Duck Confit with Jus and Garden Vegetables

Duck Confit with Jus and Garden Vegetables

Confit is the classic, earthy food eaten by generations of French families around the table. This recipe is so simple and can be made ahead and preserved. This is the traditional way of preparing food, cooking it, preserving it and serving it.

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Serves 4


4 duck legs

750g coarse salt

750g duck fat

For the sauce:

1 duck carcase, chopped (chicken as alternative)

1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 bouquet garni

Salt and black pepper


Buy two ducks from a good butcher, and ask them to remove the fillets, wings and legs. Then chop one of the carcasses roughly. Keep the other for another recipe, or double up the other sauce ingredients to make double the amount. You will need 4 legs for the recipe.

Pour half the salt into a dish, and place the duck legs on top, skin-side-up. Pour over the rest of the salt, cover with cling film and place in fridge overnight.

The next day, discard the salt and rinse the legs under running water. Dry with a cloth and place in a cast iron casserole dish with the duck fat. Place on a high heat on the stove and bring to the boil, keeping an eye on it. Once boiling, cover with a lid and place in an oven pre-heated to 160°C for two hours. Then remove and rest until cool. At this stage you could place the legs in a kilner jar with enough fat to cover them, and keep for month.

To make the sauce, brown the duck bones in a cast iron dish on a medium heat on the stove, stirring all the time. When dark golden in colour, add the carrot and onion and sweat for 10 minutes. Add the bouquet garni and garlic, then pour in enough cold water to cover the bones by about 5cm. Bring to the boil and skim. Then simmer for one and a half to two hours, adding cold water if it’s reducing too much. When cooked, pass through a sieve into a clean pan to reduce to about one tenth of the volume. Pass through a fine sieve and reserve about 200ml for this dish and freeze any leftover sauce in an ice-cube tray for another meal.

To finish the preparation, remove the duck legs from the fat and place under a hot grill or in an oven pre-heated to 180°C for 20 minutes.

Reduce the sauce until it coats the back of a spoon. Taste, season and taste again.

Bourguignon of Beef Cheeks,  Garniture Grand-Mère

Bourguignon of Beef Cheeks, Garniture Grand-Mère

The secret of a good Bourguignon is very simple. The longer it takes, the better it tastes! You can even break up the cooking time to enhance the flavours. Cook it for an hour, cool it down, then cook again the following day. It’s even better that way, just like my grandmother used to make it. The beauty of any dish like this is that you can cook it well ahead of serving it, meaning you can sit down with your friends or family to enjoy without stressing about having to cook on the big day.

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Serves 4 to 6 


4 to 6 beef cheeks, diced

500ml red wine

2 onions, peeled and cut into large dice

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large dice

I large bouquet garni

10 black peppercorns

2 celery stalks

2 dashes of cognac

3 dashes of olive oil

3 knobs of butter

1 litre demi-glace (beef stock)

2 tablespoons plain flour

200g button mushrooms

200g lardons

200g silverskin onions

20g caster sugar


Put 400ml of the wine, in a large container then add in the carrot, onion, celery, bouquet garni, peppercorns,  a dash of olive oil and cognac. Cover with cling film or a lid and place in the fridge for 2 days.

After 2 days, add in the diced beef cheeks and keep for another 2 days in the fridge, turning the meat upside-down every day. You can then keep it for up to 5 days until you’re ready to cook.

When the meat has marinated, drain and retain the wine and the bouquet garni, putting all vegetables aside until needed. Place the meat on a tray between two drying clothes, so the meat is completely dry.

Preheat the oven to 140°C / Gas Mark 1

Sear the meat on a very high heat in a cast iron casserole pot with butter and a dash of olive oil, and brown until golden all over. Remove from the pot and set to one side. Lower the heat and sweat the marinated vegetables until the onions are cooked. Then put the meat back into the pot and sprinkle over the flour. Stir, then pour over the marinade(wine). Bring to the boil and season. Stir in a litre of beef stock and add the bouquet garni. Cooked in the pre-heated oven for 2 to 3 hours.  When cooked, the meat should be not far from falling apart

Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Pass the sauce through a strainer into another pot and bring to the boil. Keep reducing until it’s a good consistency. Taste it and season. Taste again to check the seasoning. Then return the meat to the sauce.

You can serve the same day or keep it for a day or two in the fridge. When needed, pour in the rest of the wine, and gently bring to the boil, simmering until hot.

Meanwhile, prepare the grand-mère garnish. Sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan in oil and butter until well coloured. Drain and reserve. Sauté the lardons in the same pan, then set aside with mushrooms. Fry the silverskin onions with butter and sugar until golden. Drain. Then sauté all the garnish together.

