Taisteal: n. Travel, Journey
A culinary journey awaits those venturing into Taisteal, Gordon Craig’s Stockbridge eatery
Review by Charlie Fletcher Photography by Gavin Craigie
Taisteal is chef Gordon Craig’s latest venture and can be found on Raeburn Place, right in the heart of Stockbridge. The restaurant aims to bring the best of Scottish produce and Gordon’s foreign travels together. At my time of visiting, Gordon’s menu is distinctly Asian inspired thanks to his recent jaunt to the East.
In the short three months since opening I have only heard great things about Gordon and the food being served at Taisteal so I just had to go along to see what the fuss was about. Through luck rather than judgement, I had timed my visit to coincide with the launch of a five-course tasting menu that Gordon was only too happy to advocate.
Just after being seated by the great window on the corner, I was offered an aperitif and some surprisingly spicy popcorn to occupy my taste buds. I browsed the wine list and picked a very agreeable bottle of French Cabernet Sauvignon before being offered a lovely piece of warm sourdough with herb butter.
In what seemed like no time at all, the first course arrived to mark the start of my culinary journey deep into Asian territory. I was presented with a Tom Yum soup, complete with a deep-fried cauliflower fritter. The soup was packed full of Asian flavour – citric lemongrass, warming chilli and a fresh hint of coconut. In the centre of the bowl was my cauliflower fritter. Despite the resemblance, this is not to be confused with takeaway paper bagged bhajis. The fritter was incredibly delicate and packed with Thai spice. Gordon’s skill with flavour was abundant in, what could have been, a simple soup.
Following the soup, I was treated to ‘Thai Tartar, Thai Muesli and Cucumber Sauce’. This turned out to be a beef tartar with dried prawn, shellfish and nut muesli with a rich cucumber sauce. The tartar was delightfully succulent and creamy with subtle hints at the promised Thai spices. Dried prawn muesli was – no surprise – a new concept to me, however, the crisp texture of this accompaniment was the perfect contrast to smooth tartar and the airy cucumber sauce. Whatever scepticism I had from the title of this dish quickly evaporated when I started eating. It turns out that Gordon isn’t completely mad for pairing beef with cucumber.
A fish course followed the bizarre tartar. A tower of charred mackerel ensued, complete with kimchi, pork scratchings and plenty spring onions. I’m not usually a mackerel fan but the skin was crisp and inviting. I think this dish may have changed my opinion on mackerel – even thinking about it whilst writing this is filling me with longing. A defiantly Asian feeling oozes out of this dish but the inclusion of pork scratchings is a welcome, simple reminder of the pairing that Gordon’s cuisine is all about.
After my rekindled romance with mackerel, I was served a hearty portion of lamb rump atop a chickpea and tomato compote complete with savoury satellites of lamb sweetbread, smoked aubergine puree and homemade feta. To do this dish justice I will really need to push my journalistic skills to their limits. The lamb was perfectly rare and fell apart at the mere suggestion of a knife. When all the elements of the dish were combined, a harmony was created in both texture and flavour. The aubergine puree reminded me of a mint sauce when coupled with the lamb. The sweetbreads were soft and fluffy, like little savoury marshmallows. The feta had plenty lemon and chive to make a typically bland cheese exciting. The chickpea and tomato compote was the perfect accompaniment and held all the elements together. My only criticism is that Gordon has inflated my expectation of lamb to an unobtainable level.
Once the plate was empty and torn away from my longing hands, my fifth and final course of the evening was on the way. An apple terrine was served with compressed shards of apple and walnut, miso butterscotch and an apple and tarragon sorbet. This was a sweet and refreshing way to round off the evening but not in any way an afterthought. The sorbet was rich with bitter apple and the butterscotch was delicate rather than excessively sweet. The apple terrine itself was beautifully layered and well presented.
Having completed Gordon Craig’s five-course tasting menu I was delighted to find that the food exceeded my expectations. The tasting menu I had is available for £45 with the option of matching drinks for an additional £25. Bucking the norm, the matching drinks are not limited to wines but include cocktails and beers. Gordon does a ‘market menu’ Tuesday – Thursday that gives diners the chance to have two courses for the bargain price of £12. Taisteal is a pair of contradictions: it is simultaneously approachable and high quality; and it is familiar yet innovative. The menu is not set in stone and will continue to evolve as Gordon travels and gathers the inspiration for a new menu (I heard mention of an Italian venture in the near future). Whatever happens next, I am certain from the food I enjoyed that Gordon Craig has the expertise to make it unforgettable.
Enquiries: Taisteal, 1-3 Raeburn Place, Stockbridge, Edinburgh. EH4 1HU / 0131 332 9977 / www.taisteal.co.uk/