One of Edinburgh's finest
Twenty-two years is a long time in the restaurant business, particularly in the troubled times between 1990 and today. But that’s how long Stac Polly’s Dublin Street outpost has been around, serving up fine quality Scottish dining with no need of resorting to bagpipery, tartan or any other “Och aye the Jimmy” nonsense.
On a sunny but freezing cold Tuesday evening during Edinburgh’s laughably termed “Spring”, M and I wander down the elegant New Town streets to Stac Polly’s basement premises. The restaurant is a veritable warren of rooms and corridors, plus patio area on the off chance that the North East elements might offer a chance for al fresco eating. We are shown into our dining area, which feels exactly how a cellar restaurant in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town should: stone walls hung with historical paintings and sketches, Stac Polly acknowledges its historic setting without overtly leaning on it. There is the pleasant ambient backdrop of conversation coming from our surrounding diners and the overall air is of sophisticated relaxation.
There only seems to be the one waiter on duty this evening, but this is of little concern as he is clearly The Best French Waiter in Edinburgh. Courteous, impeccably mannered, unobtrusive and possessed of the gift of perfect timing, this gentlemen works the floor like a true expert, effortlessly gliding between the eight different tables on the go at any one time and somehow telepathically aware as to when glasses need topping up.
Bread and butter is instantly brought to the table (far too many restaurants are starting to overlook this essential beginning to any meal), and it’s not long before our orders start to arrive from the kitchen. To begin with, M has gone for the seared pigeon breast with celeriac fondant and redcurrant, port, thyme and game reduction. An excellent plateful, of a portion size which for some establishments would denote a main course, M is only reticent about the extremely pink rareness of the meat.
My starter is simply perfect: Loch Fyne queen scallops, grilled in their shells, and topped with a smoked salmon and citrus butter. Scallops are the modern equivalent of the seventies prawn cocktail, ubiquitous on so many menus and served up by less imaginative chefs with inevitable combos of black pudding, pancetta or pea puree. Here they are served with the glistening, caramelised butter infused with flavours of salmon and lemon, perfectly complimenting the plumptious scallops to produce a wonderfully fishy platter. Superb.
Mains are quite triumphant. M declares her ling fillet wrapped in parma ham and basil with a sweet potato puree and red chilli and citrus olive oil to be a perfectly balanced dish, all flavours and textures in harmony and balance with one another. My own main of roast Border’s lamb with leek and potato gratin in a rosemary and game jus is a mountainous feast. The lamb is perfectly cooked, blushing in the middle, and quite possibly some of the tastiest meat I have ever had. The gamey jus practically has me licking the plate to get every last droplet. There’s a noticeable absence of any lentils du puys, as stated on the menu, but frankly I am not going to quibble over that when faced with such a marvellous dish.
There’s nothing else to do but delve into the desserts. My warm chocolate sponge with vanilla custard is a comfort food delight while M’s cranachan parfait with berry and rhubarb compote is refreshingly light while displaying the restaurant’s easy manner with traditional Scottish food. That’s been the trick with the whole meal, a lightness of touch with native ingredients and produce to create extremely fine Scottish cuisine. It’s easy to overlook a restaurant which has been on the go for over two decades but for that length of time they have to be doing something right. Tonight, Stac Polly proves itself to be one of Edinburgh’s finest.