Michelin star dining: Number One at The Balmoral

It has taken just over a year, but on Saturday evening the Edinburgh Blog completed its hat trick in visiting all of Edinburgh’s Michelin starred restaurants – Number One (at the Balmoral), Martin Wisharts and the Kitchin. Unfortunately at the time we never officially reviewed Martin Wisharts or the Kitchin. Good excuse to return?!

Entrance to Number One restaurant at Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel

Our evening started with a drink at the newly refurbished Balmoral bar. Unrecognisable from the boring décor of the NB bar. It has been transformed, with a stylish contemporary feel – luxurious purple velvet, moss green leather, even tweed cushions and antlers on the wall to remind patrons they are in Scotland. This is effortless style done well - George Street take note. The drinks menu offers an excellent selection of cocktails, wines, champagnes and whiskies. However as expected from a 5 star hotel bar, it is expensive - £11.50 for a strawberry champagne cocktail and £7.50 for a small Sauvignon Blanc. Service was very good. We were even greeted at the door and directed to a vacant table. So perhaps with the level service, great interior and free nibbles, the price doesn’t seem so bad. Or at least that’s what I tell myself…

Restaurant Number One is in the basement of the Balmoral Hotel. It can be entered from the hotel lobby or directly from Princes Street. Perhaps if we had entered from the street we would not have noticed the large badly smeared mirror at the foot of the stairs! The dining room typifies 1950s sophistication with opulent wood panelling, rich red lacquer, plush gold crushed velvet upholstery, crisp white linen and, sparkling cutlery and crystal. Although all tables are well spaced, the best tables are certainly the semi circular booths - perfect for a romantic dinner.

There is a small bar area to the front of the dining room. Ideal for enjoying Number One’s canapés and a pre-dinner drink. Five miniature canapés were served on a long narrow plate amongst them a haddock fishcake and goats cheese sandwiched between 2 wafer thin biscuits. The effort involved in the production of these tiny delicacies was obvious. We perused the menu while enjoying our canapés with a Kir Royal (£12.50) and a small Sauvignon Blanc (£8).

Chef Jeff Bland has retained his Michelin star since 2003 and he promotes the use of the finest Scottish ingredients. This is borne out by the menu - rabbit, guinea fowl, veal, scallops. There was a selection of 6 starters, mains and desserts on the à la carte menu. There is also a tasting menu available for £60 with wine pairings for £55. As an amuse bouche we were served cold broccoli soup with a floating circular item wrapped in parma ham. The waiter started to elaborately describe the dish however he forgot what was wrapped in parma ham. Even on his second attempt after consulting a colleague, it still wasn’t clear what the mysterious white contents were. So we just smiled politely and ate it.

For starter I selected Isle of Skye scallops, braised chicken wing, pancetta, savoy purée and perigold truffle (£16). The scallops were well cooked although I felt the taste of the pancetta slightly overpowered the rest of the dish. My dining partner enjoyed celeriac soup, rabbit tortellini, étuvée of leeks and roasted pine nuts (£13.50). The perfectly creamy soup was poured over the excellent rabbit tortellini at the table.

Next came my breast of Gressingham duck, plum and beetroot compote, parmentier potatoes and chichory (£25). The duck was perfectly cooked, pink and melted in the mouth. I was surprised by the generosity of the portion size. The other main course was fillet of halibut with lemon pomme mousseline, brown shrimps and asparagus (£27.50). This was a simple dish, perfectly cooked, immaculately presented with wonderfully complementing tastes.

Our waitress wheeled over the cheese trolley. With a selection of a dozen or more English, French and Scottish cheeses in front of me, it was too difficult to say “no”. For £10.50 I sampled 5 cheeses with home baked oatcakes, grapes and quince jelly. The cheese on offer at Number One was clearly chosen for the strong tastes; one cheese in particular was so smoky I thought I had charcoal in my mouth.

Unusually before the dessert course, a pre-dessert of a small panna cotta in rhubarb soup was delivered to our table. It was delicious. For dessert I chose banana parfait with salted caramel, peanuts and, sherry and maple reduction (£9.75). The sommelier recommended I try a half glass of sherry and a half glass of dessert wine (£8 for both) to complement the 2 distinct tastes of the dessert. She was spot on and the combination of the wine with dessert elevated this dish to a higher level. My dining partner ordered apple tarte tatin with spiced apple jelly and vanilla ice cream (£9.75). As specified on the menu, the tarte takes 25 minutes to prepare. This delay came as a welcome respite to allow my dinner to digest slightly; the wonderful home baked bread, the larger than anticipated main course and the unexpected cheese course was starting to take its toll. The tarte tatin was again beautifully presented and tasted equally good. The spicy apple was well matched with a glass of Hungarian Tokaj (£8.50). Disappointingly our desserts were served while my dining partner was not at the table, which was surprising for a restaurant of this class. After this we retired to a comfy sofa in the bar area for our tea and excellent petit fours.

The service throughout the evening was attentive without being overbearing. In particular the sommelier was fantastic; helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. Even with the grand surroundings Number One has a relaxed and informal atmosphere. The majority of the other diners were couples or small parties of family or friends. However there were 2 larger groups in the restaurant whose presence detracted from the ’specialness’ of dining in a restaurant like Number One. Perhaps this is the risk of dining in a hotel restaurant, but it definitely is a drawback of Number One at the Balmoral.

Each of Edinburgh’s Michelin starred restaurants offers a wonderful dining experience. However my order of preference would be: 1. Martin Wisharts 2. The Kitchin 3. Number One.

The Balmoral bar and Number One are located at 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2EQ. Telephone: 0131 556 2414.

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