The word ‘elemental’ came to mind immediately on tasting the new menu at Edinburgh Food Studio (EFS) earlier this month to celebrate the launch of Ben Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella’s restaurant under newly-headhunted head chef James Murray.
The cooking ethos here is based on the research work ongoing at EFS: paring back to the authentic flavours of traditional or neglected Scottish heritage ingredients using both ancient and sustainable modern techniques (trust I’ve got that right!). I have to say the eight-course £50 tasting menu, plus three amazing amuse-bouches, delivered flavours and textures I’d never experienced before. I mean that in a good way. It was memorable and a credit to the time and care put in to every element by the team.
I won’t describe every course, but a tiny rare Shetland hogget kidney, deep-fried in heritage grain crumb, and paired with a cut of 12-year old Luing cow sirloin served blackened on the outside and cerise pink inside, was a stand-out case in point. Rarely has the nose been put into such sublime collision with the tongue: gamey, minerally, offaly, salty, soft and crispy all at once, the unadulterated sensory hit evoked the kitchen of an 18th century Highland croft. so much so that I completely forgot to take a photo. (Continues...)
The visual simplicity of a bowl of braised new season girolles, foraged by Gary Goldie and served in a meadowsweet and brown butter broth, was deceptive: paired with a white Rioja Vina Gravonia the sweet, earthy flavours of the wild mushrooms sang. The biggest Barra cockles were presented with a Shetland turbot fillet with sea aster, and a broth made with the trim of precious Orkney scallops was as delicately balanced as it could be to bring out the natural sweetness of the prized shellfish.
Local berries were prepared three different ways in three beautifully different dishes: a kombucha of strawberries with rapeseed and black pepper, a granite of East Lothian blackcurrants with yoghurt and oats; and an almond and honey brown butter cake cracker with raspberries, all served with a Swedish eiswein Iscider 2014, Umea. (Continues...)
I liked the way Ben and Sashana were waiting the tables (two long benches seating around 12 each), and how meats were paired with whites (the amuse-bouches of hogget kidney and Luing, Kent cucumber with cod brandade and Isle of Wight tomatoes with Provencal apricot were served with a Cremant Klur from Alsace, for example) and fish and chicken with reds; mixing it up intelligently is part of what they do here.
Ben and Sashana crowd-funded EFS three years ago, and have been running a successful international events programme in addition to ongoing food research. So the restaurant – situated within their original research hub at Dalkeith Road - seems a natural development as the work they do will feed into the menus. In addition to the £50 evening Tasting Menu, there’s a daily-changing a la carte lunch, and weekend brunch.
No wonder Falkirk-born James Murray, who worked at Raymond Blanc's two-Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, and was head chef at the Michelin-starred Nur in Hong Kong before joining Lyle’s in Shoreditch under James Lowe, says he is galvanised by his new job – for which Ben headhunted him. “Reacting to what our fabulous team of suppliers can give us each day keeps us all on our toes, and means the creative juices keep on flowing,” he says.
* See previous post to read more about the Edinburgh Food Studio.