lunches on the Game Menu at Tom Kitchin...

Crudites, with a  blue cheese dip
We met Tom Kitchin at the Cube pop-up earlier in the year, and were seriously impressed by both the simplicity of his dishes, and the complexity of his flavours.  Tom has years of classical training, and brings those skills to bear on the excellent seasonal produce close to his restaurant in Leith.  Indeed such is the pride in the provenance of produce that diners are presented with a little map of Scotland detailing exactly where ingredients have been sourced...

We were in Scotland to shoot, and really wanted to take our American chums to Tom's - they're massive game fans, foodies and have travelled extensively in Scotland.  I was travelling with my guns, and Kristen had nearly not been allowed on her flight, so by the time we met up in the bright glass-ceilinged bar we were all a little delirious with relief.  Fortunately the manager, Holly Napoli took us under her wing, soothed our ruffled feathers and provided refreshment.  We all chose the game tasting menu - it seemed the most appropriate selection given our trip - though I couldn't help eyeing up all the gorgeous dishes of spoots being delivered around the restaurant - they were one of the highlights of our Cube dinner.

We began with a perfect pheasant consommé, clear, scented, highly flavoured, savoury and light.  It's impossible to describe the flavour, but there was a very slight nod to 'stuffing', so that the consommé immediately made me think of Willy Wonka - you're given one thing, but it tastes of a whole meal - utterly delicious!  It was dressed with a disk of pheasant, grapes, apple shards, a celeriac cream, and a crisp shard of pancetta.  The fruit provided a bright and fresh note, with just a touch of acidity, and the bacon a little salty hit... A very lovely umami combination which I couldn't help thinking would make the perfect starter on Christmas Day.

Jellied consommé  of Blackford Estate pheasant,
served with celeriac cream, apple, and crispy bacon

Then a venison carpaccio - the venison from the Wilton estate in Midlothian. The meat was clean, tender, full of flavour, and served with cubes of apple and croutons for texture and contrast, micro herbs, toasted pumpkin seeds, autumn vegetables, hazelnuts and a light, bright herb cream.  Again an excellent combination of textures, flavours, and actually, temperatures.

Carpaccio of venison, with autumn vegetables and a herb cream

In a nod to his mentor, Pierre Koffman, the next dish was a game pithivier.  I've had Mr Koffman's pithivier, and this was just as delicious.  The filling included venison, mallard, and woodcock, and was served with a game jus, caramelised quince, and a quince puree.  The pastry was perfectly crisp, and gave way to a dense, meaty filling - the not too-sweet quince acted as a perfect foil for the rich meat.

Game pithivier served with caramelised quince and quince compote

The next dish of mallard left us all pretty speechless.  The meat was barely cooked, and served on top of a endive tart.  My views on endive vary according to the dish, but here the caramelised bitter-sweet endive perfectly, perfectly complimented the duck, with its sweet beetroot and sour orange sauce.  Again a dish had a foot in each sensory camp - bitter, sweet, sour, savoury, and a tiny hit of salt - the assembly of the dish undertaken with complete precision and balance.  Kristen, who's father is a massive hunter, kept saying that she wished she'd grown up eating game this way - apparently everything in her childhood had to be crumbed and fried - even elk... The mind boggles...

Roasted mallard with an endive tart, and an orange and beetroot sauce

The most challenging dish for me was definitelty the woodcock, though I have eaten it before. I shot my first woodcock last year in Scotland, and the chef had pan-fried it (and a couple of others) for us all, very much like pigeon.  In my conversations with Tom I'd promised to take on the full, traditional dish. The innards are chopped and served on a slice of toast, with the breast barely cooked on top - the head is then served on top of this, and the diner is invited to scoop out the brain.  It's accompanied by a celeriac puree and root vegetables.  All of this was utterly delicious, but far more challenging for me personally was the salmis sauce - the remaining body parts are effectively crushed to make the sauce - a sauce so intensely meaty that I found it a little overwhelming.  Having said that - the others absolutely loved it.  And in case you're wondering, the brain pops right out, like a miniature human brain, intact and exactly as you would imagine.  The flavour and texture are quite creamy, and you're encouraged to eat that piece first, so that you can appreciate the flavour - do give it a go!

Woodcock, with parsnip, celeriac and chestnut 

Our final meat dish was a hare à la Royale - served with pumpkin puree, parsnip chips, chanterelles, salsify, wild watercress and pumpkin.  The meat is cooked slowly in jus, and enriched with foie gras, blood and truffles, and is topped with loin of hare.  The whole dish is incredibly rich, but is very much the climax of the meaty menu.  

Hare à la Royale, with winter chanterelles

The palate cleanser of an Earl Grey sorbet is a welcome transition out of the main courses and into dessert - light, delicate, and fragrant, with a tiny piece of confit orange peel providing a little sweet and sour.

Earl Grey sorbet

Dessert was an entirely unexpected pumpkin cheesecake, spiked with cinammon, and served with toasted pumpkin seeds, candied pecans, and a chocolate sorbet. Many years ago the 11yo had convinced me to make her a pumpkin pie, and it was so revolting that I've not eaten a pumpkin dessert since. With the slightly sour edge to the filling, and the fragrant cinnamon, this was absolutely delicious.     Kristen is bringing me her favourite pumpkin puree from the US for our shooting rematch in a fortnight - so I'll definitely be making this as a tribute dish.

Pumpkin cheesecake, with candied pecans,
pumpkin seeds and chocolate sorbet

Petit fours: chocolate truffle, macaron, fudge, carrot cake

The cooking at Tom Kitchin's is very accomplished, grown-up and complete - ingredients are allowed to shine, and are treated with respect.  The staff are charming, very well informed about the dishes, and attentive.  This is undoubtedly one of the most memorable meals we've eaten, and we can't wait to return.

The Kitchin
78 Commercial Quay,
Leith EH6 6LX

(0131) 555 1755

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