Back in the day, Prestonfield introduced Scotland to rhubarb as an ingredient. Three centuries on, the Social Bitches arrived at the restaurant that takes it name – looking for opulence, exquisite food, and far too much to drink. Happily, we found all three.
It’s true to say we’ll celebrate just about anything with a bottle (or so) of fizz, but if the occasion is real rather than invented, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting location than Rhubarb at Prestonfield House.
This fabulous estate – less than 15 minutes from Princes Street – boasts an incredibly rich and colourful history. Here are a few of the highlights:
It was originally a wealthy monastery known as Priestfield, founded by the Earl of Northumbria in 1150. Roughly 520 years later, it was burned to the ground by a riotous group of Protestant students. [ Yes, bloody students! ]
Then, circa 1687, the king’s architect Sir William Bruce built the house we see today. Remodelled on several occasions, it eventually became a boutique hotel attracting such lively guests as Winston Churchill and Oliver Reed.
Today … well, it’s five star, with a rather fabulous restaurant.
Welcome to Rhubarb …
We breezed through the doors immaculately dressed and undeniably thirsty. Within moments we were shown to the Yellow Room, an intimate space with golden velvet walls, roaring fire and black lacquered furniture.
Making it all the more perfect, we were soon invited to enjoy a little finger food and an aperitif. Instantly, Isaac defaulted to the Social Bitches cocktail of choice: two espresso martinis.
“No, wait,” I bellowed. “I think I might try something different …”
Heads turned, people spoke in hushed tones.
Actually no, we’re making that bit up … anyhoo … I ordered a cinnamon spiced old fashioned with star anise. With each sip inspiring a pleasurable sigh, it’s just the thing to remove all traces of this wretched and never-ending winter.
Dinner is served …
Cocktail glasses drained, we finally headed into Rhubarb itself. Now this is a dining room with drama: ambient lighting, dark furniture, splashes of gold, and brocade as far as the eye can see. In short, we f**king love it!
Happily, the formal surroundings aren’t matched with stuffy service. Our medium-sized team of waiting staff were professional, but incredibly friendly. So soon we were enjoying a bottle of bubbles, and our first course.
Isaac’s expert pick: the Roulade of foie gras and confit duck with pineapple chutney, Madeira pickled shimeji, and spiced meringue. Fab-u-lous.
And for myself – Hand-dived Isle of mull scallop, lemon and pine nut crust, cauliflower, golden raisin and Serrano ham.
Both offer a delicate and sophisticated balance of flavours, inspiring even fat bastards such as us to go slowly, in order to relish every mouthful.
If food be the music of love, play on …
Enjoying the wonderfully decadent vibe, Isaac promptly devoured the 35-day aged Tweeddale sirloin. Needless to say, it does not disappoint.
Served with triple-cooked chips, confit cherry tomatoes, sautéed oyster mushrooms, shallot rings and black peppercorn sauce – it truly is perfection.
But … while I pinched just about every one of Isaac’s chips, the real star of the menu has to be the Venison Wellington with cocoa & hazelnut pastry, roast parsnip, Medjool date, pickled garlic, and orange grand veneur.
There is so much going on in this exquisite dish, but somehow its many wonderful tastes form an orderly queue so you enjoy each one in turn. We really can’t recommend it enough.
Insisting he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, Isaac then went on to explore the selection of mature cheeses. Here you can order either a Scots or French trio, but feigning a sudden interest in the Auld Alliance, he ordered both.
A wonderful finish to the meal, I immediately offered my assistance. Though first, I had the absolute pleasure of not sharing my Black Mission figs – fig marmalade, almond crumble, white port confit brambles, marzipan and orange ice cream. Heaven.
Understandably reluctant to leave this outstanding venue, we instead ordered more wine. Soon, we were the only people left in the restaurant, and asking for yet another bottle. At this point the manager approached. Oh-oh …
But rather than suggest we might have a home to go, he assured us there was absolutely no rush.
“In fact,” he continued. “You might be more comfortable in the Leather Room”
But … it turns out to be a gorgeous sitting room, lavishly panelled with gilded 17th century leather. Even better, we had it all to ourselves.
So as we enjoyed yet another roaring fire, and of course more wine, it was easily another hour before we forced ourselves to leave.
After all, to borrow the old Liberace quote for just a mo, too much of a good thing … is wonderful!
Note: Since our visit, there’s a new menu, but we’re sure it’s just as fabulous.
0131 225 7800