Food Review: The Honours


Posted by in October's Magazine

It’s all go on the restaurant front, despite these straightened times. Leith Lynx re-opened on Constitution St, Daniel’s became Bistro La Garrigue on Commercial St, Mithas (from the Kushi’s stable) opened on Dock Place after a very long gestation period, and the eagerly awaited Martin Wishart venture, The Honours, launched on North Castle St.

Which to try first? Yep, a no brainer. I’ve been a fan of Martin Wishart’s since he first opened his one-man-and-his-wife bistro on The Shore in 1999. Since then, of course, his empire’s grown, he’s long-since acquired a Michelin star, opened a cook school and engaged in a number of collaborations at venues owned by other people across Scotland. But The Honours is all his (though head chef, Paul Tamburrini, mans the kitchen) and he’s taken the route recently chosen by so many of the worlds great chefs by going back to a classic Brasserie-style affair. In this decision, he’s following in the illustrious footsteps of Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse and Pierre Gagnaire, surely a good thing, n’est-ce pas?

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Well, I suppose it all depends on the food. I certainly applaud the moves by the above Paris based greats (and have tried many of their new ventures over recent years), some of whom seem to be eschewing the Michelin domination of what really great food means.
As a younger man – I must be getting really old because I seem to be reflecting on my past quite often these days – I used to be mightily impressed by Michelin starred restaurants and chefs. But no more. I’ve gone off the pomposity, the exorbitant cost, the staid formulaic devotion to what Michelin guide researchers require of restaurateurs before deigning to award them a star.

I now much prefer unfussy, skilled and confident cooking with fresh local ingredients in a relaxed atmosphere. Yes, the sort of thing that’s so difficult to find in most of the UK’s city centres. But where Paris leads, others follow…(if you can afford it, and happen to be visiting the world’s most beautiful city, check-out the Pudlow guide rather than Michelin.). So let’s have more, and proper, Bistros and Brasseries.
The Honours is in the latter camp – the evolved difference being that Brasseries are perceived as more up-market, e.g., with linen on the tables, and usually serve food throughout the day. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. As I said, it’s all about the food. And I’m glad to say that, here, the food is very good. However, as the title of this piece suggests – and like all new places – it was not without a couple of, albeit minor, teething problems.

Broken tooth
Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived and the small bar area in the front was packed – presumably with others waiting for tables. It’ll be 5 minutes, we were told, and as an apology for our having to stand whilst we waited, we were offered Champagne on the house. Now if I know Leither readers, you’ll be thinking exactly as we were – that sort of teething problem I can handle.

Fortunately, we are not the sorts who like to eat early of a Saturday night, because it was some 20 minutes before our table was ready (those people in the bar were indeed also waiting for tables). And when seated, it took quite a while for menus to arrive and even longer for our tap water. N.B. always drink tap. All the A-listers do it because it helps the environment. I do it because She’s a cheapskate. But I’ve noticed since adopting this philosophy (if that’s not too grand a description for choosing tap water over bottled) that it’s often forgotten by the waiter/waitress: on this occasion we had to ask 3 times.

But I should state that the staff were lovely and never without a smile. The only way this could be improved would be by the return of the lovely Cecile who used to light up our winter evenings when first visiting Wishart’s back in 1999.
Anyway, eventually, the bread arrived and it augured well for what was to follow, for it was delicious. However, and this was no fault of the restaurant, I broke a tooth on my second bite! This sort of teething problem I could certainly have forgone. And in any other run-of-the-mill place, it might have tipped me into grumpy how-much-is-this-going-to-cost-me mode for the rest of the evening. But this was a Martin Wishart place, and it was Sweetness’s birthday, so I forced a smile, a slightly lop-sided one to hide the gap, and soldiered on.

We kicked off with tuna tartare with avocado cream, ginger and soya butter sauce @ £7.95, and Swiss cheese soufflé with spinach and béchamel @ £8.25. The tuna was delicious, spanking fresh and melt-in-the-mouth. If you’re not sure if you like raw fish, try this. The soufflé was wonderful, wobbly and disappeared like snow off a dyke as soon as the Birthday ‘Girl’ got a taste.

To follow, we had rabbit a la moutarde with pommes sautees @ £16.95 which was served on the bone – the rabbit that is, not the potatoes – as it should be, and veal sweetbreads roasted in buckwheat and bay leaf @ £17.50. Both were tender, tasty and the tops. We opted for a ‘side’ of creamed spinach, parmesan and nutmeg @ £2.95 which was very nice but rich and unnecessary alongside our already rich mains. Perhaps a ‘cleaner’ simpler side would have been better, or none at all.

We didn’t have a pudding but all the classics are represented – the tart tatin, crème brûlée sort of thing. And all these tempting dishes are presented on a proper big Parisian Brasserie-style menu. They also do a 3-course Prix Fixe @ £17.50 for lunch or £19.50 for pre-theatre from Tuesday to Friday which tempts, including such dishes as pork belly minestrone with poached free range egg, veal stew, and crème brûlée with prunes and Armagnac.

Booze that night was thoroughly enjoyed in nearby Kay’s Bar – these guys know how to look after the real stuff and it is hard to better their Theakston’s Best Bitter, being brewed again (since 2009) in its Masham homeland having been wrested back from the clutches of the corporate monster in 2004. Plus we had a bottle of Oz Shiraz in the restaurant – a Lowe’s from Mudgee, which is more than a notch above the ubiquitous supermarket fare, but at £43 a bottle, is more than a notch above what I’d normally pay. I guess I’ll be negotiating with The Chief on that one. But did I mention it was a special night and that I’ve got a dental bill to pay?

Score: 4 stars (out of five)

Damage: £104.10 (not including new tooth)

The Honours
58a North Castle St
0131 220 2513
thehonours.co.uk

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