Monday, 8 December 2008

The Tower Restaurant

Today I went to the Tower Restaurant for lunch. I've wanted to go for a long time, and they had a special lunch menu for a student friendly £12.95.

The restaurant itself was very well laid out, on the 5th floor of the Museum of Scotland. The view north over the roofs of Chamber Street and to the south face of the castle was spectacular, and watching the sun set* behind the castle was a real treat. I've seen this before from some of the tutorial rooms in the David Hume Tower, but this was a much more comfortable surrounding.

The choice of food was quite limited seeing we could only afford to stick to the set menu. The starters included spinach and apple soup, egg salad with lyonnaise sauce, and boudin of fish with lentil salad. I went for the boudin. A boudin is a blood sausage, so basically minced meat held together with blood, that is boiled in a skin, then sliced and served hot or cold. I was intrigued by the prospect of this done with fish. It was fairly tasty, and had I made it myself I would have been pleased. However, it was blander than I would have liked (especially since the waiter had told us it had salmon as the main ingredient) and the lentils were similarly unispiring. It was also surprisingly hard to eat, as the minced fish fell apart on the fork and the puy lentils were too tough to spear. Googling returns very few results for fish boudin, so although it was interesting, I don't think delicate fish works well in a boiled sausage, which should be made from a more robust meat. The others who tried the boudin seemed similarly puzzled by the dish. One of us had the soup, and said it was surprisingly filling. The starters also came with a bread selection, featuring a delicious date bread, and a fairly ordinary pesto foccacia.

The choice for the main course were tagliatelle with tarragon pistou, shellfish bisque with a crab mayonnaise crouton, and spicy pork belly with beans and cabbage. Three of us got the pork, someone else got the bisque and two of the others got the tagliatelle. The pork was three small slices of belly meat, resting on a bed of beans and stewed cabbage. On top was a perfect triangle of crackling. Given that I had paid approximately £8 for this dish, I was pleased with what I had got, although if the portions for the "real" menu (main courses priced between £15-25) were similarly stingy I would perhaps be slightly peeved. Again, while the food was good, it wasn't the greatest food ever, and given the prices for those not on the special set menu, I would have expected more. The shellfish bisque apparently "smelled like Sri Lanka" and had a good flavour of shellfish, although it had a tomato rather than cream base. Again the portion was fairly small and would have been a starter in many other restaurants. The tagliatelle was an enigma, with one friend describing it as filling, but the other being rather disappointed with the portion size as well as the taste.

The desert menu sounded good, and I was particularly intrested in the "chocolate five ways", which included chocolate mousse, chocolate glaze, chocolate biscuit, chocolate sorbet and chocolate creme brulee. However, at £6.50 a go and most of us in 5 figures of debt, we gave it a miss.

We had a bottle of house white and house red. Both were nice but not anything special. The service was also very slow, particularly considering there were only two other tables. The bottles of wine were placed on another table, and glasses not topped up often enough. This meant that at the end of the meal we had half a bottle left that we had to either down or let go to waste. I would hope that the service in the evening would be quicker, especially since there is a pre-theatre menu. It took us over 2 hours to have two courses, and we waited a long time for our orders to be taken as well inbetween courses.

Overall, I would recommend the Tower for the atmosphere, especially if you get the special set menu and have some money to spend on some good wine. Although the food was good considering we paid under £13 per head, (wine took the bill to £20 each) I would have expected much more from the main menu. If I was a restauranteur, I would consider the set menu a showcase for my chef's skills, and use it as a advertisement for the full price menu. Based on what I saw today, I would return for lunch, but probably not for a full meal (unless someone else was paying!) The Tower was on the short list for graduation dinner with my parents, but I think I would prefer somewhere with more focus on the food and less reliance on a stunning view to carry it.

*sunset over lunch? We had a late lunch and it gets dark at 4pm here in the frozen north.

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