When ready to serve, add the garnish to the top of the Bourguignon casserole.

Pruneaux a l’Armagnac

Pruneaux a l’Armagnac

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This dish is simplicity at its best, and full of flavour. The taste of Armagnac with dried Agen prunes and vanilla is exquisite. When ready, they can be eaten on their own, but they also will go very well in a game or rabbit casserole. They’re also a delight in a clafoutis. Remember, the longer you keep them the better - and that’s a year minimum!

Makes two 1 litre Le Parfait jars


1kg non-pitted, dried Agen prunes if possible, or dried prunes

750ml warm tea

750ml of good Armagnac, minimum 2 years old

2 vanilla pods, split - 1 per jar

200g caster sugar


Soak the prunes in the warm tea overnight. Then drain and divide the prunes between 2 one litre Le Parfait glass jars. Add a split vanilla pod to each jar, then pour 100g of the caster sugar into each jar. Fill up the jars with Armagnac, making sure the prunes are well covered. Close the lids, using a new seal, and store in a cellar or a dark cupboard. Make sure to resist the temptation of trying them for at least a year!

Steamed Mussels Marinière

Steamed Mussels Marinière

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Mussels are little beauties - so tasty and so easy to cook. It will make the youngest and the oldest happy anytime. This recipe is very basic and so simple, it can be cooked as below, or you can let your imagination flow and add a dash of double cream, a sprinkle of curry powder, a mix of chopped, fresh herbs, some pine nuts with bacon, some diced fresh tomatoes and basil, smoked haddock bits and potatoes. All will provide a great meal. The options are endless and the choice is yours. One bit of advice though, is that the mussels should be very fresh, well-cleaned and of a good provenance. Then you’re  guaranteed success every time. 

Serves 4


1kg fresh mussels, cleaned under running water
1 shallot, finely sliced
A bunch of flat parsley, chopped
A glass or two of white wine
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf


Place the mussels in a hot pan with the wine, one shallot, fresh thyme and the bay leaf. Keep the lid on and cook as fast as possible. As soon as the shells have opened then they’re cooked – add the chopped parsley, stir and serve.



We’re thrilled that l’escargot bleu has been Hitlisted in The List’s Eating and Drinking Guide 2018/19. So proud to have been included again!

“…hearty portions and healthy ingredients, delivered with flair and confidence.” Read the full review here.

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North Ronaldsay Sheep Recipe

North Ronaldsay Sheep Recipe

“A rare Scottish sheep that subsists entirely on seaweed, and whose meat is highly revered, has officially become the first Slow Food Presidium in Scotland.”  Read more here in this recent article from The Scotsman. Find out more about this native breed on Slow Food UK’s website.

We’re proud to serve this uniquely-flavoured meat in our restaurants. If you are able to get hold of some, try this recipe from Fred Berkmiller.

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Cassoulet de Mouton  – Serves 4/6

North Ronaldsay Mutton Neck & Shoulder Cassoulet, Offal Caillette 



800g mutton shoulder and neck fillet 

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 onion, peeled and diced 

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 bouquet garni

2 soup spoons of duck fat 

Fresh thyme & fresh rosemary

1 glass of chicken stock


Heat oven to 140C.

Sear the meat all over in duck fat in a heavy braising pan or pot (Le Creuset style) until dark gold colour. Add the onion, carrots and garlic. Sweat for a few minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Add bouquet garni and herbs. Cover with lid and braise slowly in the oven for 2 hours.

When cooked, cool and reserve until needed. 

Making the caillettes

400g mutton offal, heart & liver

200g  mutton mince shoulder 

1 carrot, peeled 

1 onion

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 egg

100g cooked spinach leaves


Pig caul for wrapping

A little chicken stock


Heat oven to 180C.

Mince the meat, offal, carrot, onion, garlic and spinach. Add the egg and seasoning and mix well. If you wish, you can some spices like harissa.

Roll the mixture into balls the size of a medium ladle. Wrap the caillettes in pig caul and bake in oven for 20 minutes on a buttered tray with a little chicken stock.

Reserve until needed.

Cooking the beans

500g dry haricot beans

2 carrots, peeled and split in two length-wise

2 small onion, peeled and split in two

4 to 6 garlic cloves

1 bouquet garni

2 litres chicken stock


Soak the beans for 12 hours then wash under cold water. Cover with chicken stock and add some water if needed. Bring to the boil, skimming at all time to get rid of the white foam, then add all the veg and simmer for about 45minutes or until cooked - but not over done. Nothing worse than undercooked beans!

