It was a wet Sunday in January. Of course it was. It started raining sometime around 14 November and it feels like it hasn't stopped since. So where to take refuge from the eternal downpour, to imagine ourselves in sunnier climes? We found shelter in Café St Honoré, the elegant bistro off Thistle Street, Edinburgh’s mini Marais district, which is also home to Café Marlayne, with Chez Jules and Café Rouge just around the corner.
Inside we admired the starched white linens, artfully tarnished mirrors and were immediately glad of our decision to go bistro rather than burger. Warm slices of thick sourdough bread accompanied by a pat of cool salted butter as we perused the lunch menu only confirmed we’d done the right thing.
"Chocolate nemesis has my name written all over it. Preferably in caramel sauce"
My partner in crime chose the west coast shellfish risotto (£12.50) to start, which was warming on such a bitter day. This dish can be filling so he was pleased to discover a sensibly sized portion. The rice was perfectly cooked with carefully prepared, finely cut vegetables and seafood through it. As delicious as this plate was, I still think I lucked out with the Belhaven Smokehouse smoked salmon and anchovy butter terrine, organic rye bread crouton and pickled cucumber (£9.50). The colours were amazing on the white china – the deep pink of the salmon contrasting with the crisp brown crouton and a garnish of an unfamiliar green salad leaf, no doubt from the Secret Herb Garden, one of chef and owner Neil Forbes’ trusted band of producers. It was fresh and delicious.
Unlike in some other dining establishments, there can be no complaints about clarity of provenance here. Suppliers are credited in the names of dishes – Burnside Estate rabbit terrine – and there is also a list of producers at the foot of the menu in case you wanted to check them out for yourself. Those who frequent east coast farmers' markets will recognise businesses such as Peelham Farm and Phantassie Organics, but might also find some new discoveries such as Ben Robertson Forager and Strathspey Mushrooms, which deserve further investigation.
My eating accomplice chose Perthshire venison, celeriac, potato and Stornoway black pudding pavé, braised red cabbage and organic beetroot jus (£21.50) for his main course and found it to be a tasty seasonal combination, and probably a bit of a grown-ups’ main course, as the presentation was dark and opulent. The venison was extremely tender while the pavé was unusual but effective; a layer of thinly sliced potatoes and celeriac with a stripe of black pudding between the two. It worked well with the earthiness of the beetroot.
If my co-conspirator was celebrating the fruits of the forest with his pick, I was in the drink with my inability to resist the fish choice on a menu, predictably hooking myself the east coast coley, heritage potatoes, shellfish sauce, poached langoustines, shaved fennel and dill salad (£19.50). What a treat. I’m afraid I didn’t share a mouthful.
A stalwart of the slow food movement, Forbes is passionate about the Scottish larder and cooking food in season. You won’t get any kumquats or strawberry garnishes here when it’s root vegetable season. He talks about wanting to serve our heritage on a plate, and puts his money where his mouth is, buying in whole animals and using every part (including the bones for stock) so that the next generation of chefs learn the importance of sustainability.
More power to him, but I confess that it was pure greed that motivated us to share a dessert, rather than a virtuous desire to support organic chocolate producers, although I believe in that too. I might have restricted myself to merely casting my eye over the dessert menu, but unfortunately anything called “chocolate nemesis” has my name written all over it. Preferably in caramel sauce. So it was that two spoons made light work of the Montezuma organic chocolate nemesis, caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream (£6.50) before we got back in our boat and sailed home on the Water of Leith, feeling that all was right with the world after all.
ALSO ON THE MENU
The Café Classics menu offers two courses for £15.50 or three courses for £19.50. Choices include rillette of Grierson's organic pork, red onion jam and toasted brioche as a starter and Belhaven smoked haddock, creamed organic leeks and aura potatoes as a main. New for 2016 is an express lunch menu in the style of the traditional French plat du jour featuring one course for £10.50, two courses for £14.50 and three courses for £18.50 (available Monday to Friday).
Main courses £14.50-£21.50
Puddings £6.50, cheeseboard £8.75
Café St Honoré
34 NW Thistle Street Lane, Edinburgh EH2 1EA (0131-226 2211, www.cafesthonore.com)