Rhubarb, Prestonfield House

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Rhubarb, Prestonfield House

Prestonfield House, Priestfield Road, Edinburgh; 0131 225 1333; www.prestonfield.com

So, what do you do when the editor says those dreaded words: “It’s St Valentine’s Day, make sure you pick somewhere that’s suitably romantic”. You say, “er, right you are Sue”, and desperately try to imagine where you’d book if you were still in the early days of courtship rather than a wrinkly old married sort.

Thankfully, it’s not hard to know where I’d go if romance was in the air and the 14th was looming. When it comes to romance, Prestonfield House, with peacocks strutting around its grounds in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, stands head and shoulders above all other venues in the capital. Thomson’s sympathetic overhaul of this Seventeenth Century mansion in 2003 was a remarkable tour de force of good taste, which has resulted in a building that exhausts the usual hyperbole: sumptuous, elegant, decadent, luxuriant – it is all those, but much more besides.

The rooms upstairs, in which pre-dinner drinks and after-dinner coffees and petit fours are served, could scarcely be more welcoming or relaxing. Plush, lush and lavish, they are just the right side of kitsch with their moulded cherubs on ornate ceiling frescos and walls covered in crimson gilded leather, but sitting in front of the roaring fire on what’s sure to be a chilly February Sunday night, there’s nowhere more relaxing or more likely to make you forget your worldly travails.

Downstairs, the candlelit dining rooms are both classic but stylish, all crimson fabric and patterned silk wallpaper. With an 800-bottle wine list that is as good as it is long, and a menu that looks like a handbook for ethical local sourcing, the place could barely be more suited to whispering sweet nothings.

However, despite Thomson’s strenuous efforts, the culinary offering remains frustratingly hit and miss. I ate there last month with a friend, who reckoned the set menu was the best meal they’d had in Edinburgh. This time, however, that wasn’t a description that could be applied to the meal.

Both of our starters were excellent, with my foie gras and hazelnut tortellini in a rich chicken broth a nicely nuanced beginning, while my companion’s scallops with quince and macadamia nuts was also a novel take on a ubiquitous ingredient (mind you, at £16.50 it needed to be at least half-decent).

Our main courses were, however, very disappointing: my friend’s monkfish was so dry that even a broccoli and ginger veloute couldn’t save it, while my goose was surrounded by lots of interesting fripperies but was also overcooked. As for the puddings, although my companion’s combo of rhubarb sorbet baked Alaska, candied ginger rice pudding and rhubarb custard slice was exceptional, my chocolate truffle with hazelnut praline and sea buckthorn sorbet just missed the mark.

As for the damage, while the bill can get fairly hefty it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s particularly good value to be had if you stick to the three-course set menu (£30) or the two-course theatre menu (£16.95), which would give you the opportunity to splash out on a bottle of fizz or really good wine. Or, if it’s been a particularly romantic night, you might even have need of one of the swanky rooms upstairs.

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