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l'escargot blanc - Mangalitsa Pork Dinner
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L'Escargot Blanc
17 Queensferry Street,
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0131 226 1890
Open Mon-Thurs 12 noon-2.30pm and 5.30pm-10pm. Friday and Sat 12 noon-3pm and 5.30pm-10.30pm. Closed Sunday.
Oh my god – did you go to that – I am so jealous!

This was the exclamation from an acquaintance when I mentioned I had been to a Mangalitsa dinner hosted by Frederic Berkmiller owner of  l’escargot blanc and l'escargot bleu French restaurants. 

Fred has invested in 11 of these curly-haired Hungarian grunters for his real farm to fork initiative. Three had been taken from Gorgie City Farm to the abattoir just a few days before reaching our dinner plates. 

The multi-award winning French chef is no stranger to presenting adventurous menus. He has made the headlines before sourcing snails from Barra and Wagyu from Perthshire. 

Mangalitsa are a  slow-growing breed of pig a nd consequently expensive to farm. Most commercial pigs take half the time to put on fast lean fat where as Mangalitsa take 12 months to reach weight. So when Fred heard of some looking for a home he contacted general manager of Gorgie City Farm, Josiah Lockhart and arranged for the pigs to be reared there. Having these cute woolly coated creatures at the farm would capture the imagination of visiting children whilst also educating them about where food comes from. 

And so I find myself in l’escargot blanc enjoying a snout to curly tail meal. 

You can learn a lot sitting around a dinner table with folk and I realised Fred comes from around Lyon. Of course this makes sense and even more so when I am presented with a starter of heart, kidneys and liver caillette with orach and jus. This is a traditional dish from Ardèche south of Lyon and is like a massive haggis-shaped sausage of meat and greens. Most of the veg is from a garden Fred tends and the lightly dressed lambs’ lettuce (Mache in French) on the side is a sprightly complement to the offal. I am also introduced to orach which is an alternative to spinach. 

Mangalitsa in Hungarian means "hog with a lot of lard" and the meat has extensive marbling giving it a particularly rich flavour. Thus it is often referred to as the ‘Wagyu of the pork world’. So for main course it is roast rack of Mangalitsa pig with l'escargot garden vegetables and potatoes. The meat is in a different galaxy to the grey flabby dry supermarket flesh we are used to eating. This is succulent, rich, creamy and hugely satisfying. With extra courses of camembert from Hervé Mons and raspberry and strawberry fraisier this feels like a real feast. 

I reflect that this has been a purist French dinner of simple but top notch produce much of which has provenance of only a few miles. The food inspires convivial chat about the environment, gardening, animal welfare, education, the community, food, politics – and much, much more. 

There is an area where Frederic Berkmiller has been particularly trailblazing though. 

French food can be intimidating to a younger generation and the custom of many French restaurants is in danger of fading along with its clientele. Instead of waiting for younger folk to mature and find his restaurants Fred has reached out to them. Tradition has embraced hipster via mutual interests in growing, rearing, education, butchery and cooking. I think the future of food is in good hands here. 

The Mangalitsas currently have a starring role on the menus of l’escargot blanc et bleu but supply is limited so you do need to be quick. The next batch will be ready in November. (S. Wilson) 


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