Wonderful food, great service, a sense of calm… the only things to suffer in this great Edinburgh diner are your arteries
58a North Castle Street, Edinburgh (0131 220 2513). Meal for two, including drinks and service £130
The Honours in Edinburgh does the thing that the very best restaurants do: it lets you through the door and then very politely bars the way to the rest of the world. For the time it takes to eat there it is a place apart. If they slung a sign across the front that read, “Do come in; nothing bad can ever happen here,” I would take their word for it. Inside it is all honey-toned wood veneer, black and white tiling, down-lighters and the soft slap of leather banquette on arse. It feels like being locked away tidily inside the drinks cabinet of someone with exquisite good taste. It is the very essence of bourgeois Edinburgh, realised in 60 neatly laid-out covers.
The professionalism is to be expected. It was opened in 2011 by Martin Wishart who, long ago, led the way for upscale dining in the city. This is meant to be his more downmarket offering, though only in the manner of a string of pearls for those who have tired of wearing diamonds. The website claims it is named after the discovery by Sir Walter Scott, who lived nearby, of the Scottish crown jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland. Likewise, they say it is a tribute to Scottish flavours, though having eaten there I would have to say it is only those Scottish flavours which have a second home in the Dordogne. This is an unashamedly French restaurant.
A crab cappuccino could almost be given the tag “modern retro”. A decade ago it was apparently illegal to serve a soup in this country unless it had first been bulked up with cream and then beaten to a froth with one of those hand cappuccino beaters that were all the rage back when we also thought flares were cool. I used to love taking the piss out of those soups, though mostly, I realise now, because they were so ubiquitous. It’s rather lovely to get one again, especially done as well as this. It’s a big flat bowl – rather than a faux coffee cup – of intense crab soup, with 10 udder squirts of cream, tumescent with froth. Lurking in the depths are hunks of white crab meat and dollops of garlicky rouille. It is a soup to get lost in.Nungwi Village
A tuna tartare with a cucumber mousse that’s so light it is flirting dangerously with being called a foam, is a self-consciously delicate plate of girl’s food, but gets extra marks for the seasoning of the fish. Too often tuna is left to fend for itself and becomes just so much lightly fishy protein; here it has been properly dressed. Ox cheek bordelaise is the sort of thing French people would come here to eat out of nostalgia: long-braised jowl the colour of teak, duvets of mash whipped up with half a day’s production from the dairy, a sauce you could weather-protect fences with (in a good way) and glistening pearls of bone marrow.
Only a dish of slightly overdone halibut, cooked on the bone, lets the side down. But it comes with a de-boned and mousse-filled pig’s trotter, so everything’s fine. A few judiciously chosen bits of pig can save most things. A side of creamed spinach, with big punches of nutmeg, is simply outrageous. Spinach is meant to be good for you and this isn’t. It’s both too much and completely irresistible. We do not resist it.Nungwi Village
The soufflé of the day – how can you not love a place that changes its soufflé like the rest of us change our pants? – is wild strawberry. This is grandstanding. There’s very little point doing anything with wild strawberries other than eating them whole and fresh. But it’s a fine piece of work: pert and soft in the centre and crisp at the edges. A dollop of lime sorbet adds necessary zing. A gateau of pear and chocolate and espresso is equally smart and shiny.
We drink a crisp white Austrian wine, hand them the contents of our bank account and, having taken a deep breath, head out the door. Out there the real world has been waiting patiently for us. And finally we are ready to meet it again.