On Thursday, I had the pleasure of dining at The Vintners Rooms - Edinburgh’s award winning restaurant in Leith. This little gem is tucked away in the heart of old Leith on Giles Street and occupies an old wine vault, where imported wines wines were sold at auction from the 15th century. Initially the site was just a series of vaults, but over some two hundred years additions were made, resulting in the imposing building which you see today; erected in 1785. In 1985, the venue was turned into The Vintners Rooms Restaurant and Bar, offering fine French cuisine made with excellent local Scottish produce.
When you walk into the cobbled stone courtyard, you are instantly transported into the historic atmosphere of the old building, where you can almost see the old “stingmen” and “rollers”, bringing in large wooden barrels of wine and port. Upon entering The Vintners Rooms main building on the bottom floor, we were warmly greeted by Silvio Praino who has a very long and distinguished career in restaurants across Scotland and further afield, which include Silvios Restaurant in Sydney (Aus) and the famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. We made our way firstly to the bar for an aperitif; a crisp, chilled glass of champagne which was most welcomed during one of Edinburgh’s rare heat waves.
The long, brushed metal bar occupied one length of the room which also accommodated five large circular dining tables dressed in crisp white table linen. An impressive number of Scotch whiskey’s took pride of place across a number of shelves in the middle of the bar, whilst atop there were numerous old wine racks filled with bottles and some very old empty wine bottles were on display. We were presented a menu to peruse whilst we drank and chatted in this cosy setting, then our order was taken by Silvio. After enjoying our aperitifs and a small bowl of lovely marinated olives, we were pleasantly guided to our table at the end of the room, next to the large and impressive stone fireplace. I can imagine the warmth and cosiness this would provide the restaurant in the middle of a harsh Scottish winter and made a mental note to book a table after the new year. The solid stone walls of the building made it pleasantly cool inside, as one would imagine given the buildings former purpose of housing wines, and these walls were adorned with rich Persian tapestry rugs in tones of autumnal reds, rich chocolate browns and paler creams.
Not too long after we were seated, the wine was presented for tasting and it was, to say the least, superb. Obviously wine is a big feature of The Vintners Rooms, and the menu does not disappoint. The majority of offerings are, naturally enough, French but there are a handful of other countries represented including Italy, Germany and Australia. What I personally liked about this wine list, was the way it was laid out, so as not to over-awe or intimidate the amateur wine drinker (as am I). The opening pages offer a small selection of recommendations for reasonable prices of around ¬£15 - ¬£19 for wine and ¬£29 for champagne. Further on, the full list is introduced by the Champagne region with 8 french varieties and a crisp Prosecco from Italy. Now I am not going to get into the argument of what is champagne and what is sparkling wine, but suffice to say if it has bubbles in it, then it’s listed here.
The rest of the list is then broken down to the usual whites and reds, sorted by region - Rhone, Loire, Provence, Bordeaux and Burgundy all make their appearance and my dining partner took the honours of selecting a fine bottle of St Aubin Premier Cru J-M Vincent 2004 at ¬£33. This is essentially a chardonnay, but fear not if chardonnays aren’t your usual tipple: although one sniff delivered big oaky and buttery notes, it is not like the heavy toffee liquids produced in the blazing sun of down under, it was light and crisp on the palate with just a hint of wood. It almost finished like a lovely sauvignon blanc.
Once the wine was tasted, the amuse-buche was laid out in front of us. Stunning is the word I would use. Shredded crab with a creamy dressing, towered up in the middle of the plate and topped with an avocado mousse. I could have eaten this in greater quantity and been satisfied, but when our entrees arrived I was more than happy to continue. I had the Foie Gras and Langoustine Terrine with Fig Chutney (¬£10.50), whilst my partner enjoyed the Roast Stuffed Fig with Goats Cheese and Parma Ham (¬£6.50). My terrine was out of this world; smooth and silky foie gras encased around tender, sweet fresh langoustine. The rest of the plate was adorned with delectable treats such as radishes, raisin bread and fig chutney all arranged like a meticulous work of art which one comes to expect from fine french dining, yet this still went one step further. My partner described the baked figs as little mounds of deliciously sweet jewelled flesh melded with the creamy and strikingly tangy goats cheese.
After a perfect interval, the main courses were served, again by Silvio, whose service and hospitality matches the finery of this restaurant with class and sophistication but without any sombre snobbery which can be experienced in top restaurants at times. Mine, the Rack of Perthshire Lamb, Proven√ßle Crust, Olive Jus (¬£19.50) was to say the least a very generous serve, but still presented with that wonderful wow-factor. My partners meal, the Steamed Halibut with Artichokes Barigoule and Basil (¬£19.00) was equally as impressive and both meals were devoured with much gastronomic appreciation. My plate was filled with a very generous rack containing four large cutlets, perfectly pink and tender along with perfect smooth and creamy mashed potato, a small squash filled with a medley of baked buttery vegetables and the herby Provencle Crust. I personally didn’t think the olive jus was necessary, but the meal was still superb. The halibut was described as tender and sweet, blending perfectly with the artichokes.
Even though we were both quite satisfied at this stage, we were easily tempted by the dessert list, ordering Fondant au Chocolat avec Glace aux Pistaches (¬£5.50) and Assiette de Fromages avec Pain aux Noix et Biscuits (¬£5.50). My fondant was gooey, sticky and chocolaty as one would expect and the pistachio glace was simply incredible. I struggle to convey its brilliance - just go and order it for yourself and you’ll see. The cheese platter was extremely generous for one person and contained some very fine quality wedges along with a variety of beautiful breads, (posh) crackers and ripe aromatic red grapes. With my dessert I enjoyed a glass of Montlouis Moelleux, Clos du Chateau de Mosny St. Martin le Beau, Loire, 1996 (¬£4.25), then after dinner a wee dram of Talisker (¬£4) which rounded off our spectacular meal, quite splendidly.
All in all, I would highly recommend The Vintners Rooms Bar and Restaurant with great enthusiasm. This is observantly a restaurant which provides a dining experience served by seasoned professionals, who go about their trade with unobtrusive and composed precision. The food is truly a pleasure to consume and I am thrilled to have been lucky enough to enjoy the magnificent cuisine of such talented people. Although The Edinburgh Blog has yet to visit the Michelin-starred Martin Wisharts just down the road, so far The Vintners Rooms Bar and Restaurant pips Haldanes from the winners podium as being, quite simply, the best dining experience Edinburgh has to offer.