'Every dish had one or two errors' - Review of Michael's Seafood and Grill in Edinburgh's Eyre Place
Michael's Seafood and Grill in Eyre Place had some good points and bad points, writes Kayt Turner.
New restaurants open up in Edinburgh almost every day of the week.
Sadly, restaurants also close with equal frequency. A recent casualty had been Casa Mara in Eyre Place, a well thought of but obviously not well enough patronised, Spanish eatery.
Residents watched the empty premises keenly, knowing that a new chef with bright and fabulous ideas would surely be taking up ownership soon.
So when painters started on the outside, we waited. Signs went up and we waited some more. Then a menu appeared in the window – along with an opening date. But there were no contact details to book a table. We were obviously going to have to take our chances on the opening night.
As it transpired, we didn’t exactly have to fight our way in, as we were one of only three couples that night.
You’ll have read many first night reviews, where the critic is – quite rightly – somewhat forgiving of teething troubles.
Well, however it might have been sold, this wasn’t anyone’s first night. The eponymous Michael was revealed to be Michael Neave – who has two other highly successful establishments in the city. A few of the staff were familiar faces from Casa Mara. The menu – a quick internet check under the table confirmed – was a truncated version of Neave’s city centre menu. So these dishes had already been perfected elsewhere. I now felt quite confident of a good evening.
Opening night nerves be damned.
Given that seafood would appear to be the restaurant’s raison d’être, it would have been churlish to have opted for anything else as a starter. I went for the mussels with Spanish chorizo and tomato.
Chorizo is quite a bold choice as it can easily overwhelm the subtleties of the seafood. The sauce was robust and lacking in any refinement. Sliced cooked sausage clashed with fresh tasting, but too acidic, tomatoes. Overall, it gave the impression of not having been cooked down enough. It was, however, cooked long enough to edge the mussels towards the slightly rubbery end of the scale.
Mr Turner’s interest was piqued by the handpicked and flaked Arbroath Smokies in a creamy leek and potato broth – which basically sounded like a deconstructed Cullen skink.
Having this image in your head when confronted with this plate could only lead to disappointment, and so it was proved, the only nice touch being the pearl onions. Incredibly, the tiny flakes of Smokie had been cooked so as to lose almost all flavour. The king of wood-smoked haddock was reduced to a sideshow. Things would not have been so bad if the flavour had imparted itself to the stock – a word I use in the loosest possible sense. It was thin and lacking in any depth or flavour.
I didn’t want to fall into the easy trap of steak to test their grilling abilities, so, instead, I went for one of my favourites, calves liver. This came on Arran mustard mash with wilted kale, confit red onions and pancetta. The liver was beautifully cooked – tender and melt in the mouth, although some trimming of the centre gristle would not have gone amiss. The mash had dried out a little – perhaps it had been waiting under lights for the liver to arrive – but still packed quite a punch with the grain mustard.
Mr Turner plumped for the braised corn-fed chicken leg with an Asian cock-a-leekie broth and soft herb dumplings.
In Scotland our tradition has been to take our old laying hens and indeed cockerels after all their faithful service and honour them with a fitting and flavoursome epitaph. Many countries have the same tradition; think coq au vin, Jewish chicken soup and any number of Oriental offerings in the same vein. The common theme is a chicken stock to die for. This was so far removed from this ethos as to be embarrassing. Just thin, dull and not very good.
Feeling dissatisfied, we hoped that dessert would rescue the evening. As there was no cheese available Mr Turner went for the bitter dark chocolate and whisky dip pot with almond biscotti. This was a rescue for the taste buds.
I’ve long been a rice pudding fan, so I chose the vanilla rice pudding with Earl Grey stewed fruits. Served with a slightly caramelised top with the juice of the fruits steeping down into the rice, the taste was wonderful – with the bergamot mixing beautifully with the vanilla. However, the rice wasn’t fully cooked.
If it had been the first night of a “new” restaurant, I might have been more forgiving – but this is a restaurateur that knows his stuff. One or two dishes, with one or two errors – forgivable. Every dish? Not so much.
Michael's Seafood and Grill, 14 Eyre Place, Edinburgh, EH3 5EP, 0131 4664576
Rating: 6 out of 10 stars