By Sharon Wilson
When it comes to produce La Garrigue walks the walk. The restaurant is named after the scrubland of the Languedoc-Roussillon in the South of France because, at heart, food here is earthy and rustic. But don’t be fooled there is flair too in the execution of the dishes. And while some ingredients are French, many hail from Scotland. A basket of chanterelles foraged from a woodland in Fife grace the kitchen on the night we visit. Patron Jean Michel started the restaurant in 2001 and was owner and chef for many years. The ‘baguette baton’ however, has been passed to a highly competent team, not least Head Chef Peter Duck. Peter has a pedigree which includes Westminster College, Claridges and Albert Roux at the Grand Hotel in Amsterdam. Mr Bite and I learn this after eating dinner and it hints at why our meal was so outstanding. Three of my favourite words have to be Peach Tarte Tatin but it’s a close call with Soupe de Poissons so I am delighted to see both on the menu. Oops à la carte there we go again – à la carte. The ghosts of fish bones and crustacean shells along with alcohol are readily detected in the intense bisque of the classic Provencal soup with saffron, garlic and chilli spiked rouille, croutons and grated gruyère. A glass of Rose on the side and me and Mr Bite are back on the seafront at Cassis. His ‘Saint Jacques’ have been paired with smoked French sausage – a tasty, clever marriage of sweet and smoky flavours. Stars of the main courses are a firm meaty fillet of Turbot for me, confit fennel bulb, soft red peppers and brandade - an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil. Mr Bite has roasted rack of lamb and the meat is soft, pink and yielding. As with my turbot its flesh has been nicely caramelised on the outside. A delicious dish of grated potatoes, cheese and spinach (layered, rolled and baked in the oven) accompanies La viande. No effort spared here. Olive puree, pistou, parsley, butter, sauces and herbs appear almost casually on the plate but really point to an authenticity and love for the cuisine of the Le Midi. Take the spun sugar on my peach tarte tatin; flair beyond the call of duty. I think chef just couldn’t resist showing off whilst he was making the topping for Mr B’s Lavender crème brûlée. The tart is light and sweet with a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream perched on top. Our three courses were outstanding. Staff are modest stating they just want to serve simple food but it takes skill to present these dishes plus an understanding of where to source and how to treat produce from source to kitchen to plate. Most of all it takes l’amour. La Garrigue is a French restaurant specialising in cuisine and wine from the Languedoc area of the South of France. Founder Jean Michel Gauffre grew up in the rural village of Combret and his appreciation of the area and its heritage is evident in the paintings of Le Midi that adorn the walls, in the Languedoc insignia on the wine glasses and in the food on your plate. It had been a while since we had visited for the full a la carte experience and the launch of the menu d’été seemed like a good excuse. When I told Mr Bite about the booking he made an appreciative ‘oooh’. We sat on wooden chairs designed by Tim Stead and enjoyed the view of Calton Hill whilst we munched bread from Woodlea Stables in Fife. I may be wrong but I think La Garrigue is the only restaurant baker Jock Fraser deigns to supply. He sells out very quickly every weekend at his smallholding in Fife and I defy anyone to eat just one slice of his continental style white. The scallops were king-sized, succulent and sweet; a swirl of Provençal red bell pepper purée provided a fruity complement. The fennel salad was neither too soft nor too firm. Soufflé came with classic slices of pear, caramelised walnuts and delicate lamb’s lettuce aka mâche. A king amongst fish the turbot was meaty with a golden crust crowned with a chewy Parmesan crisp. A bed of diced carrots, broad beans, sweetcorn and peas had been cooked in a light garlicky sauce or ‘bourride’ (stock with aioli blended in). A very pretty dish too which was garnished with fresh wood sorrel. Garlic was to the fore again in the smoked purée which underpinned pink, juicy duck with roasted pear and cherries. Mr Bite and I reminisced about a restaurant we once visited in Montmartre dedicated to Le Canard. A vibrant green and heady basil ice cream was trés, summery, fondant was dark and oozy.A giant disc of almond tuile cut the glassy topping of my brûlée. A chocolate cigar was redundant and the only criticism I couldn’t think of when asked by our waiter how we had enjoyed our meal. For me it’s the sauces and seasonings that distinguish French food and make it so delicious. Skill is applied but it is the quality of produce that always remains paramount. La Garrigue successfully showcases this and perhaps that is why it consistently retains two AA Rosettes.
La Garrigue 31 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DH 0131 557 3032 7 days, 12 noon -2.30pm & 6.30pm-9.30pm www.lagarrigue.co.uk