Restaurant Review : Blackwood's : 'The Main Course Options Were So Unadorned I Felt Boredom Overtake Me before I'd Even Contemplated Actually Ordering'

By Bath, Richard | Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), February 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Restaurant Review : Blackwood's : 'The Main Course Options Were So Unadorned I Felt Boredom Overtake Me before I'd Even Contemplated Actually Ordering'


Bath, Richard, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland)


THE historical background to the name of the restaurant in the Nira Caledonia hotel is a fascinating nod to a time when Edinburgh's intellectuals fought like ferrets in a sack over political issues, with Tories and Whigs going at it with a ferocity and nastiness that would put Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond to shame.For anyone who isn't a history or politics geek, the name refers to a polemic Tory periodical Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine which only finally ceased publishing in 1980, but which in its pomp boasted writers such as George Eliot, John Buchan and Joseph Conrad. And in the early 19th century it published invective so popular and virulent one of the magazine's main columnists was forced to fight a duel in 1821 with the editor of the London Magazine over a particularly libellous rant.The Londoner, sadly, was shot and killed, but reading about it has provided plenty of food for thought as I suspect there are few newspaper hacks who could resist a moment's pleasure at the thought of star columnists and editors settling their differences with loaded weapons (a scenario undoubtedly more inviting than Messrs Hitchens and Galloway crossing metaphorical swords on Question Time yet again).But anyway, I digress. The point is that the eclectic mix of period and contemporary design that fuses to make the impressive Nira Caledonia boutique hotel - "No tartan. No stuffed deer heads. No prints of Bonnie Prince Charlie. [Just] Bohemian chic and contemporary comfort," it promises - happens in the former home of advocate and professor of moral philosophy John Wilson, a well- heeled wit who wrote for Blackwood's under the pseudonym Christopher North. Now long forgotten, in his day Wilson was a major figure on the national stage, a man whose views mattered more than many peers whose names are still common currency.Wilson was a famously entertaining and stylish man who liked the better things in life and whose table reverberated to tittle-tattle, gossip and intrigue. As far as a hotel goes, the connection to the salon of one of Edinburgh's most storied sons is a good place to start, especially given that the hotel itself is undeniably stylish, with the black walls of the dining room in this big Georgian room part of a restaurant that feels sumptuous and ever-so-slightly over the top.There is much that is contemporary about the menu, not least the painstaking listing of the provenance of all the ingredients, a process that takes in many of the best-known names in the capital and the Lothians from butcher George Bower to Gartmorn and Peelham farms and Welch Fishmongers.What is not so new, however, is the achingly bland 1970s-style options. From the lamb cutlets to the chicken breast to the wild local pheasant and the pork loin chop, the main course options were so unadorned I felt boredom overtake me as I cast an eye over the menu before I'd even contemplated actually ordering. OK, so there were side orders and a range of eight sauces, while the starters were marginally more appealing, but it wasn't a good start.If thinking about the food was unappetising, it was as nothing to the reality when the stuff actually started to arrive. …

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