The Winter Glen sits at the bottom of Hanover Street just before it turns into Dundas Street. It’s a basement restaurant, reached by a short set of stairs. Most of the restaurants in this area are two blocks further up towards the centre of town, and with its discreet entryway, the Winter Glen is hardly in your face and screaming for business. It relies on reputation to pull you in, or, if you happen to walk by it every day on your way to work (like I used to), a rather tempting menu.
When we went there last Saturday, the menu was filled with imaginative sauces and variations hung from a backbone of solidly classic ingredients: lots of game and fresh fish. Although there is no a la carte selection, there is plenty of variety on the fixed menu. And at £26 for three courses, the price is pretty decent, too. The wine list is short but adequate if you plan to drink a whole bottle. Being pregnant, my darling snoogums wasn’t drinking, so I just wanted a half. This left me with two reds and two whites, one of which had just sold out. The Pouilly Fumé I ended up with proved quite tasty and crisp nonetheless.
Feeling adventurous, there were two dishes that grabbed my attention straight away. I started with mussels, tiger prawns and scallops in a light fish broth flavoured with Chinese spices. The scallops were a bit small, but the tiger prawns were huge and juicy. The fish broth, though, was the star of this show: it was sweet and exquisitely smooth, like pure distilled shellfish. Put away all images of fish heads bobbing about in a witch’s cauldron, and consider the joys of liquefied crab meat overlaid with the condensed aromas of a Chinese take-away…. Now you’re getting close!
My main course carried on the oriental theme. (I suppose we could have just gone to a Chinese restaurant instead, but hey.) Thin strips of duck breast draped over steamed vegatables, in a sweet oriental jus, with shallots in an orange marmalade. Unfortunately, this is where the disappointment set in. I could forgive them the broccoli (after all, chef could hardly be expected to cater to my every culinary whim), but the shallots and orange completely overpowered the whole dish.
The first bite of duck was delicious. It was cooked pink and moist, and it soaked up the honey-sweet dark jus like kitchen roll. But as soon as the orange aftertaste started to kick in, there was no turning back. The duck’s distinct flavour was washed away. Even pushing the soft, whole shallots to one side wasn’t enough, because the sauce had picked up too much of their flavour. Adding bites of new potato and courgette didn’t help, either. The tang just blasted them away, and I could only tell them apart by their textures.
By contrast, the venison that Abi had was overcooked and tasted of bland, generic Meat Product. We figured that if we put them together we’d have two perfectly flavoured main courses. Set apart, though, they weren’t quite up to scratch. Full points for imagination, but chef’s palette is obviously a bit more robust than mine.
Things started looking up again at dessert, though. I had a mouthwatering slice of lemon and lime tart with a light drizzling of thin vanilla custard, and Abi took the chocolate tart. The base of my slice was a moist, crumbly biscuit and the citrus filling was rich and velvery, melting on my tongue like frozen silk. Tiny strips of lime zest added an occasional extra tang to the mix. The experience was over far too quickly. Abi’s chocolate tart contained the entire cocoa output of a small South American country, yet was almost as light as my citrus tart.
We finished the meal off with coffee and tea. I don’t know why, but I felt unreasonably disappointed when the waiter arrived with just a single cup of tea for me. Normally I don’t drink more than a single cup anyway, but I do rather like having a pot there. I’m sure they would have been only too happy to bring me a refill, but for me it ended the evening on a minor note.
We both came away with mixed feelings about the Winter Glen. The restaurant is decorated in a modern Scottish style, with relatively sparse table settings. The place filled up nicely while we were there (from about 19:30 onwards), and there was a nice buzz to it. The atmosphere is upmarket smart casual; the maitre d’ wore a jacket and an open collar shirt. It is equally suited to business dinners and smart family evenings out.
Food-wise, it was very good, but not uniformly excellent. Starters and desserts were top class, but our main courses let the average down. Also, maybe it was just my selections, but I suspect that chef has a bit of a sweet tooth. That’s fine for me, because I do too, but don’t go there expecting a light touch on your tastebuds.