Leave aside when cooked. 

To finish the dish

A little chicken stock

A few spoons of duck or goose fat



Heat oven to 180C.

Use a large cast iron pot or terrine dishes, and lay the meat at the bottom. Then add the caillettes, the stock from the meat and pour over the beans. Add a little chicken stock until just covering the flat surface. Then add the duck or goose fat. Top with breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Eat straight from the oven when ready. Enjoy! 

Newton Garden, a winter update

Newton Garden last May

Newton Garden last May

Many of you will know that we started growing our own vegetables, salads and herbs at a Georgian walled garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh in 2017. Fred has been working hard to bring a beautiful, but rather neglected, garden back to life with the help of the owner Mary. Last summer and autumn both restaurants were using an impressive amount of produce grown just a few miles away. Here’s a quick update from Fred, who’s been busy preparing the garden for this year’s crops.

Full winter is upon us but we are not on strike at Newton Garden! We’ve been spreading about 3 tons of composted manure, a ton of mushroom compost and 3 tons of mulch on existing beds, and we’ve made 5 new beds. Our new composters are in place and the nursery is ready to welcome our new seedling trays in the greenhouse in a few weeks. 

We still have lots of leeks, cabbages and lettuces in the polytunnel, as well as in our outside raised beds. And there’s still a fair amount of chervil, winter purslane, rocket, dill and mustard leaves to be picked. 

This winter was our first one growing lettuces and it has been a learning curve. I have high hopes of achieving a year-round supply of herbs and leaves for both restaurants – and it seems that will soon become a reality. We are only on our second winter, but I’m confident this year we will make it work! The summer too looks very promising. We’ve created new beds over the winter, doubling our growing space, so we should have a good, regular supply. 

This will be my third summer at Newton Garden, and I’m more enthusiastic than ever. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s satisfying in so many ways. I’m really looking forward to tasting this year's results. More news soon! 

Keep up to date on our Newton Garden page.

Beaujolais Nouveau Dinner

Thursday 15th November

3-courses - £25


There is nothing quite like the anticipation we feel for the third Thursday in November. For that is the day we welcome the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. Come along to help us celebrate!

We'll be celebrating the French way at bleu with a selection of sharing dishes to begin, so we ask everyone to arrive at 7pm.

To start, no less than six Lyonnaise-style dishes of bean salads, ox cheek pot au feu, pig snout, pig's ears and of course, smoked herrings. 

Followed by, onglet steak, red wine sauce and gratin Dauphinoise, or
fish quenelle with bisque and Comté cheese, steamed potatoes.

And to finish, cheese or a choice of desserts.

Plus a large selection of Beaujolais crus available by the bottle and glass. Parfait!

Table d'hote - 7pm.

L'escargot bleu
56 Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH2 4QW
Book now: 
0131 557 1600 

Auld Alliance Recipe

Scallop and salted cod ecossaise

This recipe that I’ve created for you today symbolises exactly what makes Scottish and French produce so fantastic and it also shows how well the two cuisines work together. 

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Serves 4

  • 4 scallops, bought on the shell (keep trimmings)
  • 200g cod fillet sea salt and pepper
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 shallot, diced splash of olive oil
  • 3 tsp butter
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 leek, diced
  • 125ml white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 eggs, boiled
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 large glass of milk
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped pinch of cayenne pepper



1. Sprinkle the sea salt, a sprig of thyme and two garlic cloves over the cod. Cover with cling film and keep refrigerated for 12 hours.

2. To make the stock, gently heat the shallot in the oil and a tsp of butter for two minutes. Add the carrot, leek and a garlic clove and heat for five minutes. Add the scallop trimmings, wine, bay leaf and a sprig of thyme and boil for five minutes. Strain everything and keep the liquid, discard everything else.

3. For the sauce Ecossaise, separate the boiled egg yolks from the whites. Put the yolks to one side and finely slice the whites.

4. Melt a teaspoon of butter. Add the flour and whisk for two minutes. Add the milk and keep stirring until it starts to boil.

5. Add the scallop stock and simmer for five minutes. Season with cayenne, nutmeg, pepper and salt.

6. Place the cod on a buttered tray and cover with foil. Cook in the oven at 180C/Gas Mark 4 for seven minutes.

7. Flake the cooled cod into the sauce. Add the yolks. Give it a firm stir. Add the whites and season.

8. Sear the scallops in a hot pan with oil and a teaspoon of butter for two minutes per side.

9. To serve, fill the scallop shells with warm sauce Ecossaise and top with the cooked scallops and the parsley.

Bon appétit!

As published on Food & Drink, 18 July 2015

Orkney Mutton Is Full of Flavour





  • 800g mutton leg or shoulder, boned and rolled
  • 1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced 10 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • Fresh thyme and fresh rosemary


  • 500g Tarbais or haricot beans
  • 2 carrots, peeled
  • 2 onions, peeled and split 4/6 cloves garlic
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 litres chicken stock or water


1. The night before, rinse your beans under running water, place in a large bowl and add double the quantity of cold water. Soak them overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 90°C.

3. In a large heavy-bottomed casserole dish, warm up the olive oil, add the butter and sear your meat until it’s a dark golden colour all over. Keep turning the meat over, and make sure the pan is hot enough. Add in onion, carrots and garlic, sweat for a few minutes, add the bouquet garni, thyme and rosemary, cover with lid and place in the oven at 90 degrees. Cook for seven hours.

4. Drain and rinse the beans, place in a large casserole dish, add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Skim the white foam off with a small ladle, then when the bouillon is clear, add the carrot, onion, peeled garlic and bouquet garni. Boil for two minutes and simmer for about an hour on a slow heat. Taste your beans as they cook, and season halfway through with salt. Make sure they are slightly undercooked as they will carry on cooking when reheating for serving. Put them aside until needed.

5. Turn your mutton over now and then, and place a small knife through the meat – it should enter the heart of the meat with no resistance. Leave it to rest for a while.

6. Place the meat on a tray and cover it with a sheet of foil. Pass the jus from the meat through a sieve into a small saucepan and reduce by half. Season to taste.

7. To serve, bring your beans to temperature, take out the bouquet garni and the onion and discard them, add a good knob of butter, stirring gently, then at that stage season with ground black pepper and salt if needed.

8. Place your meat on a serving plate, put the beans on the bottom, pour the sauce over and serve up. You can carve the mutton before, you sit down or at the table.

As published on Sunday Herald Life, 18 Mar 2018

Newton Walled Garden


Since March, I have been growing and harvesting fresh salad leaves, herbs and vegetables at Newton Walled Garden, just outside Edinburgh.

It is one of the most satisfying things that I have done as a chef. At the height of the summer, the garden was supplying both escargot restaurants with all of our salad leaves and a little more than 50% of all the herbs we need. 

I can't tell you how rewarding it is to plant a seed, nurture it, pick it and then to finally see that produce on the plate. Working with nature and the seasons is vital for a chef. Growing our own produce in the garden has given me a genuine sense of re-connecting with nature and its cycles. Tending the plants on a beautiful summer morning is incredibly fulfilling. It is almost like therapy.

There are several reasons for doing this. Yes, there is a slight economic benefit from growing your own veg and herbs but that hasn't been my main motivation. Being able to grow better quality produce than I can buy from wholesale suppliers is more important to me. 

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In the restaurants, we work hard to source the best quality meat, dairy, fish and drinks. We seek out the best producers we can and work closely with them. I want to be just as rigorous and as discerning with our vegetables and herbs. Growing my own seems to be the best way to do this.

There are good, passionate local suppliers who grow high quality vegetables. Unfortunately, they are not geared up to supply the quantities required in the two restaurants. I don't want to buy from the mainstream commercial suppliers because I cannot trust their products. I don't believe in the methods they use.

Recent events have highlighted problems in the poultry supply chain. We all remember the scandal of horse meat being mis-sold as beef from a few years back. We know there are fundamental problems with both the industrial livestock farming system and the supply chains that take it to the consumer. There is less awareness about the problems with industrial plant farming. 


I don't want to eat vegetables from Spain or Holland which have been sprayed with pesticide and fed artificial fertilisers to make them grow faster. Nor do I want to feed these things to my customers. By growing our own, I know exactly where my veg comes from and how it was produced. It has integrity. It has verifiable provenance and I can have faith in it.

The produce from my garden tastes better. The flavours are more intense. They are not watery. By growing my own radish, lamb's lettuce or celery, we get a product which has a true flavour of itself. I also believe it is more healthy than commercially grown vegetables. I feel better after eating it and I want our customers to get those benefits too.


