Catriona Thomson talks to Dan Mellor, head chef at Surf & Turf restaurant, Macdonald Hotel, Edinburgh as part of our new series of interviews with Scottish based chefs.

Dan Mellor has taken over as head chef at Surf & Turf restaurant at Macdonald Holyrood Hotel, Edinburgh. He’s stepping into the shoes of executive chef Glenn Roach, who is heading back to Rusacks in St Andrews (also part of the same company) having successfully created and rolled out the Surf & Turf menu concept in the capital.

An experienced chef, who has been based in Scotland for 17 years, mainly in Edinburgh, Dan is now looking forward to putting his own stamp on the kitchen here at Holyrood having joined the team in August 2019.

He previously worked at Raeburn Hotel with stints at the Glasshouse Hotel and Hotel Indigo.

Mellor sees this as his opportunity to showcase Scotland’s natural larder, he said: “We have the best natural produce that there is, if you handpick the best, direct from the supplier you don’t need to overcomplicate anything.”

He is enthusiastic and passionate about his work, enjoys producing the best quality dishes possible and loves every minute of the intense pressure that working in a hotel restaurant brings.

When asked if it is a tough gig having to be able to master everything from breakfast, lunch, functions and conferences as well as dinner service, he answers with a grin.

“I relish a challenge.”

So what ‘s the big idea?

Explaining the successful Surf & Turf concept, Dan states it involves “utilising the best that Scotland’s larder has to offer, for example, Aberdeen Angus is the best beef in the world”.

Mellor has plans to introduce a lot more game-based dishes to the menu, saying: “We are creating something more than simply shrimp and steak, we hope to bring a bit more elegance.”

With a family background in farming, he really knows produce from top to toe. His father ran dairy farms in the south of England before settling near Manchester, and while Dan admits he wasn’t keen to be involved when he was younger, he values the graft they put in now.

He knows “the farmers put in the hard work”.

Food runs in the family as his brother was pig farmer of the year.

Starter

We are delighted, as part of our new series of interviews to be invited into the kitchen to watch Dan in action. To begin, he makes the starter of cured salmon Inverlochy goat’s cheese pannacotta and fennel pickle.

 

 

He has select finest cured oak smoked salmon, sourced from John Ross. Dan simply has to remove the skin and trim before sectioning the fish into sushi styles slices, carefully judging the thickness. He wants his slices to be just a few millimetres thick, to balance the textures of what’s on the plate without overloading the palate.

He deftly dresses the white plate with sweet pickled fennel slices. The pickle is pre-made from just the right blend of white wine vinegar, sugar, star anise and a little white wine. Blanching the pickle before cooling it down intensifies the flavours.

Inverlochy goat’s cheese adds just the creamy foil to the seafood. The cheese is melted with cream and set with gelatine before chilling.

Cucumber pickle receives a similar treatment to the fennel, but is kept just a little cooler to preserve crunch.

The final flourish is provided by intense onion hash, made from dry roasted banana shallots cooked till dark and caramelised before being blended into a dark deep powder which is packed full of flavour. All that is left to do is to artistically balance a couple of pea shoots.

Main Course

Dan showcases his pan-fried wild halibut with scallop and shin of beef potato croquette.

Three banana shallots and handfuls of emerald spinach are cooked and blended in a nifty cheffy device, before more spinach is added at the end to preserve the intense hue. The mixture is then sieved through a fine mesh colander.

Potato and beef shin are pre-assembled. Rooster tatties are roasted and the fluffiest innards mixed in with slow-braised shin. This has been cooked for 8-12 hours for that melt in the mouth texture.

Seasoning is added along with a coating of panko breadcrumbs before the coquette mixture is rolled into a chunky roulade. It’s then deep-fried before being finished in the oven for a crisp taste sensation.

Freshest wild North Sea halibut sourced from George Campbell and a fine meaty scallop makes up the remainder of the dish.

Halibut is first fried in oil before knobs of butter are added to sear the skin before it’s placed in the oven prior to returning to the pan for finishing. Then at the last minute, the scallop is pan-fried in oil and butter.

A flavour contrast is provided by a pomegranate seed salsa; pomegranates mixed with Lilliputian capers, olive oil and a soupcon of shallot which has been finely diced creates a confection which is both sweet and sharp.

Head chef, Dan Mellor

Plating up this dish is sight to behold. Green spinach squiggles are deftly drawn in and oval swirls like a fingerprint. Pomegranate salsa is positioned with a scallop on top.

The coquette is in the middle with the halibut to the side. Finally, micro herbs are placed on top with the greatest of care, breath-holding stuff.

Then voila, pleased as punch Dan has finished and the good news is we get to sample the dishes. Well balanced, divine and as Dan said, “with ingredients this good the really hard work has been done before it reaches the kitchen.”

He’s being modest, he can cook. He’s been around kitchens since he was a teenager, learning all those practical skills that makes restaurant food sing. He is most definitely looking forward to his time here.

Dan Mellor with his completed dishes

 

 

 

Under the grill: Quick Q & A with Dan 

Describe your cooking style? and why are you passionate about it? Traditional, French-inspired fusion etc.

“I would describe my style of cooking as very natural and British inspired. I am from a farming family so that has influenced my cooking a lot.”

What was your first job in the industry? Plus where were you before?

“My first job was in a hotel in Suffolk. It was a 20-bedroom hotel with wedding facilities which seated up to 120 guests.

“Before becoming Head Chef at Surf & Turf, Holyrood, I worked at the Raeburn Hotel in Stockbridge. I was the head chef there for two years.”

Favourite spice? And what dish/recipe would you suggest using it in? 

My favourite spice is star anise as it compliments both fish or lamb. If you drop a star anise into smoked haddock soup, it will improve the whole dish.

 

 

Are you sweet or sour? So is it all peace and harmony in your kitchen or do the pots and pans fly? What little things annoy you?

“I enjoy creating a happy environment to work in and I do not shout. I like to take each challenge as it comes. One little thing that annoys me at the pass is people picking chips or vegetables off the pass to eat.”

What is the flavour of the moment in your kitchen right now? 

“The best flavour/smell at the moment in the kitchen has got to be cinnamon and ginger. It truly gets you in the Christmas spirit.”

Tea or Coffee? Is it Darjeeling darling or bitter Colombian? What’s your brew and how you like to drink it? Camomile, Milky brew or builders elaborate, please?

“I enjoy both tea and coffee but I would say I consume a lot more coffee than I do tea. However, I do enjoy a strong Assam black tea.”

Everyone has one at least one guilty food pleasure, so what do you love but are too embarrassed to admit?

“Putting salt and vinegar crisps in a sandwich.”

Who is your favourite chef? Plus everyone has a food hero/ local supplier, who is yours and why? 

“My favourite chef has to be Rick Stein.

“One of our local suppliers is Scot beef who are our main beef supplier. Scot Beef source high-quality beef and they also support local farmers and businesses.”

Fantasy dinner party guests? and what would you cook for them?

“I would like to invite my old sous chef from my second job as we could reminisce on how things have changed and I would like to get his opinion on things. I would cook him venison with a rich bramble jus and simple vegetables.”

I don’t like…or I’d rather not eat……

“Bananas.”

Surf & Turf

Macdonald Holyrood Hotel,

81 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AU

(0344 879 9028)

 

 

About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona picture edits The Scotsman magazine and Scotland On Sunday, aswell as reviewing restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writing for Scotsman Food and Drink.

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