l'escargot bleu - new basement wine bar
Hospitality is a bit like farming and writing for that matter. Most people I’ve met who practice it, do so because it is in their blood. Often the economic rewards constitute poor pickings.
But it explains why, when you rake through the ashes of COVID and its devastating impact on hospitality, blazing gems emerge.
For example, in the basement below the French restaurant l’escargot bleu on Broughton Street chef-patron Frederic Berkmiller has created a unique and cosy wine bar. I was a big fan of l’escargot blanc and bar à vin on Queensferry Street so am eager to see Fred’s new place.
Skip down the steps and the outdoor space has been cleverly reworked. Two cellars transformed into private booths alongside patio seating is reassuring in a pandemic and will be fun and sociable when the warmer weather arrives.
Move inside and a wood-burning stove and candles welcome you.
I am pleased to see some familiar faces behind the bar. People I know from other establishments, people who have had to move around a bit but who love their trade. This means you can get some knowledgeable commentary on the wine list, nibbles and small plates which comprise the gustatory experience on offer here.
It is full shortly after opening in December but me and Mr Bite squeeze into a quiet nook next to the wine cave at the back of the room. I order some Viognier and he has a beer. Food is uncompromisingly Francophile. A tight selection of nibbles and small plates are chalked on a board. Hard little goat’s cheeses, ‘Aperigoat’, are popped in the mouth and I order another glass. My appreciation of simple but good bread and butter is sated here. I will always order it and it is a daily treat for me like coffee. Mr Bite has some excellent cold smoked duck breast and I only rescue a morsel for myself. Also on offer are anchovies on toast, olives, foie gras, terrine; rustic French fayre at its best.
Frederic Berkmiller is dedicated to unearthing quality produce of good provenance. This means he will have a relationship with the producer often travelling to meet them and to have an eye on how they operate, rear, tend the soil. Do they have a love of food coursing through their veins too? Do they understand the relationship and journey from the land to the plate? He even starts gardens to supply his kitchen so that customers get the best (in all senses of the word) produce possible. The result is a clutch of awards recognizing this dedication to sourcing and cooking. And this is why nose-to-tail chef Fergus Henderson just happens to ‘drop by’ when in town.
If you need a recommendation as to why you should visit, there it is. Better than Trip Advisor.
L’escargot bleu & wine bar – 56 Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3SA - 0131 557 1600
Opening times – dinner: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday. Lunch: Friday & Saturday 12 pm – 2.30pm.