The bard’s birthday is passed and for most of us, we won’t give poor Rabbie another thought until we’re panic-buying haggis next January.
But not so for pop-up dining maestros and foragers extraordinaire The Buck and Birch.
Heading along the promenade at Portobello on a chill February evening made a change from our usual saunters along the front which are normally reserved for those rare sunny days and fraught with dropped ice-creams and naughty dogs.
But tonight it was just me and Mr B, and it was indeed a braw, bricht, moonlit nicht that led us to Dalriada, a friendly bar filled with laughter, live music and lots of character. And The Buck and Birch’s chosen pop-up venue for After Burns, a multi-course tasting menu inspired by traditional Burns Night fayre, with treats aplenty from Scotland’s larder, all served up at a giant communal table.
Of course there was some fine game on offer, as well as a variety of tempting seafood, but it’s the multitude of foraged ingredients that really set The Buck and Birch apart.
Kicking of proceedings was a crisp lobster cracker with roast seashore gel, lobster oil and royal fernweed, a rich and salty mouthful of great seaside flavours. This was followed up by the interestingly presented stick of smoked, cured goose with dandelion caper. A pleasantly chewy, meaty morsel which elicited many smiles, nods and appreciative noises from my fellow diners.
The next course was a giant oyster, possibly the biggest I’ve ever seen. Chef admitted that he had originally intended that they should have been enjoyed raw, but such was their size that they had to be lightly roasted in order for them to be cut to a size that wouldn’t prove to be a choking hazard!
Served with fermented wild garlic, wild leek pearls and pickled magnolia blossoms, the gargantuan shells rested on a bed of ice and were served with a jug of hot water so that we could each create our own dramatic plume of steam to encase the shell as we picked out its contents. Much oohing and ahhhing ensued and the oyster was deliciously delicate and one of my favourite dishes of the evening.
Sticking with the sea, the octopus garden soup saw a tempting tentacle swimming in a tasty broth of wild cress and fermented garlic and mustard, with the more appetising than their names suggest, tubular and gutweed.
Being massively keen on mushrooms I was delighted by the pretty scarlet elf cups, oyster and velvet shanks sautéed with new season wild garlic, thyme, butter and sourdough croutons. The elf cups as their name suggests, providing a burst of colour and a hit of earthy flavour.
Some of my fellow diners were fooled into thinking dessert had come early when presented with a glass full of venison trifle. The braised shoulder proving to be a rich gamey delight and a hearty treat along with the pickled mushrooms and elderberry jelly with roast potato foam.
Perfectly cooked pigeon breast with game orzotto carried on the game theme with sprout tops and a mahonia berry sauce.
Sweet treats were thankfully a light affair given what had gone before. We started with carrageenan and sweet woodruff pudding with delicious roast quince, clove root syrup, and an awesome beetroot and pineapple weed tuille.
You may have heard of The Buck and Birch’s very own Aelder, a wild elderberry elixir which is versatile enough to drink like port with cheese or in cocktails or even poured over puds. Tonight we enjoyed it in a couple of its forms. Jelly ears are a type of mushroom, but soaked in Aelder and covered in chocolate they’re transformed into dessert. Especially when served up with birch syrup caramels and primrose and dandelion jam.
The dinner was BYOB, but we were also treated to a wilderness drinks flight courtesy of mixologist Miran Chauhan. More Aelder elixir, with elderflower champagne and hogweed seed bitters. The pine trees required to create a Christmas tree vermouth came directly from the streets of Edinburgh in January, and I can’t think of a better way to use up the Christmas trees that once took pride of place in every living room. Mushrooms even sneaked their way into the drinks flight in the form of a rich, warm mushroom Bovril – made with ceps, beef steaks and velvet shanks – combined with a peaty Port Charlotte whisky, olive oil, lovage and elderberry shrub to make a comforting winter tipple.
Phew, a veritable feast of fanciful and fascinating flavours, all courtesy of Mother Nature with a little help from The Buck and Birch. For anyone with an open mind when it comes to food a Buck and Birch pop-up is an experience not to be missed. Just don’t try and find out where they forage their prized fungi and other goodies. I’m sure they would tell you, but then you know they’d surely have to kill you.
Tickets for After Burns cost £62.63.
To keep up-to-date with everything The Buck and Birch are up to visit www.buckandbirch.com.