Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Palmerston's Restaurant, Morningside, Edinburgh

The Location

The upmarket and rather refined residential district of Morningside is perhaps best known for its Churchill Theatre (see graphic), Dominion cinema, fine food shops, Lucas ice cream, Holy Corner (a crossroad of churches), and where Muriel Spark's fictional schoolmistress Miss Jean Brodie resided. It's not exactly the place one would tend to visit for a fine dining restaurant. Until now. Palmerston's opened in August 2006 on Morningside Road (formerly Orbis) and has already become a destination restaurant with glowing reviews and dozens of repeat customers.

The Restaurant

Walking in from the busy main street on a grey evening in March, the warm, almost sunny ambience was most welcoming. It's due to the summertime, patio-style design and furniture. It's all very white and bright, with a few bare stone walls to give that garden look. The polished wood floor echoes the uncovered wood tables, simply laid with a green runner. But what gives the atmosphere a real tropical Malaysian feel are the high backed cream rattan chairs, straight out of a Somerset Maugham play. And on every table, the bar and decorative shelves are vases of fresh flowers. Artwork here and there adds a colourful note, such as glassware, ceramics, comical sketches by Willie Roger and a superb cork drawing by Tom Wilson of the Open Eye Gallery.

The Head chef Danny Owen (see graphic below) is self taught and is passionate about creating inventive, inspiring dishes using local seasonal food. Owner/ manager Simon Lloyd has long experience in the food and drink trade, first opening the Palmerston's café in Dunkeld and now manages Palmerston's fine wine retail business. Why the name Palmerston? Because Simon used to live in Palmerston Place. It is a good name for a restaurant, giving a sense of British tradition and class. Prime Minister Palmerston in fact attended Edinburgh University (1800-1803) so he did have a connection with the city.

The Food
Palmerston's is open during the day for lunch, snacks and a glass of wine but let's start with a full Dinner review. The menu, with five or six choices per course, is based on fresh produce and certain dishes change regularly depending on what's for sale at the fish and meat market. On this occasion, the starters had a true Mediterranean flavour such as Italian meatballs rolled in parmesan and herbs with smoked bacon in tomato sauce. The pan fried Salmon Fish cake is apparently never taken off the menu due to its perennial popularity by regular diners. This is no ordinary fish cake. These are true, unadulterated fish cakes, simply pure salmon flakes with strands of leek and no potato to bulk it out. Distinctly delicious. Also tried and tested was a tasty Goat's cheese and pistachio tart served with a sensational salad made with love, featuring rocket leaves, olives, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes and drizzled with truffle oil. A plate of home made chunky yet light oatmeal bread and butter was also brought to the table.

As an expert, Simon has selected a first rate wine list and using a high-tech Verre de Vin storage system, most of the entire 65 bottle cellar can be served by the glass. He is happy to advise diners on suitable wines per course which can be much more enjoyable than selecting one bottle for the entire meal. We sipped a 2004 French Macon Villages and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with our first courses. Next, from a choice of Pheasant with pumpkin puree, Medallions of Scottish Beef with homemade chips, we selected Sea bass with a tomato and avocado salsa and prawn salad (for him) and Porcini Mushroom Risotto with baby artichokes, fresh spinach and parmesan (for me). The Sea bass salad accompaniment turned it into more of a summertime dish but it was beautifully cooked, full of fresh, taste of the sea flavours. The wine choice for this was an Australian Pinot Noir, with cherry and strawberry flavours. My risotto was rich and creamy, the parmesan melting into the soft rice, pungent with mushrooms and truffle. And to drink, a warm, spicy French Shiraz.

There was a leisurely pace to the meal and portions are well judged, yet after two courses it felt like a great feast. The desserts are tempting though. Chocolate cake and rum and raisin ice-cream perhaps or Scottish and French Cheese plate with oatcakes. Rhubarb Bavarois was quickly consumed at the other side of the table, while I just had room for vanilla and nutmeg ice-cream, declining the Apple tart which comes with it. The ice-cream is home made and truly scrumptious. There is a selection of dessert wines and our selected wine was a glass of Pol Roger rich sweet champagne, described by Simon as "lemonade for grownups". A bubbly treat.

The Bill
Starters: £5.95. Mains: £10.95 - £22. 95. Desserts: £ 4.95 - 6.95.
House wine (bottle) from £11.95. Glass from £2.95 - £5.95. Espresso - £1.20.

Selection of cold plate salads - charcuterie, cheese, chargrilled vegetables, smoked salmon: £6.95 - £10.95.
Hot dishes - Smoked haddock kedgeree, Italian meatballs, Fishcakes: £4.95 - £6.50.

Further Information
Palmerson's Restaurant is at 45 Morningside Road. For reservations, phone 0131 466 7665.

Palmerston's is seriously good. It is a breath of fresh air for foodies in the quiet, genteel district of Morningside and whether you visit winter or summer, it really does offer a unique dining experience as if you are eating al fresco. Danny Owen has a truly distinctive flair for creating unusual combinations of flavour and texture - Scottish seafood, meat and vegetables given the healthy, sunshine Mediterranean treatment. To enjoy a few wines by the glass, leave the car at home and jump on the 23 bus. As Jean Brodie would say, Palmerston's is the "Crème de la Crème."

Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
March 2007

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