Taste Scotland? Hell Yeah, Every Time!
Local. Seasonal. Sustainable.
There can’t be many places that have the view of Victor and Carina Contini’s Cannonball – a vista over the esplanade to the gates leading to Edinburgh Castle. It is imposing, impressive and stunning.
Cannonball is the latest addition of this couples’ growing dining dynasty; previously Castle Hill Primary School, there are still signs that former pupils would recognise. I tell you if my classroom overlooked the castle, I wouldn’t get much work done!
Walking up the narrow lane towards Cannonball House, I’m greeted by a lovely young lady who escorts me up to the restaurant (two flights of stairs – the kids must have been fit little creatures).
I was joining Fiona Neville from Taste Communication and three other food writers (Iain Fenwick of Citylicious, Zarah of The Edinburghers and the irrepressible Jonathan Trew); we were there to sample the new five course tasting menu, ‘TASTE SCOTLAND’, which is appropriate considering 2015 is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink.
The dining room is light, airy and with those iconic views out the windows, we were all eager to dive into the food that promises local and seasonal goodies from some of Scotland’s best producers.
Bread arrives and is gloriously malty accompanied by a blob of salt-dusted butter. It doesn’t last long, neither does the vibrant spinach and wild leek velouté. Looks good, tastes good and by golly should do you good! A salty burst of crisp cured pork perches on a Dunsyre Blue fritter. There are murmurs of appreciation from around the table. The crisp leeks scattered over the soup sparks a conversation about the endangered Musselburgh leek that the Contini’s are reintroducing back into the Scottish food chain.
I could smell the next course before I could see it. The dusty, earthy aromas of the world’s most expensive spice makes my mouth water; saffron isn’t to everyone’s taste and a heavy hand in the kitchen can ruin a dish. But here, the chef has a deft dexterity, encouraging the other ingredients to shine rather than suffocate. Perfectly pan roasted monkfish is chaperoned by East Lothian root veg and guarded by perky plump Shetland mussels. I wish I had some bread left to mop up the seductive juices.
Ahhh Miss Piggy, you taste so sublime! I’m a sucker for belly pork. Let me retract that statement … I’m a sucker for crackling! The next plate placed in front of us has some of the crispest pork skin ever. No chewy, break your teeth crackling but a veneer of porky scratching beneath which there is some juicy, flavoursome Tamworth. It is a colourful plate of food with wild garlic mash, Musselburgh leek purée and wee sweetie-like black pudding cannonballs. The only thing I would say this dish needed would be more of the caramelised apple. It was my favourite dish and discussion round the table was each of us had an element that we could’ve eaten more of.
A friend of mine commented, “A menu that has a pre-dessert is alright me!” and I couldn’t agree more. We were presented with a confection that wouldn’t be out of place at a Barbara Cartland soirée. A pink and white profusion of flavours and textures of my adored rhubarb, and to have it in two incarnations is heaven – creamy posset and soft jelly. A shard of Amalfi lemon-infused meringue just exploded flavour in my mouth, making my eyes spring wide open. The little shots of honey yoghurt are lost on the plate both visually and in taste, a small glitch in an otherwise perfect pud.
And finally, dessert proper! I make my apologies here, my photo didn’t do justice to it; Sarah, on the other hand, did take a good shot of hers. I cannot resist pudding and again this was about textures and taste. A slightly dense sponge moistened with 12-year-old Oban whisky is wonderfully alcoholic. Add to that Hebridean sea salted caramel ice cream (hell yeah!) and shortbread crumbs made with beremeal from Orkney, it is kickass finish to a sumptuous dinner.
Five Course Tasting Menu £50. With matched wines £20
Contini Cannonball, 356 Castlehill, EH1 2NF.
Tel: 0131 225 1550
Phantassie – East Lothian
Peelham Farm – Berwickshire
Scottish Kitchen Garden – Midlothian
Peterhead – Aberdeenshire
Peelham Farm – Berwickshire
Ramsay of Carluke – South Lanarkshire
Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes – Northumberland
Knockraich Farm – Stirlingshire
Hebridean Sea Salt – Isle of Lewis
Barony Mills – Orkney
© LEA HARRIS, Off the Eaten Track, 2015.