French without tears

  • The List
  • 12 March 2007

Life & Style - Eat

The new branch of Abstract is a classy addition to Edinburgh’s flourishing fine dining scene

The Meal

Could Edinburgh be at the zenith in its history of dining out? It is now home to three Michelin star-holding operations, while several others at the top end of the market have their own share of accolades and loyal custom. The choice is rich, from Martin Wishart to the Witchery, Kitchin to Atrium.

Into this flourishing scene comes Abstract, the Inverness-based venture that recently launched a second outlet in the capital’s Castle Terrace. The 2007 Michelin guide editors deemed the flagship restaurant at the swanky Glenmoriston Town House hotel a ‘rising star’, describing the Gallic-influenced cuisine as ‘impressively original’. Even those who have never set foot in Inverness may be familiar with Abstract, thanks to Gordon Ramsay. It was one of the few success stories in the chef’s Kitchen Nightmares TV series.

The design of the Edinburgh restaurant features bold, black and white artwork that is both framed on the wall and featured on some of the Villeroy and Boch china. A pair of pillars have been covered in mosaic-sized mirrored tiles, while a more classic motif adorns one wall. Tables and chairs are upholstered in faux reptile skin. Take that George Street!

The menu is arguably less French-inflected than the accents of the staff under general manager Caroline Cordier. The à la carte selection is geared towards the professional classes, with starters such as ‘three textures of foie gras, poached, glazed and very cold’ (£14) or main courses like roasted monkfish tail with leek and shrimps, carrot purée, and lemongrass sauce (£22).

But the set two course lunch at £12.95 is a bargain (add a pudding for £4) and includes meat-free choices that don’t appear as after-thoughts. Pureed butternut squash with roasted hazelnuts is topped with three breaded fingers of melted cheddar. A starter of ‘Niçoise style’ beef ravioli offers a host of mini-pasta pillows stuffed with shredded meat in a pond of clear sage-infused broth and some early season broad beans. Among the main course options, a ‘slowly cooked’ sea bream offers a tender fillet with under-powering cubes of calamari placed on a fricassée of softened sweet peppers scattered with chorizo lardons. All creative and well-executed if not necessarily startling.

For a lunchtime visit, service feels a bit staid (for example, silver service to deliver a replacement napkin). Perhaps this new branch of Abstract is still finding the correct ratio of warmth to formality. Heaven knows how many midday diners will avail themselves of the slightly bizarre champagne trolley that gets rolled up to the table.

But Abstract is a serious, classy newcomer and a welcome addition to the Edinburgh dining scene.

33-35 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, 0131 229 1222,
A la carte menu; eight course tasting menu £55; two course lunch menu £12.95 Gallic-influenced cuisine and a chef’s table

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