Me: *gasp* Oh my god, that’s him.
Me: Tom Kitchin. He’s really here.
Colleague: Kitchin? Wait, his surname is Kitchin? And now he’s a chef?! That’s amazing!
So some of our group perhaps weren’t quite as excited as I was to visit Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin, where the eponymous Scottish chef and owner Tom Kitchin became the youngest ever winner of a Michelin star. I’d actually had the pleasure a few years ago but after a major £1m-plus refurbishment this year, it’s now far more spacious than I had hazily remembered.
I worked up an appetite by walking the 1.5 miles from the city centre out to Leith docks in some precious Scottish sunshine. The front-of-house set the service levels high from the start, with a warm greeting and personal walk round to the bar area, perhaps in case I got lost on the 3-metre long journey. While the outside of the building has plenty of historic character, the interior is contemporary and unfussy. I liked the colour palette they’ve used throughout the bar and dining room – very easy-on-the-eye with lots of natural greys and slates with accents of teal and plum.
I was the first to arrive (for possibly the first time ever) so ordered a ‘Sweet Smoke Peat’ cocktail while I waited. An error on my part. It was the Lagavulin 16yo in it that caught my eye (who says whisky can’t be an aperitif?!) and I expected something crisp and peaty, but it turned out to be quite sour and cloying which was probably the lemon bitters. Woops.
Luckily they brought over some crisp bread wafers which cheered me up as each was a guessing game of what they’d toasted it in. They were served with unexpected dips of squid ink and blue cheese, and my favourite was the sticky one that had been drizzled in honey – obviously it was right when I was making a mess with this one that my colleagues decided to arrive. They made far better drinks choices than me, ordering champagne and a vodka martini from the well-stocked bar (and I learned that Sipsmith make vodka as well as gin, who knew).
We were soon led through to the dining room which I was thrilled to find gave me a prime view through to the massive kitchen. It was at this point that I spotted the chef and my colleague had his ‘Kitchin’ revelation; I quite enjoyed spending the rest of the evening with the back of Tom Kitchin’s head in my eyeline (though failed to catch his eye). The table décor embodies the ‘from nature to plate’ tagline of the restaurant, mixing elegant touches with more rustic, natural materials like the shiny silver pots of wildflowers, the fine mesh placemats and warm cobs of sourdough arriving in baby canvas bags.
A surprise pre-starter added a splash of colour to the table, seafood velouté with crunchy bright veg that whet the appetite. Our servers then urged us to open the small scrolls in front of each place setting, which revealed a map of Scotland marked with where their ingredients have been sourced from. A nice touch to show they practise what they preach.
On to the starters which showed us just how much care they take over presentation. My neighbour’s Pig’s Head & Langoustine (from Tobermory) was beautifully arranged on the plate, though I’m not sure I’d have known how to eat it. I was too busy enjoying the theatrics of my Orkney Scallops which had been baked in the shell and brought out whole, before the waiter then cut into the pastry crust around the edge to open the shell in front of me. I was already impressed, so relieved to find they also tasted as good as they looked, tender and well-seasoned. My drinks game was also improving as I no longer needed to make any choices – my colleague had decided we should let the sommelier pair a glass of wine with each of our courses. Best idea ever, and the wonderfully-accented sommelier didn’t disappoint, starting me off with something of the Chardonnay variety that was right up my street.
For main course I opted for the Lamb, which was served a tender pink with a selection of raw, pickled and roasted veg that set off the taste-buds in lots of different parts of my tongue at the same time. Slightly confusing but tasty, especially with the Cabernet/Merlot blend that was paired with it. Mild food envy struck of my colleague who had upgraded to a main dish from the set menu, of Newhaven lobster cooked a la plancha and stuffed with squid, pancetta and fennel – the bite I had with my eye was delicious!
A surprise pre-dessert had me wondering whether I had room for a proper dessert (then I remembered the answer was ‘obviously’) but it was a tangy palate cleanser anyway and yet again beautifully assembled.
From the dessert menu my colleague’s lovely wife and I both decided the only reasonable choice was the one that mentioned the word ‘chocolate’ three times. So Chocolate Soufflé with chocolate ice cream and warm chocolate sauce it was! Again it turned out to be the theatrical choice with the soufflés appearing whole at the table before the waiter stabbed each of them and poured in the hot chocolate yumminess in front of us.
The soufflé was nice and light but I think I would’ve liked more gooey richness; give me choc fondant any day. My colleague meanwhile opted for the cheese plate which had the added bonus of a cheese trolley being wheeled out for him to choose from (hmm I could do with one of those in my house…).
We ended up waiting quite a while for the desserts as I think the kitchen was winding down. We’d only been able to get a 9pm booking at short notice and by this time it was somehow nearing midnight, so it was a little annoying to wait so long at the end and it meant I didn’t get to sample the whisky selection this time. Apart from the end of the meal being dragged out the service was top-notch, erring on the ‘busy’ side rather than the relaxed side perhaps but very polished in explaining each dish (and wine!). My favourite little touch of the entire meal was right at the start, when they brought out a little furry white stool to put my handbag on at the side of the table. I didn’t even see it happen but it was a brilliant touch to make me feel special – though not without a touch of embarrassment given it was my £10 satchel from Accessorize sitting proudly (left the Chanel at home that day obvs).
It was an excellent meal with excellent company, and I was very generously being treated on this occasion. For that I was grateful as the dinner prices are quite steep, and for £70 for three courses from the a la carte menu I think there were some areas that should have been more memorable in terms of flavour. They get full marks for the setting and presentation though, and I would still recommend it for a special occasion meal; you can push the boat out as far as you want with the drinks choices and tasting menus. The newly-enlarged dining room has a lovely relaxed feeling to it too but retains the perks you’d expect for the price, handbag stools and all!
The Kitchin, 78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6LX