Type: Modern French
There’s a sea of statistics to show how far Edinburgh punches above its weight compared to several more populous UK cities. Usually they demonstrate that what was once called – before the euro crisis – ‘the Athens of the north’ lags behind only London in matters of finance, tourism and culture (a new survey found 545 books of all sorts have been set in, or been about, this lovely city). Gastronomically, it’s behind only London as well, with more Michelin stars and more worthy runners-up than any other city.
21212 is an intimate restaurant in what was the parlour of a grand townhouse, with undulating banquettes along its tapestry-covered walls and an open kitchen at the back, partly illuminated by large windows. The name comes from the original make-up of the menus, which offered two choices of starter, main and dessert interspersed with soup and cheese courses; there are now three choices at dinner, but chef-patron Paul Kitching, like most of us, isn’t inclined to do any more maths than he has to.
He gave up Manchester’s only Michelin star to move here in 2009 and got one back the next year, despite his quirky, pun-filled menus and highly adventurous cooking, which falls between molecular gastronomy and Salvador Dali-esque fanciful deconstruction. It is often highlighted by colourful dehydrated vegetable crisps and frequently heightened by mixing in bits of fruit and nuts among the vegetables. Smoked Fish & Ships looked like a flamboyant cartoon, but the lightly smoked and quite tender white fish and salmon in a green cream sauce with several vegetables cooked to varying degrees of textures and crispness, was a dream full of surprises.
Thyme 4 Chicken featured the tenderest possible fillet in a sublime sweet and tangy six-ingredient sauce with pineapple and brazil nuts (at dinner, it became Thyme 4 Pork, an even better idea). All the dishes were fully described by our waitress, but nothing could prepare us for the array of flavours and textures – it may be madness, yet there is delicious method to it.
The wine list, a thoughtful selection by sommelier Debbie Smith, rises to the challenge. It’s loaded with fine producers – Ridge, Dujac, Vajra, Musar, Remelluri, Trimbach, Shaw & Smith, Ken Forrester and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – and some good offbeat choices too, from Oregon, Dão and Sardinia, plus seven Sherries and 11 German Rieslings. Unfortunately mark-ups are all over the place, some reasonable, many upward: I adore Pieropan’s La Rocca and Jaboulet’s Mule Blanche, but not at £70 and £80 respectively. Older, more expensive wines are better value, at least attracting lower mark-ups. We settled for a few wines by the glass, a better idea with this sort of menu anyway; another good strategy would be ordering a couple of the 24 half-bottles and letting the food be the star.
3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5AB.
Tel: +44 (0)845 22 21212; www.21212restaurant.co.uk
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.