As a food reviewer, I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have eaten in some of the best restaurants and tasted some of the finest dishes, but sometimes, just sometimes, you leave somewhere in the sure and certain knowledge that a relatively unknown eatery is set for stardom!
And that couldn’t be truer for Edinburgh’s Surf and Turf restaurant on Holyrood Road.
This is the kind of place when word gets out as to how good it actually is, you’ll soon have to make a booking. Walk-ins will become a thing of the distant past. I’m just surprised it’s not been ‘found’ yet.
The restaurant can be found the bottom of Holyrood Road, down where the Scotsman newspaper building was and near Dynamic Earth. If you know Edinburgh, then you’ll be aware that parking is at a premium. The hotel which forms part of the restaurant, (the MacDonald, Holyrood) has no private parking but does offer valet parking for a charge. On Sundays however, the city permits free on-street parking and there is space outside the restaurant for approximately ten vehicles.
Disabled access is fine from street level and the restaurant has tables placed on the ground level area. The lower seating area is reached by steps but can also be entered via the hotel reception.
On arrival, we were met by an extremely friendly young lady who had sat us at a table in the top section, realised that we were close to a larger group and that we might be more comfortable in the lower section which had fewer diners and was quieter. Good call, and showed an important eye for detail and particularly for customer satisfaction. And, as we’ll find out later, is just one of the overriding features of the visit.
The decor and style are what could probably be termed modern bistro, featuring marble-topped tables, light grey leather seating, black-and-white images with an overriding dark wood and grey/green colour scheme with a mix of open-plan tables and banquettes allowing diners a little more privacy if required.
Two menus were provided – a market menu and the à la carte in addition to a separate drinks menu. One of my pet hates is menus which require me to put aside an hour to get through. Not so at Surf and Turf. Both menus are simple single-sided – in fact, the drinks menu was the largest of them all, covering wines, beers, cocktails, spirits and soft drinks with a good choice in all options.
Having queried the source of the seafood and steaks – it’s always one way to tell how engaged the staff are with the menu, and how they mesh with the kitchen. Our waitress either knew or sourced the information from the kitchen for me. I can confirm therefore that the seafood is supplied from the small fishing port of Crail on the north-east coast, while beef is also supplied by a Scottish meat supplier who both procures and processes the very best Aberdeen Angus beef with full traceability.
We were given ample time to peruse the menu while drinks were delivered, and there was no rush to make a choice until such time as we were ready.
One thing of note was the lack of diners on the evening of our visit, which meant that the atmosphere was slightly lacklustre and without any music left the restaurant very quiet.
I opted for the langoustines, which, if left in the cooking water for even a minute too long, can end up like rubber bullets. So this was truly going to test the chef’s capabilities. But, on the same menu was another of my favourites, the scallops. So, purely in the interests of good journalism, I asked for a portion of those to be sent out as well.
The dish that subsequently arrived was a delight to the eye. Even the table across from us got in on the act, pointing and smiling. Three good-sized langoustines had been helpfully split open for ease of eating – who needs to mess about cracking shells. Sitting next to them were three lush looking nuggets of seafood delight, topped with Avruga caviar and resting on a bed of samphire. There was never any doubt, this was an Instagrammable dish if ever there was one.
But back to the langoustines. On first taste, I knew I was lucky enough to have a chef who knows how to cook seafood properly. You’d be surprised how many cannot. These were sweet and succulent with just the merest hint of where they had kissed a grill!
The star of the show undoubtedly was the hand-dived scallops. Slightly caramelised and topped with caviar they tore apart with a fork. Juicy and sweet, plump little nuggets of deliciousness with a buttery delicate flavour. which again had been perfectly cooked to a point just past translucency. This is an art form to get it so right.
This was, put simply an exquisite starter and one which would easily warrant awards for both the quality and the delicate handling of the cooking. With ingredients this good, you don’t need to mess about with them. They speak for themselves.
The staff were all very attentive, perhaps too much so, but as a food critic, I am quite used to having staff checking all is well on a very regular basis. Had it been busier then I expect they wouldn’t have had time to make so many visits to the table.
Given the restaurant sells itself as on the surf and turf name I reckon that steak had to be on the cards for the main course.
