IGGS 15 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh
The Bill Dinner for four, £111.35, excluding drinks
I LOVE to cook but I'm only too aware of the fundamental difference between preparing a dinner for friends and being a serious restaurant chef. Restaurants are all about consistency. Anyone can turn out a good meal if they shop in the right places and follow the recipe book. But try serving 100 covers every evening, six days a week, and always - always! - getting the food perfect. Forget culinary experimentation, consistency is the first sign of the great chef.
Edinburgh has a number of consistently good restaurants, where you can take friends, visitors and business acquaintances and know you will not be disappointed or embarrassed - always a lurking danger if you write about food. A case in point is Iggs, named after its proprietor Iggy - for Ignacio - Campos. Iggy comes from Teruel in Aragon but settled in Edinburgh a quarter of a century ago, much to the benefit of our culinary DNA.
Iggs seemed the appropriate place to take my friends Monica and Scott, over here from the States to visit their daughter and do some sightseeing - plus a lot of good eating. The décor is modern but quietly elegant, allowing the food experience to dominate over the design. The kitchen is in the capable hands of Leon Quate, who was Young Chef of the Year in 2001 and previously worked at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews.
Back in the 1990s, when I first began eating there, the menu was more classically Spanish than it is now. Sadly, this did not appeal to the conservative tastebuds of the Edinbourgeoisie. Iggy then moved the menu towards mainstream Scottish fare. This was beautifully done but disappointingly conventional. In recent years Iggs has rediscovered its Spanish edge by cleverly rejuvenating the menu with a range of original fish dishes.
For an aperitif we each had a glass of pale Manzanilla sherry, which is light and balanced (£3.65). It was so good that we all had a second glass with the starters. In Britain, sherry is a foul, over-sweet tipple you give to granny at Christmas. But authentic, well-refined Spanish sherry - redolent with the taste of Moorish Andalucìa - is a delight on the palate. I am thinking of starting a campaign to revive it as a proper, grown-up dinner drink.
After a complimentary glass of gazpacho, we had a medley of fishy starters. The seared king scallops (£7.50) came with grilled morcilla, a Spanish black pudding. The scallops were cooked to perfection inside and not a degree more, while the morcilla was delightfully creamy - the antithesis of the concrete gristle sold in Scottish butchers. The cod and lime fishcake with sweet chilli sauce (£5.75) actually had fish in it. The clam and squid risotto with wild mushrooms and a chorizo oil (£6.95) was creamy as a risotto should be. And the black tiger prawns (£7.50) arrived with avocado and piquillo pepper timbale - the little piquillo peppers come from northern Spain. The prawns were moist and juicy but I could have done with a few more on the plate.
There was a mix-up in the kitchen and we were delivered a tartare of tuna with queso de cabra (£6.50) we had not ordered. Instantly and graciously, the waitress said we could keep it and it would not appear on the bill. This proved a fortuitous accident as the tuna tartare turned out to be excellent - sweet and succulent. The trick with tuna tartare lies in the fish being ultra fresh, which this was.
For mains we had an orgy of fish, though Iggs does meat dishes as well. The grilled red snapper with baby potatoes, asparagus and a citrus tomato salad (£18.50) was very snappy indeed. The olive oil poached salmon (£17.75) was flavourful despite being of the industrial farmed variety - the chef clearly has a deft eye for timing. This dish came with a clever lobster mash that I enjoyed more than the over-familiar salmon. The pan-fried sea bass was accompanied with saffron fondant potato, langoustines and a carrot and heather-honey sauce (£18.75).
With some trepidation, I also ordered the poached monkfish wrapped in jamon with a tomato, chorizo and white bean stew (£18.75). My wariness came from the fact that most restaurant monkfish rarely tastes of anything these days. However, wrapping it in cure-dried Spanish ham seemed like a bold experiment worth trying. Monkfish used to be known as the poor man's lobster, because of its texture and taste when cooked; probably because no-one had tried the real thing. I'm not sure the Iggs variation worked - the jamon was a tad too thick while the bean stew overwhelmed the fish. But full marks for trying.
Monica and Scott were still up for the vanilla créme brûlee (£4.95) which they judged splendid. One of my reasons for picking Iggs was that Scott had been in the wine trade and I wanted somewhere with a very good wine list. Iggy travels frequently back to Spain to source his cellar, so the wines on offer are unique and worth exploring. We had a white Rioja which was a sharp, ethnic accompaniment to the fish.
I'd intended writing about another Edinburgh restaurant this week but my experience of eating there was so unrelentingly dire I decided not to waste your time. What is the secret of a consistently good restaurant? Two things: a genuine love of food and wine and a desire to communicate that love to the customer. You'll find both at Iggs.
Origin info: Scotsman.com