1st August 2009
The Plumed Horse Henderson Street, near the Shore, Leith
Rachel's birthday dinner in another of the Michelin-starred eateries here in Edinburgh, this one just a handy short walk from my flat!

Despite its unassuming exterior, the Plumed Horse is elegant if slightly cramped, but our welcome at the tiny bar in the hallway was slightly supercilious, which could have passed for easy-going if they hadn't repeatedly checked that we had booked a table even after seating us, in a way that suggested they didn't think we had.

After leaving us to feel ignored whilst they served the customers around us, things finally settled down when the rolls and amuse bouches arrived.
Indeed the waiter was most eager to answer questions, especially when he noticed me taking notes (perhaps it was a good thing that we decided not to take the camera), unfortunately he seemed as incapable of answering our queries as he had been keen to try.
The seeded, wholewheat rolls were slightly overcooked, or possibly stale, but delicious, whereas the perfectly cooked tarragon rolls were slightly dull.

I usually expect the canapés to be the chef's opportunity to demonstrate his art, and try out exciting ideas which might be on the way into the main menu so the three appetizers were something of a disappointment. The spiced minced pork ball had a deep chorizo-like flavour - pleasant enough, the lovely pink sea trout ceviche heaped on a crisp wafer with its single caper was a refreshing morsel and the melting blue cheese pastry (possibly Strathdon?) even delicious, if the pastry jacket could have been lighter, but none of these were quite carried over into wonderful

Fortunately, the day was saved by a delightful cup of tomato and red pepper gazpacho, frothed up as a loose mayonnaise and topped with slivers of baked tomato and pepper, the flavours blending perfectly and hitting all the right notes, the deep tomato, the fruity pepper, the light touch of cucumber, and the thrill of olive oil in each rich mouthful.
Well, it worked for me.

The taster menu for £43 offers choices of 4 starters, main and desserts. Being a sucker for foie gras I couldn't resist the
Pressed Terrine of Foie Gras and Armagnac Prunes,
Griotte Cherries , Pomegranate syrup, Sauternes raisins,
Toasted Brioche.
and couldn't have been better pleased.
The dish was superb, the delicate sweet raisins and the counterpoint tartness of the cherries (a small French sour Morello cherry packed in Kirsch) and the frisée salad all worked together.

Unlike Rachel's choice of
Twice-Baked Parmesan & Truffle Soufflé
Tomato & (large chunked) Cucumber Salad.
which didn't quite gel.
Oh the soufflé was nicely done, but definitely needed the salad to offset its dryness, and though the herby dressing on the diced cucumber did exactly that, and complemented it well too, the cucumber was just a little too chunky to eat comfortably, and the tomatoes were somehow left out of the action.

Rachel was rewarded in her main course choice, the
Truffled mashed potatoes
Veal and Madeira cream sauce
was just lovely, crisp green beans and a hefty slice of crunchy Black Summer Truffle providing a nice counterpoint to the soft, fragrant potato and the Chanterelles.

Roast Free Range Fillet & Slow Braised Belly Pork,
Smoked Paprika, Honey Mustard & Vanilla Salt,
Orange & Gewürztraminer-Braised Chicory,
Carrots, Sherry Spiked Braising Juices.
whilst having by far the better title, was surprisingly hard work.
Make no mistake, the meat was beautifully cooked, and the vanilla salted glaze quite inspired, but after all does belly pork really need much extra salt? Certainly if it does, it cries out for soft vegetables or lively sauces to soothe the mouth or relieve the palate and unfortunately what this dish largely consisted of was a plate of meat.
Delicious, rich, salty meat.
If I hadn't been able to help myself to my partner's truffled mash I think I would have struggled to finish it all.
The five anaemic melon-balled carrots didn't help at all, but hiding under the meat there was a true revelation - the chicory was absolutely lovely. Charred (presumably) and braised in the orange and sweet wine, the notoriously bitter endive fused perfectly. Shame there was only the one piece.

Our wine waiter was extremely helpful (and knowledgeable!), and we were happy to follow his recommendations starting with a fabulously rich, topaz-yellow Côte du Rhône, Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2006 (£42) from just outside Châteauneuf du Pape, and ending on Maculan's Torcolato 2005 (£34) an absolutely gorgeous Italian dessert wine every bit as good as a fine Sauternes.

Since we had already had a chance to admire the desserts of all the other diners in our small side-room, (who by this stage had all finished and gone home leaving the whole room to us), and decided to skip the intriguing
Rhubarb & Pink Champagne Trifle,
Chocolate Vinegar Sorbet.
(another time?)
We decided on
Fudge & Ginger Parfait,
Ginger Beer, Vanilla, Lime & "Sailor Jerry" Sorbet.
(we are big "Sailor Jerry" fans and it was a handy dessert to support Rachel's birthday candle the staff were kind enough to provide), and
Raspberry soufflé and raspberry sorbet.
which were both nice.
Even very nice.
But for myself, I must admit I like to have flavours fight for my attention in my mouth, particularly when the hot soufflé and cold sorbet are already metaphorically squaring off, and, well, raspberry and raspberry. Not much of a contest there.

The meal was well rounded off with small chocolates and cakes, the pistachio and cherry bake standing out as greasy but particularly yummy.

Rather strangely, we were treated to a visit in our now-empty room by chef, Tony Borthwick, who sat and examined us slightly suspiciously while we attempted to make complimentary small talk. Though he did explain that they made their vanilla salt as you would make vanilla sugar - by allowing a split vanilla pod to infuse the salt.

It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that my notepad might have given the impression that I was some kind of reporter or food critic, hence the rather uncomfortable visit.
Sorry Tony - I'm just an ordinary punter.

To summarise, some poorly informed and sometimes less than attentive service is at least made up for by its enthusiasm.
The food is well-designed, well-made, well-presented and well-priced (£200), but failed to excite.
I wouldn't personally rate the Plumed Horse as worthy a Michelin Star.
But then, I'm damned hard to please.
Or so Lesley tells me.