Around 1.3 acres in size, the garden is owned by Mary Fawdry. It has been in her family since 1947 although their connections with the land go back a century. As a child, Mary ran barefoot around the garden. Several decades later, she still works in the garden every day. I am very proud to have a role in the garden's story and very thankful to Mary for sharing it.
One of the reasons that Mary invited us into her garden was that she wanted to see it 'happily used'. She wants to see it have a wider benefit. Being involved in the garden has allowed us to employ a gardener. We also bring groups of school children to the garden and cook with them using vegetables that they have pulled from the ground. 
It all feels good. It all feels right and, I said, working this kitchen garden has been one of the most rewarding challenges of my career. We have plans for developing our work in the garden with Mary. I will tell you about them as they come to fruition. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go and pick some leeks.

Mangalitsa pigs

Late last year, my favourite type of email dropped into my inbox. It was a completely unexpected email from a farmer in Perthshire who had somehow accidentally acquired some pure breed Mangalitsa pigs.

According to this mysterious email, no-one in the farming world was interested in Mangalitsa pigs. As a chef with a reputation for producing what have been called adventurous menus, perhaps I might be interested in taking them?

To be honest, I didn't know what on earth Mangalitsa pigs were but I didn't need to do much research before I knew that yes, I absolutely wanted them for my restaurants. It turns out that Mangalitsa, a slow growing breed which is expensive to farm, have been described as the Wagyu beef of pork. Like Wagyu, their flesh has a lot of marbling running through it.

Regular readers will know that we like to use Wagyu beef from the Highland Wagyu farm in Perthshire. The thought of cooking its porcine equivalent was enough to make my mouth water. Their name in Hungarian means "hog with a lot of lard" and it is this fat which makes the meat succulent and richly flavoured. All of which means that I couldn't wait to get these pigs in the pot and on the menu. The only problem was that these Mangalitsa were some way off being pot-ready. In fact, we needed to find them a good home for a few months. Somewhere that would take good care of them until they were ready to take a starring role on l'escargot menus. At which point, we will introduce Josiah Lockhart, the General Manager of Gorgie City Farm. I am a big fan and supporter of Gorgie City Farm. We work with them throughout the year. Over the years, they have produced numerous pigs for us; several lambs, mutton and even the odd goat every now and then.

Education is part of Gorgie City Farm's remit and that is something we are very happy to support. If we want the nation to have a healthy relationship with food then we need to know what producing it entails. Kids learning where their food comes from seems like a good starting point. Can you see where this is going? I met with Josiah and asked if he would like to look after my Mangalitsa for me. His eyes lit up like a kids' at Christmas and, a week later, nine pigs were heading towards their new home at Gorgie City Farm.

I really recommend that you take your kids to visit the pigs. Entry to Gorgie City Farm is free and, as you can see from the picture, the Mangalitsa are super cute. With an eye-catching woolly appearance, they look more like sheep than the pink-skinned pigs we are used to seeing. I can't help but imagine that they are the sort of thing that might feature in an episode of The Muppets.

This is what Josiah has to say about them: "It is a great product in terms of the meat but it is also ideal for the farm. It is something unusual and the parents and kids love it. The farm always needs more visitors and the Mangalitsa are one way of bringing them in."          

If you have never seen Mangalitsa before, it is because very few people have. Interest in them is growing but, at one point, they were so rare, that there were only 150 of them in existence. Originally from Hungary, the breed is derived from the Northern European Wild Boar. It is practically unheard of in the UK.

Farmers aren't keen on them as they take a year to reach the right weight. That is about twice as long to rear as more commercial pigs. This makes them an expensive breed to farm. Working with Josiah, I am perfectly happy to rear my pigs at a natural pace. I reckon that the unique characteristics of the meat, partially a product of their slow growth, will make it worthwhile. Some things are worth waiting for.

It reminds me of the way that the market for Dexter beef has developed in the UK. Ten years ago, when I started cooking with it, no-one was interested. Now, it's popular right across the UK. Already, fellow chefs are asking if I have any Mangalitsa to spare. Obviously, I am thoroughly enjoying saying "Non" to them. Although I am not so daft as to think that I will forever remain the only chef in town with a steady supply of Mangalitsa.

I have yet to try the meat but Josiah had some a few years back. He describes it as dark red in colour with intense marbling. The texture is tender and soft while the flavours is said to be like beef but with a slight sweetness.

Interestingly, part of the feed for our Mangalitsa comes from the Pilot Brewery in Leith. The farm takes the waste from their mash and feeds it to the pigs. It will be fascinating to see what effect that has on the flavour.

Our first Mangalitsa from Gorgie City Farm goes to the abattoir in mid-February. We hope to have Mangalitsa on the menu by the end of February. I'm going to ask Rachel Hammond to use some of it to make charcuterie. I have yet to decide how I am going to cook the different cuts of meat but I am looking forward to working with this new ingredient.

