlie, Martin Wishart in Edinburgh and Jeff Bland at the Balmoral that it takes extremely hard work to get there."
You will be greeted at the door by the charming and glamorous, Anne Schaeflein, (formerly at Gleneagles) who manages the restaurant as Maitre d' alongside her husband Max, as sommelier. They make a handsome couple, dedicated to ensuring you will have a memorable evening in terms of comfort, service and fine wine. Memorable food is the job of Thain and his kitchen brigade. So let's study the menu.
After considerable discussion over what to choose from a wide choice, I began with a delicate and very fresh crab and lobster tian, topped with avocado guacamole and pea shoot salad. My partner selected West coast scallops, served unusually with Cox apple carpaccio and a sherry vinegar caramel. Before we had tasted a forkful, it was the presentation which impressed. Three waiters approach the table, one holding the tray of plates which are then placed by the two serving waiters in front of us, simultaneously. And then we tasted - both exquisitely prepared with fabulous, distinctive flavours complementing the seafood. Other starters might include Foie gras with pickled rhubarb and tomato and sweet pepper terrine with goat's cheese mousse.
For main courses, fine Scottish meat comes to the fore: Scotch beef fillet with oxtail, or Roast lamb as well as a tempting selection of fish. The pan fried sea trout is served on a crab risotto with crushed peas and pea veloute - an inventive and tasty combination. I opted for a flaky white chunk of Halibut, accompanied by a mini bouillabaisse of langoustines and clams, with crushed potatoes. A fishy feast.
Unobtrusive attention takes place all evening - wine and water topped up - without the usual interruption asking if everything is alright, mid conversation. To finish the desserts are colourful and imaginative such as hot raspberry soufflé, white chocolate pannacotta with roasted apricots (divine).
You may like to relax in the bar again after dinner with coffee, a dram or digestif. You will certainly not wish to run away. I even persuaded the Polish pianist Pawet Kisiel, to play one last Chopin nocturne. Play it again Sam.
For a special occasion, you may like to choose the Dégustation Menu - a seven course dinner can be ordered for the entire table which offers the opportunity to sample small portions of the restaurant's key dishes. Selected matching wines may also be served for the complete gourmet experience.
Starters: £10- £15. Main course: £16- £25. Dessert £7.50. Wine list is extensive - quality French white burgundy, Macon Villages 2004 @ £22. Dégustion Menu £48 or £85 per person with matching wine.
Cosmo is located is right in the heart of Edinburgh's City Centre, at 58a North Castle Street, just off George Street (which is parallel to Princes Street). Their Web site is www.cosmo-restaurant.co.uk and you can make reservations by e-mail via firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephoning (0131) 226 6743.
I have dined at Cosmo for many years - birthday treats for me and my family as it has been my father's favourite restaurant since the 1970s. I was nervous about the makeover from Italian to French but I need not have worried. Cosmo offers a truly unforgettable dining experience - fabulous setting, ambience, service, food and wine. There's a real taste of luxury where you are pampered like royalty - or indeed film stars. At under £50 for three courses and half bottle of wine per person, this is excellent value for superlative food created with imaginative flair by the Best Young Chef in Great Britain.
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