I’m not sure why apples are considered a symbol of love.
It’s obvious that bananas would be more appropriate, as they’re prone to swiftly go squishy. Or dates, melons and passionfruit, all self explanatory.
"It was a simple bistro dish dressed up as something more high falutin’"
Anyway, this place, above the Traverse Theatre in the former premises of Blue, which closed in 2011, has its own apple tree (wooden trunk, faux leaves) posed in its centre. It adds to the romantic vibe along with some moody lighting that’s more effective than Botox or a brown paper bag when it comes to hiding wrinkles, plukes and the bruises from falling out of the ugly tree.
Perfect for Valentine’s Day then, but I wouldn’t expect less from co-owner and head chef Stuart Muir, who spent 13 years at the helm of the glam Forth Floor Restaurant at Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols.
He’s also installed a “champagne lounge” which was chilly on our visit (other drinkers in puffa jackets and snoods doesn’t make for the snuggest atmosphere). To warm me up, I tried the Islay Retreat cocktail (£8, Botanist gin, falernum, lime juice, thyme, grapefruit bitters and tonic) which tasted pleasingly medicinal, like herbal barley sugar.
It was the perfect aperitif before an à la carte starter of seared hand dived Tarbert scallops (£13). Served on a plate that was grey and speckled like a song thrush egg, this pair of pearlescent fishy stubs were rather beautiful, with pan toasted tops. They came with a couple of small mussels, chopped spoots and charred cucumber, in a “vanilla bisque” that was almost negligible in quantity or flavour (depending on how you feel about that ingredient, that may or may not be a good thing).
The warm salad of Borders oxtail (£9.50) was more substantial and satisfying. There were hunks of peppery soft meat and two soft deep fried oysters, with blobs of wasabi and tart apple matchsticks on the plate to cut through any feral-ness. Lovely.
My main was similar to my starter in that it looked beautiful, but was kind of lacking in personality when it came to flavour. I’d chosen the free range chicken ballotine (£18.50) for its billed accessories, including blackened leeks, which turned out to be, well, non-blackened leeks. The Dijon cream cheese element tasted clean, like crowdie, but wasn’t particularly mustardy or cheesy, and I barely noticed the half teaspoon or so of Madeira and tarragon jus that was judiciously spotted onto the plate.
Essentially, this dish was a beautiful piece of chicken, wrapped in crisp ham, with a selection of neatly dressed root veg – beetroot, baby neeps and a carrot. It was a simple bistro dish dressed up and described as something more high falutin’.
My paramour was more impressed by his crispy skinned brick of North Atlantic cod (£17) – especially the small blob of ash black coconib pesto, a velvety cauliflower purée, florets of toasty edged cauliflower (caramelised, according to the menu) and the unexpectedly successful combo of fish and crumbled hazelnuts (candied, said the food list, but they didn’t appear to be).
Dessert was a sharpened butter knife, courtesy of Cupid, straight through my dining partner’s heart. This was the king of all sticky toffee puddings (£6.50) – rich and steamy, with stewed spiced apples on top, a glossy pool of salted caramel sauce and a swiftly dissolving blob of vanilla ice-cream.
My chocolate cake (£6.50) was more like a good brownie – the sort of thing that, for me, is too dense after dinner and needs a cup of builder’s tea alongside it, at 3pm, with the telly on. It came with bits of hazelnut and a scoop of ganache on some of what I suppose you’d call cocoa soil.
Not bad, but I think the whole Dine with Stuart Muir experience was better for my other half than it was for me. Unlike him, I felt slightly underwhelmed, as if there was an attempt at subtlety that I’d missed.
Put it this way, the thick skinned banana enjoyed her visit, but has not gone all squishy.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £71