Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Fenwicks Restaurant, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh
Like many people you see on TV documentaries such as property programmes and Masterchef, Frank Sweeney and Kim Walker (a brother and sister double act), had always dreamt of owning and running a coffee shop and developing it in time into a restaurant. Frank had spent 25 years in his family's printing business and decided it was time for a change. After months of looking at various properties around Edinburgh, they almost gave up when they found nothing suitable. Then Fenwick's came on the market. This was not just a café, but a well established, popular neighbourhood restaurant. It has even "starred" in a crime novel by Ian Rankin.
Inspector John Rebus invites Jean Burchill, a museum curator, to Fenwick's for Sunday lunch and to discuss his latest murder mystery, in Ian Rankin's Rebus thriller, The Falls.
'Very brunchy,' she said 'Very Sunday somehow'.
Frank and Kim purchased the restaurant in June 2006 and have slowly been refurbishing the interior and developing a distinctive menu. Frank is in charge of restaurant management on a day to day basis, with Kim assisting front of house. The opening of their new look Fenwick's restaurant has been a dream come true for Frank who was determined to experience a mid life career move and develop his own new business as a restaurateur. Frank is also keen to be involved in the kitchen and occasionally assists the Head Chef Will Pottinger (seen in the illustration with Frank) who worked for 10 years in 4 and 5 star hotels around the UK before moving to Edinburgh.
The Newington district of Edinburgh is also known as the Southside, (south of Princes Street and the Royal Mile), and a fairly quiet upmarket residential area. It borders the Meadows - vast city centre parkland for walking dogs and recreation. The University is nearby with student accommodation in the Pollok Halls of Residence (seen here) in the tenement flats around Marchmont, as well as several hotels and guest houses along Minto Street. Salisbury Place is therefore a good location for both residents, students, daytime shoppers and visitors to town staying in a local B & B.
Almost hidden from view in the middle of a row of shops, you'll see the small A frame sign for Fenwicks outside. Enter the long narrow wood panelled and cream painted room, leading up a couple of steps to a mezzanine level and the small bar. Picture the scene: a few dozen bare polished dark wood tables, a mish mash of antique Victorian/Edwardian dining chairs, fresh flowers, and art nouveau posters - simple, old fashioned shabby chic. The ambience is that of a typical smart-casual, cosy Parisian brasserie. On first impression, (and on first sitting), the attractive, original chairs are in fact extremely uncomfortable and brick hard, not conducive to a 2 hour meal. To be fair to Frank, interior design renovation will follow soon in early 2008 with the purchase of new chairs. Investment was first given to the kitchen which was gutted and redesigned, a priority in their refurbishment plan of action. Although there's a small bar for display and serving drinks, there's no comfy seating area here - diners go straight to their table, where they can have an aperitif while studying the menu.
Head chef Will Pottinger emphasises on locally sourced Scottish produce. His philosophy centres around quality produce, keeping dishes seasonal, Scottish, innovative and blending French and Mediterranean influences. The a la carte Dinner menu, changes seasonally as well as weekly changes to meat and fish dishes according to the market. There's a choice of five starters and five main courses. Start perhaps with Moules Mariniere with crusty bread, classic Caesar Salad, or Smoked Chicken and wood pigeon terrine. There's always one vegetarian option such as Goats cheese and red onion filo pastry tartlet. The piled high bowl of mussels was perfectly cooked and also recommended is the home made soup which is particularly yummy - on this occasion Celeriac and fennel, seasoned with sage, topped with a parmesan crouton. Food is freshly prepared to order and well presented.
The atmosphere on this particular Sunday evening was delightful, with soft jazzy blues music on the soundtrack. We were looked after by an enthusiastic and friendly young man. He was in fact rather too enthusiastic and brought our main courses within 2 minutes of taking away our empty (and well scraped) starter plates. A little less speed would create a more leisurely, well paced meal. I am sure this is not always the case, especially when the bistro is packed full - as it often is on Friday and Saturday evenings and lunchtimes.
