Sunday, 29 January 2023

"Afford anything" (like Michelin star cooking)

All I know about this finance blogger is her tag line "Afford anything... But not everything. What's it gonna be?" It's a great slogan. It makes me imagine a car fanatic who works out that if he saves almost everything he makes, paying the lowest imaginable rent (as the 4th flatmate, for example) and living on rice and beans, he can buy a Porsche (used). A Porsche is not my idea of a pearl of great price, but I don't even have a license, so who am I to judge?

There are endless possibilities. There may be women in--well, not Edinburgh--Liverpool or London who sleep in box rooms, live on baked beans, and go to work in Dior. Conversely, there may be men paying £600 a week to live in Edinburgh's Moray Place, carefully conserving charity shop finds and dumpster diving behind Waitrose (supermarket). Then again, there may be men and women who live in dank cellars in Leith and emerge, blinking, into the sun to eat Martin Wishart's Tasting Menu with matching wines once a month. 

This last, though expensive, is less expensive than a used Porsche, a New Town rent or (let me check) an asymmetric mid-length skirt from Dior. And as my favourite thing is eating a really good meal with someone/people I love and/or admire, the stellar restaurant would be my choice--but the set lunch instead of the Tasting Menu and only once a year.  (We might stretch to twice this year.)

And indeed once again I chose to go to such a restaurant for my birthday, bringing along Benedict Ambrose to have someone nice to look at. We were at the restaurant at the crack of noon--in fact, we got there before noon and found the doors locked. We were the first patrons of the day, and were led into a not-very-large room decorated in pale colours with pale wooden walls, which made me think of the 1970s, but B.A. said it was more 1930s. We got a table by a window, which was marvellous for looking at the people walking along the Firth of Forth with their maps or their dogs. B.A. sat facing the door, so he also had the fun of observing the other guests arrive and telling me what they were wearing. (More on this anon.)

We ordered the tortellini with roe deer and mushrooms; the braised pork cheeks with Puy lentils, glazed apples and chestnuts and Calvados sauce; and the chocolate tart with ice-cream and salted caramel. We also opted to have the sommelier choose our glasses of wine for the first two courses. 

Naturally we awaited the arrival of the amuse-bouches with great curiosity. We were rewarded with a cube of fried meaty deliciousness, a savoury beetroot meringue stuffed with horseradish sauce, a crispy shell of scallop tartar and a little bowl of pumpkin foam.   

We ate the above and, when we were again able to speak, talked about how good they were. Then the tortellini arrived and we really had nothing to say except how amazing they were. It was like eating the Spirit of the Woods: the soft savoury dear, the tiny mushrooms, the tortellini made as if by an Umbrian grandmother....

It was rather the same with the braised pork cheeks. We ate, saying nothing, and then began to make remarks like "Oh my goodness, this pork!" and "Oh my goodness, this apple!" The apples had clearly been marinated in, or cooked in, sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg, and really, they were better than candy and finding a £10 note on the pavement. The chestnuts were the best chestnuts ever. We will be talking about them on and off for a year. 

The chocolate tart was the best chocolate-caramel dessert we had ever eaten in our lives, and that is all I really have to say about that. Once again, we veered from wordlessness and superlatives. 

In between courses we drank our wine and evaluated our fellow diners who, for the most part, were a dowdy lot because--and it pains me greatly to say this and I wish it weren't true--well-heeled, cultured Edinburghers who eat at Michelin-starred restaurants and, for example, go to the opera and the concert hall do not dress well. There are flocks of elderly ladies who live in Morningside and Bruntsfield and the Braid who wear black slacks and cardigans wherever they go, including Chopin concerts at the French Consul's residence. This drives me mad, but B.A. looked knowing at me.

"It's a Code," he said loftily. 

"A code for what?" I asked. "Is this like Cranford where everyone who counts serves only bread-and-butter at their tea-parties and then despises that poor lady who serves cake?"

I think his response was interrupted by the arrival of another delicious course, for I don't remember what it was. At any rate, I did see one youngish lady in a nice dress, but she was clearly the guest of an older lady who was wearing black slacks and a chunky necklace and ordered the Tasting Menu for two. B.A. spotted a man wearing what looked like a good Italian suit, and he also watched a very elderly man in a tracksuit clatter in with a walker. I didn't see him myself, but my guess is that he has a gold-plated pension, not that he lives in a cellar and scrimps and saves for a once-a-month Michelin meal.

After coffee and bonbons (the nostalgic tears are springing to my eyes now), we paid up and went for a walk, and I constructed an imaginary life in a very snazzy flat for the man with a walker, including his conversation on the phone with the taxi company that delivers him (perhaps once a week) to the restaurant. Having decades ago gotten past the grief, envy and despair of no longer being a Captain of Industry, he now lives entirely for comfort, and shouts at everyone (including the Maitre D') not only because he is deaf but because he enjoys it. 


  1. What restaurant is this? It sounds like such a treat. You should send this post to a newspaper and ask them can you be their critic, no salary needed, just cover the nosh please Editor. Happy birthday once a week to you both. Sinéad

    1. Thank you, Sinéad! -- Mrs McL

  2. What is Cranford?