Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review: La Garrigue – Fine flavours of the Languedoc, to counter a dreich capital day

Painting of La Garrigue restaurant.
La Garrigue (courtesy of the restaurant's website).
It's the end of April and today is, once again, one of those days this month when it's blowing a hoolie. What's more, the gale force wind only serves to ensure that the accompanying hail and sleet is near horizontal. I do love Scotland, but sometimes I long to escape its weather for more warm and sunny climes. But not being able to jump on a plane to Spain or the South of France, last Friday my other half and myself decided to do the next best thing - we injected a little culinary sunshine into our evening by dining at the southern French eatery, La Garrigue.

Located a stone's throw from Waverley Station, on Jeffery Street, this bistro has been a fixture on the Edinburgh gastronomic scene for 12 years. It specialises in the cuisine of the Languedoc (or 'Le Midi') region of France, hence the name which references to the aromatic, herb-dominated scrubland common to the area. So shunning yet another sharp April shower, JML and I were greeted by the restaurant's welcoming French waiters and seated in front of the bistro’s huge picture windows that provide stunning views of Calton Hill.

Within a couple of minutes of the menus being delivered to us we were asked if we would like an aperitif. Now in my book, this is always a good start to dinner, and quite typical of Mediterranean dining. So sipping 'un pousse rapier' - a sort of champagne cocktail - and a nicely chilled Muscat sec, we made our dining choices. Not an easy task as, going by the dish descriptions, everything on the menu seemed inviting.

JML chose to start with the pig's head 'fromage' accompanied by a gribiche sauce. A very inviting slab of succulent terrine arrived which was moist and full with rich pork flavour. The creamy, eggy sauce that accompanied it - sharpened by capers, tarragon and cornichons - made for an excellent counterpoint to the meat. My first course choice of 'traditional' fish soup with croutons and rouille was every bit as good as I had hoped for - a dark vermilion bowl of intense seafood tastes that could have come straight from a Mediterranean port, paired with crisp toasted bread slices and home-made saffron mayonnaise.

Beef cheek with parsnip purée.
Beef cheek with parsnip purée.
Whilst we were still discussing how good our starters were, our meaty mains were served. I had decided upon rabbit stuffed with walnut and liver farce, on a bed of salsify and winter veg (the veg chosen to match the weather, I assume). Now rabbit is a real litmus test of a good kitchen. Cooked badly, it is dry and tough. My lapin was the polar opposite, being succulent and bathed in a flavoursome, but not overpowering, gravy. The dish really shone thanks to the addition of the stuffing which added a real depth of umami. JML's slow cooked cheek of beef, with glazed carrots and parsnip purée was equally impressive. I love beef or pig cheeks, especially when slow cooked and served with lashings of sauce from the casserole. This meltingly tender morsel ticked all the right boxes in that respect.

Rabbit stuffed with walnuts and a liver.
Rabbit stuffed with walnuts and a liver.
We paused for a while, and sipped on our very pleasant glasses of Languedoc red wine (Les Acrobats 2011), before ordering pudding. This provided an opportunity to take in the ambience of La Garrigue, which matches chunky, stripped wood tables and chairs with bright lavendar walls, all providing a nice bistro vibe to the restaurant's quirky layout. Yet by the time our final course arrived, and with all covers occupied, the restaurant was a wee bit too southern French in one respect - it was becoming decidedly too warm.


The rising heat levels and elements of the final course provided the only low-point to the evening, yet these things are all relative. My tarte au citron was very nicely presented - an inviting slice of lemony tart surrounded by a scattering of raspberries and saffron meringue, with a tangy jus. It was just the right pudding for someone who doesn't have an overly sweet tooth. JML's dessert was, by contrast, a bit of a let-down. A crème brûlée with lavender, it looked great and the custard was smooth with just enough lavendery hint to hit the palette. But it was tepid as opposed to hot; despite the caramel topping being so well cooked it was difficult to crack. And I'm sorry to say that the tuile biscuit that accompanied the brûlée had more in common
Delicious tarte au citron.
Delicious tarte au citron.
with toasted pita bread than a crunchy biscuit.


A few minor quibbles aside, all things considered we had a most enjoyable evening at La Garrigue. The service is knowledgeable and warmly proficient – though we did have to request the bill twice - and, at its best, the food provides a delicious flavour of the Languedoc.

I'd happily return to this ray of southern French culinary sunshine again - but maybe next time sporting fewer Scottish winter woollens...

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere -7/10
Service -7/10
Value - 7/10

Ambience - Expect a venue with a bistro ambience.

La Garrigue on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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