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The Witchery By The Castle


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#1 Tuckerman

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 01:16 PM

We weren't exactly spoiled for choice for Sunday lunch in Edinburgh, most of the more interesting restaurants remaining resolutely closed despite throngs of tourists who doubtless would like nothing better than to spend a few hours out of the freezing Winter rain in a warm restaurant. Maybe the religious lobby still holds too much sway here.

This place right next to the castle isn't exactly a tourist trap, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon here. However the food was not top notch in any respect. Terrine of Confit and Foie Fras was too fridge cold. Monkfish was overdone. Crab Mayonnaise also too cold. Fish Soup too thin. Smoked Salmon as good but I'd been spoilt at The Champany Inn the night before.

A really good main was a melting dish of Oxtail atop a thick disc of "Stornoway" Black Pudding-tasty rich, well cooked. Guinea Fowl and Mallard dishes were acceptable, but a Welsh Rarebit dish was inedible. You need to get this dish right and here it was...wrong.I didn't taste it but Sam described it as an overdone burnt Craft cheese slice on top of a bit of toast-yum :lol:

Maybe we should have known better than to order a Welsh dish in Scotland. However. although it was removed from the final bill, the feedback from the snooty maitre d was that "chef says there is nothing wrong with it". This was the maitre d who had raised a snotty eyebrow when I'd asked for tap water instead of bottled. That little moment of sneering disdain made me want to bang his head slowly and repeatedly against the granite steps before walking out-but hey ho, he bought tap and we had nowhere else to go.

Bad service move. Apart from the fact that there clearly WAS something wrong with the dish, even if there isn't take it back and don't argue. We were spending a lot of money in there and this guy was lucky we were feeling mellow (although Sam DID tell him to "fire the chef" so maybe mellowness was not her predominate mood at that moment) :lol:

#2 g.johnson

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 04:38 PM

That's Edinburgh for you. Fur coat and nae knickers.
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#3 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 01:32 AM

In researching the finer restaurants in Edinburgh, one name was mentioned more than others; The Witchery. Looking at their website, one sees a celebrity list to rival an BAFTA runway. It took a bit of work to get reservations and before my arrival, I asked local cab drivers and hotel staff what they thought. All were enthusiastic with exclamations of, "Oh! That is where my husband brought me for my anniversary last year!" or "It is the most elegant restaurant in town -- a place to go for special occasions!" Upon arrival, I could see the décor as reminiscent of an old world men's club with its dark wood and elegance. I was greeted warmly and seated near the outdoor garden. Perusing the menu, I had mostly decided to order a variety of starters as they did not offer a tasting menu (despite asking beforehand).

At a table nearby, I spied another solo diner, a young woman asking the waiter what venison tasted like. It was obvious he couldn't supply even the modicum of a reasonable answer and I intervened to offer an explanation. Realizing that she was not waiting for anyone, I invited her to join me at my table as we were both obviously dining alone. Melody and bonded quickly; both traveling alone, both looking for the best restaurant in town, and (charmingly enough), both members of a known cabal of knitters via Ravelry.com. Chatting about food and travel and yarn, a friendship was born over what would ultimately prove to be incredibly mediocre food.

Wanting to experience the ultimate in a haggis experience, I started my meal with their "Finlay's of Portobellow award winning haggis" served with "neeps and tatties" (potatoes and rutabagas). Going completely traditional, I also ordered a serving of Scotch, a 20-year Oban. The potato was whipped and formed into a quennelle, then fried while the neeps was puréed and served alongside a golfball-sized haggis. Despite an insipidly thin sauce, this was the most intriguing dish of the evening so that doesn't say much. Melody ordered a starter of scallop which was served in a half-shell with Iberico pancetta. These scallops were obviously sliced in half, swimming in over-seasoned, over-cooked and over-salted melted butter. Mel enjoyed them, but I found them inedibly salty.

Our main courses arrived. Melody definitely enjoyed her first-time venison, but I found it flabby and poorly prepared. Under the fanned slices of over-cooked meat was some of the same neeps purée that I had with my haggis and a slice of potato gratin all surrounded with a puddle of thin, clumsy sauce. The plating and all the components seemed rather bourgeois after the perfection and artistry I had experienced the night before at The Kitchin. The true catastrophe of the meal lied in my seafood platter. A cold selection of local seafood, the platter included oysters, clams, mussels, lobster, and prawns. There was also a half-shell offering of smoked salmon, tartare, and some mayonnaise-based fish salad. While not blatantly bad, it was obvious that it was simply not the best quality fish available, nor had it been recently prepared. The clams and mussels were puny and chewy. The lobster was mealy. The oysters were not well-shucked with bits of shell and no liquor left with the mollusk meat. Had Melody not helped me out, more than half of the offering would have sat un-eaten.

I wasn't ready to give up on the food and my new compatriot and I were having such a great time chatting that we decided to give the desserts a try. In my usual fashion, I opted for a cheese plate with a glass of Sauterne. Between The Kitchin and the café at Modern Art Museum, I had experienced several excellent offerings of Scottish-made cheeses and I was anxious to taste some more. God bless Mel for picking the dessert sampler which included a chocolate torte and sorbet, mango parfait, bread and butter pudding, pistachio macaroon, and puff candy ice cream. My cheese plate was offered in a rather perfunctory fashion with no descriptives and I called the waiter over to ask for an explanation of what types of cheeses I was being served. He started to tell me so that I could make notes when I realized he was speaking French. Well, they were all French cheeses -- no local Scottish or even English cheeses. I didn't bother to write them down. And Mel's dessert sampler? I think we liked the chocolate torte but they were all unremarkable and went unfinished.

