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Eating Out: Blackwood's, Edinburgh

Nira caledonia, Edinburgh
Cuisine: British
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With its it’s buffed elegance and broad cobbled streets, Edinburgh’s
New Town has long been home to the city’s professional classes.
Essentially the Dr Jekyll to the rough-hewn Old Town’s Mr Hyde, it
offers urbane Georgian accommodation for both work and play.
In recent times, for foodies, the latter quarter and its coastal
cousin Leith have been the city’s restaurant hub. At the very top,
you have internationally acclaimed restaurants, including The
Kitchin, Castle Terrace, and The Honours, but even below this
rarefied level there’s a lot of quality cooking going on.
Now Blackwoods Bar & Grill enters this crowded culinary fray, bidding
to tickle up a new direction for New Town gourmands. Hidden deep in
the quarter’s leafy depths as part of the recently-opened Nira
Caledonia hotel, Blackwood’s takes its name from the New Town’s
earliest landmarks, a 19th century satirical magazine published in
Edinburgh. The restaurant resides in the building owned by one John
Wilson, a major contributor to the publication.
The interior is low-key: plenty of dark wood facings and heavily
upholstered seating impart a feeling of louche relaxation; where
dining is not rushed but enjoyed along with good company; and just as
the name is location-specific, Chef David Scott’s menu is
determinedly local with all produce farmed, caught, raised or bred in Scotland. However, it has imported one showstopper: the latest top chef’s
gadget, the Josper oven.
Running on charcoal, the Josper is essentially an indoor barbecue,
allowing the chef to cook meat quickly at extremely temperatures.
With the front door closed, it seals in the natural flavour and
moisture, as well as ensuring its contents are imbued with a strong smoky tang.
Of course, working at such high temperatures can be tricky: as with
comedy, timing is everything. A couple of minutes too long, and a
perfectly done steak becomes a cremated scrap.
On the evidence of our meal, there is perhaps still some fine-tuning
required for the Josper’s ferocious heat, as well as some issues
balancing flavours.
Our starter of Shetland mussels cooked using the oven had an
undeniably smokey thwack, but the white wine and chili broth lacked a
kick to equal them, leaving the dish lop-sided.
The pheasant, partridge and pigeon terrine that followed had good
texture and some subtle woodland flavours, but was almost overwhelmed
by the accompanying spiced apple chutney.
The mixed grill platter showed both the benefits and challenges of
the Josper: while the fillet steak and lamb cutlets were nicely done, a
tasty well-done crust on the outside and evenly pink on the inside, a
pork loin chop was dryer and partly rescued by its green peppercorn
Our meal concluded with a selection of desserts that was as mixed as
what had come before it: the miniature trifle was the biggest hit at
the table, the cheesecake a decent second, but the chocolate cake was
another slightly dehydrated offering.
But it’s early days for Blackwoods, and these grumbles come from high
expectations than a sense of outrage - but if this restaurant wants
to compete in a crowded market and live up to the esteemed heritage
that it has hitched itself to, then maybe lowering the temperature
could raise the standard of some of its dishes
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28 April 2013
By: Craig Brown
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