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Fish has always been rather a taboo subject for me; a food I know I should like but one that I’ll normally pass on a menu in favour of meat. I get annoyed at the price of it, the amount of waste preparing it produces and the fact that after all that effort it generally just ends up tasting ‘OK’. I’m also aware that being in London we’re a bit of a way from most of the large fishing ports meaning a fresh fish might in cases be a day or two out of the sea. I’ve always thought that being near the source of a food will make me enjoy it more (like Bakewell tarts bought from Bakewell) so I put this theory to the test at Ondine in Edinburgh.
I have never been a fan of oyster; the first one I ever had got caught half way down my throat as it clung to it’s shell and nearly won it’s battle for freedom from out of my stomach only for one final despairing nash of my teeth sent it to it’s fate, and all the ones I’ve had since have been like taking a large swig of seawater jelly. A childhood memory I have is of getting caught under a barrage of waves while swimming in the sea, and that’s what eating oysters remind me of and let’s be honest that’s something I would rather just forget. Not to be deterred and ready for my seafood challenge 12 Cumbrae Rock oysters were ordered though to give them a fighting chance we did get cooked ones – 6 tempura and 6 Kilpatrick (cheese and chorizo). I’m aware that this may be considered cheating but let’s be very clear here; it was a delicious tasty cheat. Both types of oyster – crisp fried in batter or covered in a rich cheesy based sauce tasted as I’ve had them described to me before as creamy in taste and velvety in texture with no hint of my mouth drowning in seawater. So good where the cooked versions that we ordered a couple of raw oysters and so much was my anticipation that they were down the hatch before I even thought of whipping the camera out to snap them.
Next up was our proper starters of razor clams with pea, broad bean and chorizo and tempura squid (one of those dishes that if we see it we buy it). Not that after polishing off 7 oysters I needed a big starter but served on one split shell the razor clam starter looked a bit mean. Luckily though it ate bigger than it looked and the sweetness of the clam and broad beans given a bit of a smokey punch from fried chorizo was rather ace though really the white meat could have been anything as it was slightly outnumbered by all the other strong flavours in the dish. The tempura squid was one of the best tempura squid that we’ve had and in comparison to the clam looked great value as there were numerous perfectly cooked, large crisp battered chunks to dip into the delicious sweet, sour and salty dipping sauce.
The final round of the fish challenge was up next with the roast and grilled seafood platter which I knew would contain such personal stomach-wrenchers as mussel, clams, crab and winkles. What was delivered to the table looked like a high-end version of the kind of food you get at texan BBQ fish joint where they shovel up shells from their pit and chuck it down in front of you, we were first given all the required eating implements (shell crusher and lobster picker included) and were then presented with a tardis like bowl containing in addition to what I’ve already mentioned a half lobster, lobster claws, langoustines, scallop and razor clams all covered in a garlic butter sauce.
With tools in hand no shell was too hard, no meat too tricky to reach and much to my surprise no shell fish too disgusting to eat. Everything tasted uniquely sweet with no hint of tasting over-salty or grit getting crunched between our teeth. Highlights for me were the thick and buttery scallop and picking up every last bit of meat from the langoustines, a food not seen too much south of the border but one that I’ll keep more of an eye out for in the future.
After all the fish we didn’t need pudding, but we wanted pudding so a treacle tart and eton mess were dully dispatched and devoured. Top marks for the mess which contained some of the sweetest strawberries I’ve had this year and a perfect wave of creme patisserie providing the link between those and a puffs of French meringue.
There were clearly no real gripes with the food but as we had a 6.30pm sitting I did feel like we were rushed through rather quickly so they could turn our table around. I nearly didn’t get the chance to take the rather epic aftermath of the shell fish I ate and they whipped the card machine out while I was still in the toilet. I didn’t feel like they made us rush the food, but pretty much everything in between was certainly VERY efficiently done. In between removing plates our waiter was nice and chatty though and did help us select a nice bottle of wine that went great with everything we ate, which you can see was rather a lot!
So yes – on the experience at Ondine I would say I have proven my theory that fish is indeed something worth travelling for, the problem is I’m now wondering if I’ll ever find fish that good outside of Scotland…Tweet