Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- The Gallery Restaurant and Bar, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

National Gallery of Scotland
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Location
Gallery Restaurant and Bar, National Gallery of ScotlandThe Arts combined with wining and dining have always been ideal companions. At the opera, sip a glass of champagne in the interval. Book tickets for a play and enjoy a pre or post theatre supper. Now you can eat at the National Gallery of Scotland. An exemplary architectural scheme, the Playfair Project was completed in the summer of 2004 to create an underground corridor, new gallery space, lecture hall and a lift linking the Royal Scottish Academy with the National Gallery of Scotland. It was named after the architect William Playfair who designed both buildings. With a smart entrance directly from Princes Street Gardens, amidst a well crafted line of cream-coloured stone pillars, the lobby houses the information desk and a self service café, unfortunately akin to a noisy airport departure lounge. I would advise you avoid this, and turn right into the separate and much more stylish Gallery Restaurant and Bar. Here you can relax with a coffee and light snack or an excellent lunch, before or after you admire the permanent collection of grand masters or special exhibitions on show. And, of course, the art is not obligatory. Come here after a busy shopping trip or to meet friends for lunch.

The Restaurant
Gallery Restaurant, National Gallery of ScotlandFor over 150 years Searcy's has been at the forefront of private catering, restaurants and hospitality in the UK. The company is renowned for creating convenient and attractive dining experiences in several of London's leading arts venues such as the National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Opera House and the Barbican. It makes sense then to invite Searcy's to manage the Gallery Restaurant at the NGS in Edinburgh, as they fully understand the particular clientele of international city visitors, art lovers and local residents on a day out. Steve Adair, the Head Chef, and the General Manager, Stuart Thom, were both previously at the prestigious Tower Restaurant, Edinburgh.

The Gallery restaurant is beautifully designed with a wall of high picture windows overlooking the Gardens with a fine view of Walter Scott monument and up to the majestic City Chambers and historic buildings down the Royal Mile. The restaurant still feels shiny and new, featuring polished blonde wood floors. It's a huge light-filled space over separate levels, which divides the Cocktail Bar from the main dining room. Ideal for wheelchair users, there is a long ramp crisscrossing between the two sections. Two rows of neat black, uncovered, tables stretch along the lower window level, with comfortable grey and rust red upholstered chairs. A reception desk at the door is the meet and greet point, and service from the moment you arrive is efficient, and totally professional

The Food
Head Chef, Steve AsairLunch is served, very wisely, from 11.45am until 4pm. The menu is extremely flexible depending on appetite, so that you could have a just a light salad and glass of wine, or enjoy a fine three course meal. I would recommend the latter. The chic, sleek surroundings, lovely views and enticing menu is perfect for an indulgent two hour lunch. The list of starters is extensive, so read carefully before deciding. I began with a Feta and roasted aubergine salad with tapenade. A perfect choice - light and healthy, bursting with flavour and texture. My partner, Ken, decided to start with something a little heartier - Grilled Seabass with soft herb risotto. Both fish and rice were perfectly cooked with a touch of gourmet-style precision. Other choices include Chicken Caesar Salad, Foie Gras and chicken liver parfait, or a selection of Antipasto salads - huge platters of Italian meats or Scottish fish with cheese, roast peppers, vine tomatoes and bruschetta. This would be fun to share.

Main courses are well priced for the quality and style of cuisine on offer. Choices might include a homely Shepherds Pie, Braised Perthshire lamb shank, Chargrilled Crombie's Sausage (Crombie's is one of the best butchers in Edinburgh) with mash and red onion jus. I selected Seared Cod on a bed of warm potato and mustard salad, with spinach. The pure white slab of fish flaked off the fork and melted in the mouth, well complemented by simple but tasty vegetables. On the other side of the table Ken was quickly devouring Roast Salmon with ribbons of Mediterranean vegetables, drizzled in rocket-scented butter, with a (naughty) side order of fat and chunky hand cut chips. Vegetarians are also catered for - on this occasion, a Cheese and Onion tart with black bean cassoulet. There are daily specials too so there is plenty of choice whatever your taste. We accompanied the meal with a couple of glasses of wine. Apart from a full wine list, the menu suggests selected quality wines of the day.

Portions are well judged, so you are sure to want pudding. The menu does say pudding, not dessert, and includes the usual suspects - everyone's favourites. Crème Brulée, served in a trio of fabulous flavours, vanilla, pistachio and pear - the verdict was 'yummy'; also bread and butter pudding, which is seeing something of a comeback, and classic Lemon tart with lime and ginger sorbet (extra sharp citrus tang, crisp pastry). You could also finish with a plate of Scottish cheese and biscuits. And to round off an exceptionally pleasurable meal, we sipped an espresso.

The Bar
If you just want a drink and snack, the Bar offers an alternative and rather snazzy place to meet friends. Relax on sofas and armchairs and select a speciality cocktail or two. All the classics are here such as Cosmopolitan, French Martini, Margarita, or a chilled champagne Bellini. Alternatively a wide choice of bottled beers, Scotch, and all popular spirits. Open until 5pm. The Restaurant and bar is available for private events and parties in the evening.

The Bill
Starters - Soup: £3.95; Others: around £5.95. Main courses - £7.95 - £14.95 (prime rib eye steak) but most dishes under £10.00. Pudding - £5.00. Coffee - £1.50. Wine - Seven red and white house wines from £13.00 (South African Sauvignon and Shiraz) to around £20.00, all served by the glass. Superb value Searcy's champagne, £7.50 by the glass and bottle of Sparkling wine at £21.

I shall start with a quotation from another review on Searcy's restaurants.

"Searcy's idea of branding seems consistently to be a quality offering, high levels of customer service.."
   Ed Sullivan - Evening Standard.

Searcy's ethos is described as offering "Service, Care, Quality and Style". From this experience at The Gallery Restaurant, I would wholeheartedly concur with Ed Sullivan's views and the company's aims. We were looked after with genuine friendly attention by Violet, our delightful Polish waitress; we were impressed by an enticing, imaginative menu which followed through on tasting - expect the freshest ingredients, superbly cooked and presented with artistic care. This is no ordinary arts venue café - this is top notch 5-star hotel restaurant standard. Ambience - chic and contemporary; Food - inventive and original. This is a dining experience to be repeated. I just wish they were open for dinner. Perhaps it might during the Festival? Full marks - 10/10.

Vivien Devlin
February 2006

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