Wine List Confidential: The Palmerston, Edinburgh
Described as “a big sturdy room for serving big sturdy dishes” by The Guardian’s Jay Rayner who went on to praise its list “of familiar-sounding wines, which appears to have been designed to enable drinking rather than exploring”, this ultra-popular Haymarket brasserie is brought to you by Edinburgh native, James Snowdon, a former manager of Fulham’s Harwood Arms, and the Australian-born Lloyd Morse, previously of Spring.
The former bank-turned-coffee shop now operates as a bakery in the morning, escalating to full lunch and dinner service. Spent trophy bottles crown the back bar beyond the illuminated counter, which is lovely to eat at, and continue atop the rather stately, museum-grade, wooden Kelvinator fridge in the main dining room. Marble pillars, smartly banded, frame the space, which receives an unashamedly industrial intrusion in the form of a chunky extractor duct. Art, including charity shop finds, is mirthful, including the study of Ainsley Harriot near the cellar, accessed through the original Hobbs, Hart & Co. door to the vault where Morse has been known to “nap between services” according to Snowdon. The most substantial work is by Glasgow based artist, Stewart Swan, who “creates dark and burlesque-style portraits that forensically explore the human condition…”
Harking from the 1988 vintage, “from which Léoville-Barton has aged a helluva lot better than I have” he says, Snowdon has fine vinous form, having previously worked alongside Romain Audrerie at Hotel du Vin “followed by Pierre Pattieu.” At The Palmerston, Snowdon has put together a vinous selection “from all walks of life” hence the presence of Skin Contact Pinot Gris from Stellenbosch producer, Craven, to lees-enhanced Basque Txakolina (Juanjo Tellaetxe Tantaka), a Burgundian rosé (Fleur de Pinot, Sylvain Pataille), and the litre of Portuguese “session wine”, Espera – Nat Cool. “We don’t specialise in one region and stay clear of shouting about whatever bandwagon everyone is jumping on,” sums Snowdon.
The initial list was written by a friend to Snowdon, Seamus Sharkey – head of wine for JKS – with inspiration for the sparkling selection drawn from fellow JKS-related sommelier and chef, Sandia Chang, with whom Snowdon worked “in the early days of Bubbledogs.” Featuring names such as Jérôme Lefèvre’s Playing with Fire, Elaine Delalot’s Impressions, Eric Rodez’s Empreinte de Terroir 1999 Extra Brut, and Vilmart & Cie’s Grand Cellier Rubis Rosé 2000 at close to retail price, if you were you to find them, the resulting selection, he says, offers “easily the best-value Champagne list in Scotland and potentially the UK.”
Similarly, when it comes to fine wine, Snowdon continues to entice diners with gentle markups, “which means people come in and actually drink it instead of it sitting in the cellar for years.” He adds: “the amount of ‘high-end’ Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Italian wines we go through has surprised me!” Examples include Didier Dagueneau’s Silex 2005, J. L Chave Hermitage 1994, Mouton 1990 albeit “with slight label damage”, 1971 Giuseppe E. Figlio Mascarello and 1989 d’Yquem. In addition, Snowd0n recently acquired 22 cuvées over 11 vintages of “Jurassic Madeira”, Ganevat. “We’ve got an amazing group of wine-loving regulars who come to us knowing they’ll get a bargain and be able to try something that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Although Snowdon is not a fan of wine pairings or wine flights, preferring guests “to loosen up a little” Murray McDougal, who is formerly of The Sun Inn, Dalkeith, and but a few weeks into his role at The Palmerston, did agree to choose tonight’s wines, poured in Riedel stemware and explained with precision.
With the perhaps surprisingly popular starter of fried pigs head featuring brain, tongue and particularly textured ear, with mustard and young radishes, McDougal chose the generous Montesquiou Cuvade Préciouse Jurançon Sec 2019 which cleansed the palate of this excellent dish. It also worked with goat’s curd on toast, topped by roast “green” (young) garlic. Then, with a dish of grilled ox heart somehow prepared with such agility it evoked fillet steak, crisp chips, and roast shallots McDougal brought Tenuta di Carleone’s very enjoyable, barely oak-kissed, velvety, biodynamic Chianti Classico 2020. It was produced by one Sean O’Callaghan from Somerset who went on to head up winemaking at Riecine for a quarter of a century before moving to Carleone seven miles to the west. Being born without sight in his right eye, he goes by the nickname “Il Guercio” (one-eyed bandit).
Finally, with a confident cheese plate of Alp Blossom with apple jelly, and a pudding of flourless chocolate cake almost afloat in cream, McDougal returned to Jurançon, albeit sweetly this time, with a serving from one of only 1,500 50cl bottles of Clos Thou’s Supreme de Thou 2018.
The last word today goes to Snowdon given, as may well be already apparent, he is an able, energetic and memorable communicator. Here, then, is his call to prospective employees, though it could also sum up the preferred guest. “We need people who like to get stuck in and haven’t been brainwashed by the corporates/have egos. You can get lost in a big machine and when you join a small team who are all on the same wavelength, your flaws are exposed real quickly. Edinburgh is a small city and we’re an independent restaurant and bakery trying to offer the best they can.”
- Ready to enjoy bottles with age and larger formats
- Whole animal butchery
- Fennel salami and blue cheese-like bread with unstoppably rich butter
- Sharing bottles of beer chosen by assistant manager and “lambic lover”, Henry Lampitt
- Guest chef series featuring Spring’s Skye Gyngell, Manteca’s Chris Leach, Alex Jackson of Noble Rot Soho and Rosie Healey of Gloriosa, Glasgow
Value: 96, Size: 93, Range: 93, Originality: 93, Experience: 93, Total: 93.6
The Palmerston – 1 Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, EH12 5AF; 0131 220 1794; firstname.lastname@example.org; thepalmerstonedinburgh.co.uk
To read Douglas Blyde’s review of The Clunie Dining Room at The Fife Arms, click here.