Chef Paul Kitching and partner Katie O'Brien run the Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms 21212 in Edinburgh, where wacky food takes centre stage. Kerstin Kühn went to visit
Need to know
Chef Paul Kitching and his partner Katie O'Brien opened 21212 in Edinburgh after relocating to the Scottish capital from Altrincham in Greater Manchester, where they had run their successful Michelin-starred restaurant Juniper for 12 years.
"We'd gone as far as we could at Juniper and we knew we'd had what we could get from it," O'Brien recalls. "We visited Edinburgh and fell in love with it; and when we decided to move I spoke to one of our regular guests about my dream of having a restaurant with rooms in the city and he said: ‘I can help you with that.'"
21212 is housed in a four-storey grade A building dating back to around 1860 in an elevated row of Georgian-style houses in Edinburgh's New Town area. It's within walking distance of the main shopping thoroughfare of Princes Street and the tourist attractions of Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The cost of purchasing the property, together with its complete refurbishment, was a hefty £4m and resulted in a 36-seat restaurant on the ground floor, a lounge and private dining room for 10 on the first floor, and four en suite bedrooms on the top two floors.
Diverse customer base
"At Juniper we had a regular clientele, and for 12 years we were a big part of the local community," says O'Brien. "But here we have customers from all over the world every night of the week."
The international appeal is not least thanks to the restaurant's many accolades, including four AA rosettes, putting 21212 in an elite group of just three establishments in the Scottish capital to hold this (the others are the Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart), as well as a Michelin star, which it gained within eight months of opening.
There are four beautifully appointed large bedrooms, each individually designed with dedicated lounge areas. Split over the two upper levels of the house, they command lovely views over the gardens to the rear and across the city of Edinburgh to the front.
The biggest benefit of having the bedrooms - other than providing diners with the joy of simply falling into bed after dinner - is that it takes the pressure off filling the dining room, according to O'Brien. "Without the bedrooms we should be doing another 20 covers in the restaurant on a Saturday night but we didn't want to have a 70-seat restaurant," she explains.
Spotlight on the food
Kitching is known for his wacky dishes and his sometimes eccentric behaviour, but behind all that is an intensely serious and highly talented chef.
The style of the restaurant's menu is represented in its name: 21212 refers to the fact that there is a choice of just two starters, followed by a set soup, a choice of two main courses, a set cheese plate and, finally, a choice of two desserts. Although there is a full wine list available, two wines specially selected to partner each course are offered by the glass.
Kitching has pushed the culinary boundaries with his complex dishes bringing together numerous elements, tastes and textures on one plate, which has had the food critics giggling and swooning in admiration in equal measure. He's not a man to use one ingredient when 15 will do and, served in bowls, his dishes resemble mobiles, with different aspects revealing themselves as the diner eats his way through each course. "It's like owners and their dogs - you look at the chef and you can see the food," he says. "Everything we do is to entertain guests and keep them interested. With our food you don't know what comes next."
Typical dishes may include slow-cooked trout fillet, jumbo scallops, tomato butter sauce and wild rice (pictured, below); or chicken curry, pineapple and artichokes - a concoction of slow-cooked breast of French corn-fed chicken, artichokes, white cauliflower, breakfast radish, Anya potatoes, saffron onions and pineapple confit, soft and crispy pancakes, coconut shards, piccalilli mayonnaise and argon oil.
Desserts may include glazed egg custard - glazed egg custard, saffron pear purée, mincemeat, almonds and melon, cream cheese, popcorn, Drambuie anglaise, fresh yogurt and shortbread crunch; or layered ginger and chocolate - a layered trifle, with ginger cake, figs and dried cherries, vanilla white chocolate, sliced fresh banana, brazil nuts, praline, oatmeal, cinnamon and Crabbie's warm winter cream custard.
Kitching concludes: "It's our job to make people happy and to make them experience something that they have never experienced before. We want to give each person who sits down in our restaurant something magical."
â- Menu prices: lunch - three courses £28, four courses £38, five courses £52; dinner - five courses £68
Facts and stats
- Proprietors: Paul Kitching & Katie O'Brien
- Number of bedrooms: 4
- Head chef: Kate Johnson
- Number of seats in restaurant: 36
- Staff: 19
- Average spend in restaurant: £110
Paul Kitching's revelations…- Favourite hotel Milestone, London
- Favourite restaurant Restaurant Andrew Fairlie
- What book has inspired you? White Heat by Marco Pierre White
- Motto It's nice to be nice
- If you weren't a chef, what would you have been? An artist
- Which chef do you most admire? Gordon Ramsay
- Describe your business in five words Scary, magnificent, different, Scottish, proud