November 30, 2004

Restaurant Review: Hewat’s

Hewat's 19-21 Causewayside, Edinburgh (0131-466 6660)

the Bill Dinner for three, excluding drinks, GBP 65.15

A NIGHT OUT WITH THE boys ... every Glaswegian's dream, male or female - but especially the latter. However, don't start envisaging foaming pints of lager, carpets like old pizza, a dartboard and a pool table (well, not unless that table is alongside a pool - preferably a turquoise-tinted, gold mosaic confection located somewhere in Tuscany). For these boys are posh to a fault. Chilled- and-cool running Krug types, icily cynical about the very best of the very best that the world has to offer.

So I like to challenge their deep-pile expectations from time to time. Counteract the ennui of too much high living with an occasional plate of pie and chips (or, and megabytes, as I'm sure they say themselves). For the lads are as high tech as they are high class.

The last time we had dinner, Mr Mayfair's big black scary car spoke to him through the restaurant window. Huffy at the absence of valet parking and a nice warm garage no doubt, it flashed its lights and squealed in annoyance. Mr M calmed it with an elegant wave of a keychain - and all from about 40ft away. Impressed? I was positively dented.

Hence I wasn't expecting either of them to jump up and down with excitement when I navigated the menacing black shiny brute towards Edinburgh's South Side studentland. And, as I'm not Spanish, I know that you know I mean the car, not the driver. Mr G (for Grosvenor, or more likely just for Grand) was reclining across the back seat in a pose that Sarah Bernhardt might have admired, lost in silent scrutiny of the neighbourhood unfolding beyond the tinted glass, an expression of mild alarm creasing his pale forehead. Apart from the raw fear of opening the FT every day, this was probably his most alarming experience since he discovered that Cartier doesn't have a branch in Peebles.

I was very tempted to search out some Scottish version of the Indian cafe that I knew as a student in Manchester, where they only served one dish, chicken biryani, price 35p for as much as you could eat. Environmental health closed the place during my second term. It wasn't that they found anything obnoxious in the fridge, it was because they didn't actually have a fridge. Or even a cooker. The huge simmering vat of biryani was produced on two camp stoves, apparently. But you just can't find that sort of cosy cuisine in Edinburgh, no matter how hard you look. So the sad fact was, we were destined for somewhere rather smart.

"Do you remember the Marque?" I asked Mr M as he appeared to overtake a Mini by driving straight over it. "Hmmmm", he said, which may explain why the restaurant closed. But, like most eating establishments in these parts, it has been born again and is now called Hewat's, after its new chef/proprietor. The restaurant, at 19- 21 Causewayside, has been repainted to signal its new management and the beginning of a whole new catering drama. A field of human anguish which I feel TV channels foolishly ignore. Who needs the faked macho aggression of Gordon Ramsay when hope, hellish hard work and a big chance of heartbreak stalk the scrubbed floors of every restaurant in Scotland on a daily basis?

Anyway, the eye-watering acid yellow walls favoured by the former regime have been cooled to Arctic white, the black and white checkerboard floor remains, as does the classic white napery, hence, on a bitter November night the ambience was just a little too Frigidaire pristine to deliver that warm cuddle of welcome that we prefer in our colour-starved grey winter.

The menu sails a middle-to-upmarket route through modern favourites, offering haggis wrapped in savoy cabbage with a Glayva sauce as a starter, along with carpaccio of venison, fish chowder, and avocado wrapped in filo pastry, while Aberdeen Angus beef fillet, grilled halibut and rack of lamb lead the main courses.

I began with king prawns with sweet chilli and lime (GBP 5.95), Mr M chose the venison carpaccio with crispy parsnips (GBP 5.50), while Mr G stayed within the comfort zone of a smoked salmon and crab parcel with creme frache (also GBP 5.95). For some reason I expected the prawns to be warm, but their juicy lime-zapped freshness did not disappoint; the venison was tasty and tender, too, but might have been cut a little thinner for soignee perfection. Mr G had swallowed the salmon and crab before we could make extensive enquiries, so one can only assume it was good.

The chef must have been working with a top hat and wand in the kitchen for the main courses, because the rack of lamb had turned into a duck, and the seabass into scallops - which is quite a conjuring trick. So I ordered the duck (GBP 12.95) to check that sorcery does not impinge on flavour. And it doesn't. A little fan of pink and tender breast slices, atop a circle of dauphinoise potato made good, tasty winter eating. Mr M's halibut portion (GBP 12.95) was huge, and very fresh, though I forgot to taste its accompanying baby caper risotto; and chicken escalopes with crispy Parma ham (GBP 11.95) combined wafery ham, which had a delicious, shattering crunch, with pearly chicken fillets and a whacking portion of slightly too mustardy mash. The lads ate everything. Which is not like them.

They even succumbed to a portion of banoffee pie and some creme brlee (GBP 4.95 each). "Pretty good," said Mr G in a tone of slight surprise. "But I think they need to rethink the decor."

So the best of luck to Hewat's. If the mordant Mayfair Mafia give them the thumbs up, the natives will surely come on side.