And what better dish to try than the house’s signature dish. In this case, it was a 32-day-aged Aberdeen Angus fillet topped with a lobster tail and served with a garlic mushroom and vine tomatoes. This dish was served with pont neuf potatoes, however, I changed these for the truffle fries. My steak had the option of a choice of meat rubs and I opted for the Himalayan salt and olive. I also chose a separate Diane sauce.
The menu allows diners to choose either a “fixed dish” or to make a meal that suits your palate. You choose your preferred type of steak, the size of it, up to a whopping 1000gr at an eye-watering cost of £130, and then you add your extras, seafood toppings, sauces, rubs and potato choice.
For those who don’t like steak or seafood, the menu does have some limited alternative options for those diners also.
On the evening of our visit, there were no flatbreads or oysters available.
So next up was my main. The food is presented on plain white china plates which allows it to stands out loud and proud as it should. Again another Instagrammable moment presented itself– what on earth did we do before the days of social media? Probably ate the food before it got cold!
The fillet steak which I had asked to be cooked rare was perfect, pink in the middle and slightly brown on the outside where it had touched the pan allowing just a hint of a crust to caramelise. The lobster tail which sat proudly atop my steak was surrounded by a vine of cherry tomatoes and a garlic field mushroom. The Diane sauce was served in a separate pot as were the fries.
After a few pics, I got stuck in. In fact, the knife very nearly became redundant the meat was so soft and tender. Sometimes, fillet can be rather tasteless without any fat to render flavour into the meat, however, the genius idea of using a meat rub helps with that perennial problem. My Himalayan salt and olive brought out the earthiness of the meat. I’ve had many good steaks in my time, however, and I’m going to put it out there right now – this was one of the finest and definitely in my top five.
The lobster tail, like the langoustines, hadn’t been mucked about with. It was simply cooked in boiling water and served. It hadn’t been overdone so the tail meat was still soft and sweet and melt-in-the-mouth tender. An overcooked lobster can be stringy and chewy but this certainly wasn’t one.
Those tomatoes were deliciously sweet adding in yet another flavour, but from a presentation point of view added great colour and contrast to the overall dish.
The Diane sauce was rich and punchy and had a nice zing to it which comes from the mustard and brandy. Full of sliced mushrooms and thinned out with double cream it provided a great foil to the other elements on the plate.
The fries – firstly, don’t expect to find them covered in sliced truffle – they’re cooked in a truffle-infused oil. I have to say I didn’t get huge hit of truffle on these, perhaps a of truffle shaved over the top might have helped. I’m pleased to report there’s no use of frozen fries here which would have been sacrilege. Everything is handled in-house by the kitchen brigade, who are very ably led by head chef Dan Mellor. A man, who, if I’m not mistaken we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the years to come if my meal is a benchmark of his cooking skills. I’m left wondering if this could be one and the same Daniel Mellor who made it to the quarter-finals of Masterchef some years back?
The front of house team are all very dedicated to the task at hand. It comes across that the company value good training and place emphasis on the quality of their staff. On the evening of my visit, they worked around the supervision of the floor manager, Cameron, who like the rest of his team, was a young man learning the job, and doing it very well indeed.
Following a short break, dessert menus arrived. There isn’t a huge choice available but what they do offer is actually very good indeed.
I opted for an old favourite, the sticky toffee pudding, while daughter number one decided to go down the Tonka bean cheesecake route. Both were served with Isle of Arran vanilla ice cream.
My sticky toffee pudding was exceptionally light and delicate, you’d have thought someone had injected the sponge with air! Sweet and moist with the flavour enhanced by the use of dates, butter and dark sugar and the addition of nibbed nuts for an added texture. This was truly a luxury pudding. And best of all for me, it wasn’t drowning in a sea of cloyingly sweet butterscotch or caramel sauce as many are. Topped with a quenelle of good quality ice cream raised it from an excellent dessert to a sublime one.
On consideration, this could only be described as a quality meal accompanied by excellent service. Yes, some of the cuts of meat are expensive, however, in my opinion, this cost is reflected in the quality of the ingredients on offer and the superlative cooking of them. The old adage “you only get what you pay for” rings very true here.
For further information and booking details see Surf and Turf’s website here.