3A1 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH13 6QG. Tel: 0131 477 7060. Open Monday to Saturday 12pm-2pm and 6.30pm-10.30pm. Two-course set lunch pounds 10.95, three-course pounds 12.95. Monday to Thursday two-course set dinner pounds 19.95, three-course pounds 22.50; Friday and Saturday set dinner pounds 25. Credit cards accepted
BOOKING A hotel room these days is a curious kind of business transaction, and it helps to have the negotiating acumen of a Turkish carpet seller. After a few days work in Edinburgh the other day, I wanted to stay the weekend at the famous Caledonian Hotel but was a little taken aback to see in my guide that the price of a standard double room was listed as pounds 240. Still, I wasn't entirely put off, as I knew from experience that deals can sometimes be struck, even with the poshest hotels, and especially at weekends.
I called the hotel, who straightaway offered me a room for two, "at our special weekend rate of pounds 75 per person". Not bad, I thought, and decided I would be happy to pay that. But I still hadn't actually asked for a reduction, so I thought I might as well give it a shot.
"I don't suppose you're able to offer any further seasonal discount?" I enquired.
After a pause of about half a minute, which for some reason I deeply relished, the receptionist came back on the line. "I've checked with the manager, and we're still running a winter weekend promotion which entitles you to a double room for pounds 90, including bed and breakfast."
"You mean 45 quid each?"
I suppose I could have asked her why she hadn't made this offer initially, but I didn't. After all, I had got what I wanted and, I felt, we had both enjoyed the game. But it wasn't over yet.
I checked into the Cally, as it's affectionately known, on the Friday evening to find that Marie, who had come up by train, had checked in before me. She was having a drink at the bar.
"What's the room like?" I asked her.
"Lovely," she said, "Except that we don't have a view of the castle."
"Hmm," I said, feeling another haggle coming on.
"Can we change our room for one with a view of the castle?" I asked at reception.
"Of course," I was told. "But we will have to charge you a pounds 40 supplement."
"Why?" I asked. "Is it a nicer room?"
"It's pretty much the same," she told me. "Except of course for the view."
I was about to chance it with a cheeky "How about pounds 20?", but I refrained, suddenly aware that a view was a rather nebulous thing to be bargaining over. The sight of Edinburgh Castle after dark is, after all, priceless, and as my intentions for the evening were not entirely unromantic, I decided to cough up without further protest. But I couldn't help wondering if, in these days where everyone's a hard- nosed businessman, God, or at least the descendants of the architects who built the castle, or even the chap who designed the very fine lighting, shouldn't perhaps be entitled to a percentage of my pounds 40.
All of which is quite incidental to the other part of our evening, which was spent among the crisp, white linen and comfortably old-fashioned, upholstered dining chairs of a (relatively) new Edinburgh restaurant called Winter Glen. This name comes not, as you might suppose, from a snowy highland scene in the mind's eye of some marketing consultant, but, much more charmingly, from the synthesis of the surnames of the chef and proprietors respectively: Messrs Blair Glen and Graham Winter.
Mr Glen describes his menu as "Modern Scottish Cooking" a proud rebuff to the over-used phrase "modern English" and one justified by the sourcing of the best Scottish ingredients throughout his menu.
Marie started with a cream of vegetable soup, whose greeny-brown colour, like pea soup in spate, was not as pretty as its taste, which happened to be heavenly. A good soup is an easy thing to make, but a great one is a find: this was both rooty and leafy and achieved its silky creaminess without over-reliance on actual cream. No single vegetable dominated, but there were definitely artichokes in there, which gave a classy length to the taste. But the master stroke was tiny pieces of pasta, possibly just broken spaghetti, which gave a little bit of teasing texture to squash between tongue and palate.
I liked my starter, too, which was thin strips of venison fillet tossed in oatmeal and flash-fried with a nicely judged sweet-and-sour sauce of citrus and redcurrants. The oaty coating was a witty idea that might have back-fired had the meat not been skilfully fried so as to crisp and seal the oats without overcooking the meat.
Marie had ordered her main course fillet of Aberdeen Angus steak "very blue" (and I had annoyed her by adding, truthfully, "she likes it fridge- cold in the middle.") When it arrived, neither of us had ever seen such a rare steak served in a British restaurant. The heat had got nowhere near the middle, but since the meat was excellent and well-matured, it was just the job, and Marie devoured every bloody mouthful of what was effectively a giant, seared carpaccio.
Poaching is a pretty unfashionable way of cooking fish these days, and my poached supreme of halibut was perhaps a lesson in why this is the case: it was not seriously overcooked, nor overripe, but poaching had made it just a bit soft and uninteresting. Having said that, I liked all that came with it, which was mash with leeks, a creamy "tapenade" sauce (which contained more little pieces of diced fresh tomato than it did olive, but was pleasant nonetheless), and, perhaps irrelevant but a welcome bonus, a dozen fat mussels in the half-shell strewn around the plate.
The Turkish delight ice-cream, which we shared for pudding, was absurdly sickly in a serves-you-right kind of way - too much for Marie but, being an incorrigible sweet tooth, I rather liked it. Back in our room at the Cally we digested our meal over a game of backgammon and a pair of Glenmorangies from the minibar. They were a fiver apiece, which I thought was a bit steep. But the castle looked great, and I was too content to haggle.Reuse content