So, is The Witchery all it is cracked up to be by those locals who had raved about it? I believe it is but only because it is mired in a 1970s sentimentality of what a fancy, special occasion restaurant should be. It is all bells and whistles and no substance. And for those in search of truly excellent cuisine, it should be avoided at all costs. But for me, it will be the place where I at least met a great new friend.

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#4 macrosan

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 07:35 PM

What a shame, Carolyn sad.gif When I was in Edinburgh a few months ago (last minute decision to stay overnight) I rang Witchery at 5pm to try to get a table for one. I got a very casula "Absolutely not - we're completely full". So I rang my second choice, Tom Kitchin, and was welcomed like a long-lost client; and I had one of my best meals in years.

How was your meal at Kitchin?

#5 Suzanne F

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 07:41 PM

The oatcakes look good. laugh.gif

the people who flock to dine at the restaurant on account of its reputation/stars are getting their money's worth because what they are after is a piece of the reputation/stars and nothing else. their money is not wasted. -- mongo jones, 11/5/2014

 

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#6 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 07:42 PM

QUOTE(macrosan @ Oct 9 2009, 12:35 PM) View Post
How was your meal at Kitchin?


Amazing. Klickety.

#7 Cathy

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 09:15 PM

Well of course your dining companion turned out to be a Raveler!
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

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#8 g.johnson

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 10:01 PM

The plating is catastrophic.
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#9 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 01:14 AM

QUOTE(Cathy @ Oct 9 2009, 02:15 PM) View Post
Well of course your dining companion turned out to be a Raveler!


The best part of the evening! Made up for horrific food...

#10 Sneakeater

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 07:57 PM

The Witchery is interesting because it helps show what we mean when we call someplace a "bad" restaurant.

The decor may seem overly formal and even kitschy to some, but there's nothing wrong with it. Service ranges from clueless to quite acceptable.

But here's the thing: the Witchery is a restaurant for people who don't care about food. It attracts by its echt-Scottish decor and its plausible menu. The problem is what comes on your plate.

Now don't get me wrong. The food isn't repugnant or anything. It doesn't taste bad. It's just, as Carolyn put it, flabby and poorly prepared. Not "poorly" as in awful: "poorly" as in substandard.

I'm reminded of the Del Frisco's steakhouse chain in the United States. Don't let "chain" fool you: these are not cheap restaurants. They're as expensive as real top-quality steakhouses (which is to say, very expensive). But they don't serve dry-aged steak, the staple of a great steakhouse. Yet, even in New York -- the home of the great American steakhouses -- Del Frisco's does great business. Why? Because a lot of people simply don't care. They don't pay any attention to what they eat. If the decor is fancy enough, and the menu seems plausible, they don't care about actual food quality. As long as the food isn't actively repulsive, they're happy.

So here. My appetizer of assorted smoked fishes wasn't BAD. It just was more appropriate to a mid-level restaurant than one of the most expensive places in town. And my venison main dish was slightly overcooked, and just plopped there on the plate with some wilted side-vegetables.

I knew the truth about the Witchery before I went, though. So why go? I'll tell you why: their last seating is at 11:30. If you're at Edinburgh during the Festival and its Fringe, it's one of the few places you can count on being open past the last show you go to. I eventually found out that there's a big open-air dining fair set up in the middle of the University where the kiosks keep serving late into the night -- but my first night in, I was glad to have a reservation waiting for me somewhere. Even if it had to be here.
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#11 yvonne johnson

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 08:05 PM

That's Edinburgh for you: Fur coat and nae knickers.
It was not a new dish, as I recognised my tooth marks. Wilfrid

#12 foodie52

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 09:29 PM

I had a fairly good meal at La Garigue in July. HERE It's dangerous to do the math, though: converting dollars to pounds is not a good idea, because I then mentally compared the meal I would have had in Austin at a similar restaurant: well trained chef, fresh ingredients etc. La Garigue lost. Although the menu sounded delightful, execution was just....ho hum. My prix fixe dinner was 30 pounds. Wasn't worth it.
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#13 g.johnson

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 09:36 PM

Provincial restaurants are always hit and miss propositions if you don't have insider information.
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#14 Sneakeater

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 06:14 PM

I don't know where else to put this -- I certainly don't want to start a new thread for it -- but I have a strong suspicion that the best haggis in Edinburgh is currently being served at the otherwise ordinary North Bridge Brasserie (in the Scotsman Hotel). The intestine is very fried, giving a nice textural contrast to the stuffing, which seems more highly spiced than is usual.
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#15 g.johnson

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 08:15 PM

I don't know where else to put this -- I certainly don't want to start a new thread for it -- but I have a strong suspicion that the best haggis in Edinburgh is currently being served at the otherwise ordinary North Bridge Brasserie (in the Scotsman Hotel). The intestine is very fried, giving a nice textural contrast to the stuffing, which seems more highly spiced than is usual.

There's nae fuckin' intestine in haggis, ye glaekit wee bampot.
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