In some ways, the farm is similar to l'escargot restaurants. Like the farm, we get very excited in the kitchen when we have an interesting new product to work with and we know that our customers are very open to trying new things.

Roll on February and the first Mangalitsa on our menus!

Shetland Lambs

Shetland Lambs

In the Escargot restaurants we like to use Native Shetland Lamb PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) from Richard Briggs, a farmer from Weisdale on Shetland.

Campbells field trip

Campbells field trip

A fantastic first-hand experience at Campbells Prime Meat in Linlithgow, with senior butcher Gerry Neilson and Edinburgh College's chefs-to-be students.

Vote for l'escargot bleu!

Vote for l'escargot bleu!

We are happy and proud here at l'escargot bleu for having been shortlisted once again in the i-on Food and Drink Reader Awards 2016. Remember you hold the voting power here so have you say and please vote for l'escargot bleu!

Fashions fade

As always, at the start of each year magazines, newspapers and blogs devote a large amount of space to the hot new culinary trends for the coming year. What will be this year's quinoa? Is kale still fashionable? Are amaranth smoothies the new charred leek? It makes me smile. Predicting annual food trends may make for a quick, amusing read but these fads and fashions have little to do with good food.

We don't pay much attention to trends in the Escargot kitchens. My cooking is founded on classic French dishes made with the best Scottish produce that I can find. Our dishes are based on tried and tested culinary traditions. From Boeuf Bourguignon to Coq au Vin; I like to cook dishes that have pedigree and their own heritage.

That doesn't mean that these recipes are set in stone. Things move on and change can be good. After all, twists and tweaks can evolve a dish. For example, I might make Coq au Vin using local beer rather than wine, or use venison and beef cheeks to make Boeuf Bourguignon. The point is that those changes are made within the framework of the recipe's heritage. I don't try to reinvent the dish. If I tweak a dish then I do it with respect, I don't do it simply for the sake of novelty or to incorporate an ingredient that has been hailed as the new flavour of the month.

Good cooking is not about following trends. However, some of the fundamental truths of good cooking have become fashionable. Seasonality and sustainability have become buzzwords over the last few years. This is good news. I'm delighted that they have moved up the restaurant agenda. However, I do wonder if this zeal for seasonality and sustainability will last or be cast aside when a new trend emerges.

Photomontage: Mondrian dresses by Yves Saint Laurent (1966) / Coq au vin by Alain Ducasse

Photomontage: Mondrian dresses by Yves Saint Laurent (1966) / Coq au vin by Alain Ducasse

Seasonality is not a box you tick simply because you want to be seen as being on trend. It is one of the founding principles of cooking and eating well. Good kitchens have always worked with the seasons. In the days before we had refrigeration and before we imported produce from far away countries, chefs cooked seasonal ingredients because that is what was to hand. It made good sense then and it is the best option now - even if we do have the opportunity to eat Kenyan asparagus in January.

When you eat seasonally, you eat ingredients when they are at their best. When they reach their peak, they are also at their most abundant and that means they will be at their best price. Eating seasonally is eating economically and that applies to both restaurant and domestic kitchens. Perhaps more importantly, there is a simple yet great pleasure to be had in anticipating the first strawberry or chanterelle of the season. That pleasure is lost if these ingredients are available all year round. We become blasé about them.

Sustainability has become another marketing point for restaurants, and rightly so! Sustainability is important but it is not a 21st century invention. One aspect of sustainability in restaurants is extracting the maximum from all the products used in the kitchen. Everyone has heard about nose to tail eating. This year, root to stem eating is being hawked as a hot new trend and we are all being encouraged to eat the parts of plants that are normally discarded.

This is a very sensible idea, which we should encourage, but it is not a dazzling new revelation. In the early 80’s, I was in my early teens doing an apprenticeship at a restaurant in Saint-Maure-de-Touraine. The chef patron of the restaurant bar was an old school chef. This had advantages, but let's just say that he would have been baffled by contemporary concepts such as dignity at work.

For all of his character defects, he knew how to extract every last drop of flavour - and value - from his ingredients. The waste bin in that kitchen was seldom well fed. Potato peelings body-swerved the bin and they never reached the compost heap. Instead, they were deep-fried, salted and sold as very more-ish bar snacks to grateful drinkers. In many kitchens, those peelings would have been binned. The old school chef was savvy enough to use everything he could and was canny at turning potential discards into desirable dishes.

