I have heard it said that Edinburgh has more restaurants per head of population than any other city in the UK. Whether that is true or not I do not know, but certainly there is a myriad of dining options to choose from. Move beyond the capital’s outer limits, however, and the available options begin to peter out quite dramatically. But one very obvious choice, if looking for a good gastronomic experience in rural rather than municipal surroundings, is La Potinière in Gullane. Locally it seems to be quite well known; mention its name to even the most insular of Edinburgh inhabitants (and there are plenty of those, city dwellers seemingly unaware that life exists beyond the A720 bypass) and you are likely to see at least a glimmer of recognition flit across their face. This may well be down to it once having been endowed with a Michelin star, when under the aegis of David Brown; these days La Potinière is now under the management of owner-chefs Keith Marley and Mary Runciman who, regardless of Michelin stars (or rather the lack of them) seem to be doing wonderful things here.
The menu offers four courses, with two choices on courses one, three and four. Bread was broken first of all over an amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with a curry cream, nicely flavoured, bright and not over-spiced, before we tucked into the first of our courses. A beetroot and goat’s cheese salad was fine, lightly grilled cheese over the thinly sliced root, resting on a crisp pastry base, made for a pleasing combination of flavours, colours and textures. The other option here was a hamhock terrine which certainly had good flavour. Next up a single-choice course (I suppose if this were Paul Kitching’s restaurant it would be called 2122) of Thai coconut soup with poached scallops, which was divine; a beautifully milky broth with verdant green islands of spring onion and, most importantly, perfectly-done scallops clearly cooked with a deft touch. The main courses didn’t disappoint; I particularly enjoyed a sliced loin of venison, augmented by a little ‘shepherd’s pie’ of venison with a celeriac lid (I appreciate shepherd is not the right word – perhaps ‘poacher’s pie’ would be a better choice – but you get the idea I hope). A mix of fresh and smoked haddock was also nicely done, and worked very well with our chosen wine, a half of 2007 Crochet Sancerre.
Throughout the meal it was delightful to be served not by a waiter or waitress but by Keith Marley himself, taking orders, clearing tables, bringing out the freshly prepared dishes. It’s a small restaurant – about six covers, perhaps 20 diners when full – so it’s manageable that way it seems. A distant voice suggested the presence of one other person in the kitchen to help keep things running, but probably no more. So, after amuse bouche number two, a fruit smoothie, when it came to our final course it was Keith who brought along our chocolate pudding and a selection of cheeses. The former was good, rich and creamy, whereas the cheeses were passable rather than exciting. The evening wound up with coffee, served in tiny cafetières with china cups, cream and sugar lumps; it all seemed very Sunday-afternoon tea-room for a moment, but the coffee was good enough, and that is what counts I guess.
We stole away into the night to collect our car, parked in the dedicated area at the back of the restaurant, only for Keith to appear at a side door to bid us farewell. It was a nice personal touch. Marley and Runciman have been running the show here since 2004, one year before I moved to East Lothian. Even the most mathematically inept can therefore deduce that it has taken me five years to get around to eating here. Having discovered a charming venue offering value and quality combined, rest assured it won’t be five years before I return.
Prices: £40 per head for a set menu of four courses, plus water. An interesting and fairly priced wine list. (9/6/10)