The descriptions of the main courses are rather appetising, with poetic detail of all the ingredients. I was tempted by Sea Bream, olive crushed potatoes with panache of vegetables. Deliciously delicate white fish, tasty mash, crisp buttery green beans, courgette and carrot, drizzled with creamy beurre blanc sauce. This is more of a carnivore kind of place (French influence!) with only one fish dish. For meat eaters there's always a fine selection - typically beef, lamb and venison such as Fillet of Beef, horseradish mash, Stornoway black pudding, wild mushrooms, roast shallot and Madeira jus or Saddle of venison, baby leaf spinach, celeriac puree, fig tart - (a brilliant idea) - and cassis sauce. Such imaginative combinations of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices and sauces shows classic French culinary skills. As well as vegetables being part of dishes, there are side orders of potatoes, French fries and salad.
With such careful attention to meat, some vegetarian dishes sound rather bland - on the night of this review meal, there was Puff Pastry with mushroom fricassee and salad which sounds rather like a soggy mush (although I did not taste it) and a dish which I regard as not particularly nutritious, lacking protein. More recently the menu has included Roast Butternut Squash Risotto, marinated cherry tomatoes, rocket and parmesan salad and herb oil which is more like a healthy, tasty veggie feast.
To finish you can expect some old favourites which are sure to delight those who love a sweet tooth. My partner could not resist the Clotted cream rice pudding with poached fruits and lang de chat. Just like Mother used to make with a more sophisticated style. Elsewhere, classic Cheesecake, Crème brulée and Cheese board. Unfortunately, the waiter did not know what the selection of "continental cheese" was but probably Mull cheddar, a blue Stilton type cheese, camembert and a smoked cheese. But quality and taste were destroyed by being served cold, straight-from-the-fridge.
A New Lunch Menu for 2008
Previously the lunch menu has simply been a shorter version of the Dinner menu, with exactly the same dishes midday to evening. A new flexible selection of lighter, bistro style dishes, with a choice of starter or main course portion size, is now on offer at lunch time. The culinary theme centres around good comfort food favourites: Parsnip soup with crusty bread, Salmon fishcakes with salad, Beef and claret sausages with herb mash, Char grilled chicken, and for something more substantial, rib-eye steak. The lunch menu is a great improvement and offers a better choice to suit all appetites and taste. It's sure to entice people - local office workers and residents, shoppers and B/B guests - to pop into Fenwicks for a very reasonable midday snack or a substantial meal.
Starters: £3.50-£5.50. Mains: £7.50-£10.50. Side orders: French Fries - £2.95.
Desserts: £4.00. Coffee: £1.95.
Dinner: Starters: £5.00. Mains: £15-£20. Side dishes, market vegetables: £2.95. Dessert: £5.00
House wine: Bottle £12.50. BYOB £4 corkage.
Fenwicks Restaurant is at 15 Salisbury Place, Newington, Edinburgh EH9 1SL. Telephone number for reservations is 0131 667 4245. You can get further information from the Fenwicks Restaurant Web site.
For people who live around the Southside of Edinburgh, Newington or Marchmont, to have Fenwicks on your doorstep is a real hidden gem of a place. As this is a family run restaurant, you can be assured of a warm welcome and friendly service. Home-cooked freshly prepared food, a bottle of good wine; you can imagine you have arrived in Paris for the weekend in this cosy and romantic wee Scottish French bistro. And recent diners have also been very impressed:
"Totally brilliant meal at Fenwicks on Saturday lunchtime. Beautiful unpretentious food. And the service was discreet, expert and charming. Go there. You'll love it. Great value too." C. Fellows
"Wonderful meal! Faultless presentation of beautifully cooked, well sourced produce. Service is so friendly and attentive. We can't wait to return!" Stephen and Ann
"Frank and his friendly and accommodating team at Fenwicks made my day! I threw 25 women at them for a hen lunch, and they handled it brilliantly. The food was extremely tasty, with some great options to choose from. The staff were efficient and great fun. And the gals loved the BYOB option. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Fenwicks for a special lunch with friends and family any time!" Kelly
© Vivien Devlin
British Guild of Travel Writers
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