He would have raised an eyebrow at the idea of food trends. Food fashions were about as important to him as Parisian catwalk fashions. He would have been stumped by questions about his sustainability practices and amused at the idea that restaurants would pay big money for imported, out of season ingredients. And yet he practised seasonal cooking, operated a finely tuned waste reduction system and sourced all of his ingredients from local farms or his own garden. And not because it was on trend. He did it because it made sound sense and was integral to cooking well. This was true thirty years ago. It was true three hundred years ago and it remains true now.

Food fashions come and go. By contrast, the basic principles of good cooking may swing in and out of fashion but they have lasting value. Much like my old chef, I know nothing of haute couture but Yves Saint Laurent hit the nail on the head when he said that 'Fashion fades. Style is eternal'. Unlikely as it may seem, there are some happy similarities between the ateliers of the fashion houses and well-run kitchens.

Orkney Beef (PDO)

Knowing where our ingredients come from is at the heart of what we do in L'escargot restaurants. Of course, most restaurants would make the same claim. However, just seeing the provenance label on a piece of lamb, pork or cod is not enough for me. I like to meet the people who catch, raise, grow and harvest the food that we cook in our kitchens.

Which is why, after another anxious flight, I recently found myself on Orkney. I was there to meet local butcher Ali Flett and visit the farms which produce the local beef. You can tell a lot about the way cattle are raised by how they react to a visit. If they panic and run to the other side of the shed that tells you something about how they are treated. By contrast, the cattle I saw on Orkney were inquisitive and would come to us. They were content.


Ali is part of a consortium which is trying to ensure that Orkney beef retains its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. You can get the full information on what this means here.

In brief, Orkney beef's PDO status is important because it sets out and protects the regional characteristics which make it unique. It is a combination of the local feed, breed and traditional husbandry techniques which make Orkney beef 'distinctly different in terms of flavour and palatability' from that produced elsewhere in the United Kingdom. 

Surprisingly, the sun was shining during my two days on Orkney but more the usual high rainfall is just one of the Orkney factors that produces the lush grass which the cattle graze on. In other words, it is a taste of the land that produced it.


If you are disappointed by generic 'Scotch beef' - an almost meaningless label - Orkney beef (PDO) is a premium, sustainable alternative which is rooted in, and the unique product of, a clearly defined geographic area. To qualify for PDO status, Orkney beef must be born, reared and slaughtered in Orkney. The criteria are strictly defined and it can take years to verify those criteria and be awarded PDO status.

And this is where things get difficult. Orkney has a state of the art abattoir which can process 200 head of cattle a day. It is currently doing around 20 a week. Many Orkney farmers are paid a subsidy to have their cattle slaughtered on the mainland.

Beef which is produced in this way loses its PDO status but can still be called Orkney beef. Most consumers do not differentiate between the two and this erodes and chips away at the prestige of PDO status Orkney beef. If consumers don't ask for PDO Orkney beef, demand will fall, Orkney's abattoir will close and the PDO status will be lost for years, perhaps permanently.


We use Orkney beef (PDO) in L'escargot restaurants because it is an excellent, high quality product with a unique texture and flavour. Having seen the cattle in their byres, I also know that they are raised to the highest standards of animal husbandry.

Just as important is that by using Orkney beef with PDO status we, and our customers, are helping to preserve a unique regional tradition. We are keeping alive and celebrating a way of producing beef which can only be found on Orkney. We think that is worth doing.

We are happy to be corrected but we also think that we are the only restaurant in Edinburgh, perhaps the Central Belt, which is selling Orkney beef (PDO). As a restaurateur, it is always good to be doing something different from other restaurants but, in this case, we would be absolutely delighted if other chefs followed suit and supported Orkney beef (PDO).

Fred goes to Barra Island

My introduction to Barra and its snails came via an unexpected email containing a photo. The picture showed a fat cluster of snails on a fence post against a background of blue skies and a wind-swept beach.

The message accompanying the picture was simple: 'Judging by the name of your restaurants (L'escargot bleu/blanc or the The Blue and White Snail), you probably know what these are and what to do with them.' 

I knew they were petit gris, one of the two types of snails we eat in France. I also knew what to do with them when a sample batch of Barra snails arrived in my kitchen. Slightly salty with faint traces of iodine, they tasted of the land that produced of them and they are fantastic in a beef Bourguignon; delicious in a Gorgie Farm pork terrine and sensational when cooked en papilotte with garlic and butter. 

Although I didn't know him at the time, the person who sent the email was Gerard MacDonald, owner of The Isle of Barra Oyster Company. When not tending his oysters, Gerard had been wondering if there was a commercial use for the abundance of wild petit gris snails which flourished on the calcium-rich machair of Barra. 

