Last night a well-known Edinburgh bistro reopened as a tapas-style Scottish restaurant. I was invited along for free food and booze.
Tapas has become a big thing lately. Spanish restaurants started it, then the Indian places and, later, the Chinese places started moving in. I think the business case is that you can serve tiny portions for almost the same price as a regular main course, and get everybody to order six of them. So in this case they're doing a Scottish menu, local ingredients, all done as small portions for sharing.
For the Grand Reopeningapalooza, all the portion sizes were reduced further to canapé-scale, usually served on spoons, as a sort of tasting menu. You got one mouthful, went
eh or occasionally even
bleh but more usually
oh or even
ooh!, and then waited twenty minutes for the next mouthful to come round. In the meantime, the drinks were flowing. They had a good selection of Scottish ales and ciders—none of which I bothered trying since I already know them all very well—and a very competent bartender selling local-ingredient cocktails. Example: there was a Tom Collins on the menu made with Scottish (Hendrick's) gin. They call it a
On booze and bragging rights
The special cocktails of the day were a local daiquiri and some kind of rhubarb martini. Both looked fascinathing, but I pride myself on my daiquiris, so out of professional interest I'm going for one of those first.
Waitress: It's made with apple juice from the local farm.
Yr. corresp.: Which local farm? Belhaven, Laprig...?
Waitress: ...um. It's a nice man called Peter.
Yr. corresp.: Oh, that's Belhaven Fruit Farm.
Turns out actually it's Thistly Cross, which is associated with Belhaven Fruit Farm but not actually the same thing, but I knew what I meant. I was at least correct enough to impress the shit out of the waitress, which is what counts.
On shellfish and squeamishness
The first course came round on individual spoons, and the waitstaff were very careful to ask
do you eat black pudding? Of course I eat black pudding. Black pudding is delicious. The second course was oysters. Nobody asked if I eat ciliated bivalves. Jehane demurred, but I subscribe to the except-sodomy-and-Morris-Dancing principle of trying things once.
Based on extensive research, then, this is what oysters are like.
You're presented with a grey, fleshy, mucosal mass wallowing in a pearlescent shell. Drizzle over it the red wine and onion sauce and squeeze over it the wedge of lemon. The lemon juice will squirt skywards first, making a desperate bid for your eye: this is a natural law, like gravity but in reverse. Turn the lemon around and try again.
Raise the shell to your mouth and try not to think too hard about what you're doing. Down the hatch.
The oyster will remain stubbornly in the shell and you'll get a mouthful of red wine (which I can't drink), onion (which I loathe), and lemon juice (which nobody drinks). Quickly, now—because every moment gives you more time to think twice about what you're going to put in your mouth—poke the mollusc a bit until it comes free. Swig. Oh, God, it's huge and you have to chew! It's got the consistency of chunky snot and it tastes of onion and the fishy smell you get at the end of a dilapidated pier. Swallow as soon as possible. Resolve never to do that again.
Spend the next 24 hours with a debilitating migraine. Once you've regained the power of sight, spend another hour reading up on Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.
Oysters, it would appear, aren't really my thing. Fortunately there was a fantastic rhubarb-and-ginger martini on hand to take the taste away and to take my mind off it.
(Apparently drinking vodka with oysters isn't a good idea, even if it is Blackwoods (Scottish!), but it was an emergency.)
On selective hearing and second helpings
I wave the waiter away when he comes round with a tray of something we've had before: a breadcrumbed bauble nestled on a bed of tomatoey stuff, which I remember being delicious. Alas, we're tasting canapés, not pigging out at the restaurant's expense. Nonetheless, a mouthful every ten minutes isn't exactly providing me with adequate sustenance—especially not with all these cocktails.
J stops the waiter and asks what it is, then takes two.
J: We haven't had the lemon sole yet.
I: He said
Oh well. Bonus food!
Afterwards, we went out for quesadillas, because we were still hungry. All in all, a fantastic evening, modulo the minor shellfish poisoning. I'm told it's only rarely fatal.