Which is why, earlier this year, I found myself sitting in a 12 seater, twin prop plane flying over the west coast of Scotland to the Outer Hebrides. I'm a poor flyer at the best of times and the small aeroplane was doing nothing to calm my nerves. However, as the flight progressed, I gradually unclenched my fists, opened my eyes and peeked out of the window. What struck me most was that we were flying over tiny islands which appeared to have one small farm on them and nothing else. 

It is this remoteness which contributes to the quality of Barra's snails. As Gerard explained to me, after the plane had landed on the beach , the use of pesticides is banned on the island and the naturally growing snails are as clean, pure and toxin-free as can be. 

We found them huddled under stones, sitting in grass, massed on fence posts and even hiding in fence posts. They were everywhere. This was Scotland's natural larder just waiting to be harvested. My restaurants are French restaurants but I am passionate about using the best Scottish produce. Picking them from the machair is as close as you can get to first hand sourcing. 

Why would I buy farmed snails from France or Indonesia (where most of them come from) when I can source them direct from Scottish islands? Buying from Barra supports the island's economy and my restaurant customers love the idea of eating Scottish snails. It's a talking point. 

Similar thoughts struck me the next day when we visited Barra Atlantic, a Barra fish and shellfish processing company. They had bags of beautiful cockles, winkles, razor clams or spoots and langoustines. Many of them already had French labels and were prepped for export directly from the island. Lucky French. And Spanish and Portuguese. 

I would love to be able to use these cockles and winkles in my restaurants and yet, if I ask my supplier to provide such ingredients, I have to order them a week in advance. And there is no guarantee that I will get them. 

On Barra, we watched the cockles being raked from the sands of the beach where our plane had landed. It reminded me of my childhood. My family would go on holiday in the Vendée. My gran, my mother and I would collect cockles at low tide and then eat them that evening. 

Times change and childhood memories don't have much say in international markets. However, it seems wrong that Scottish restaurants must sometimes struggle to source Scottish products.  

The blame certainly doesn't lie with companies like Barra Atlantic. It is up to us to appreciate and use the natural bounty of our fields, seas, mountains and machair. Eating locally and seasonally is sustainable. It cuts air miles, supports local economies and it tastes great. Moreover, when people eat in a restaurant in Scotland, they want to eat Scottish ingredients. That means Scottish spoots and winkles as well as beef, lamb and salmon.  

We have the ingredients. Now we need to take real pride in the food produced here; we need to shout about it and develop our domestic market. 

So, anyone for a Barra snail tartine?

Our clock!

L'escargot Bleu gets a clock

Just like the hands of a clock, what goes around comes around. So when clockmakers James Ritchie & Son, a Smith of Derby company, were called out to build a new external clock for the award-winning Edinburgh restaurant L’escargot bleu, it was like stepping back in time.

It emerged that the restaurant is housed in the clockmaking businesses former home and the projecting clock they were replacing was a James Ritchie original that had stood there for decades.

Fred Berkmiller, Chef Proprietor of L’escargot bleu, said:

“The clock was an important feature of the building and it is something I have been keen to bring back because it’s a piece of beautiful architecture that draws people towards it. For years I’ve wanted to give this iconic structure back to the locals of Edinburgh and it feels great to finally be able to give them exactly what they want.”

Tony Charlesworth, Smith of Derby Technical Sales Engineer, said:

“There’s a fantastic synergy to the job and it will be wonderful to see a new clock back where it belongs to replace the old one. It’s part of the company and the city’s heritage. The former clock stood on the site for decades before it fell into disrepair so building a new one has been a labour of love, as much as it is anything else.”

James Ritchie & Son moved into the premises in Broughton Street in 1965, having previously been based on Leith Street. They left in 2006 and the clock came down at the same time.

Fred Berkmiller opened his first Edinburgh restaurant in 1998 and went on to open L’escargot blanc in the west end. In 2009, he renovated an old clockmaker’s shop on 56 Broughton Street to open L’escargot bleu, a popular bistro steeped in French culture, and earlier this year they won a prestigious AA Rosette for culinary excellence. Both restaurants are renowned for serving a unique collaboration of classic provincial French cuisine with the finest Scottish, seasonal produce.

Slow Food Supper - Monday 13th July

Slow Food Table

On Monday 13th July we will be hosting our first Slow Food Table of a six-month series and this one will take place at L’escargot Bleu on 56 Broughton Street.

After a trip to Barra recently, it seemed only right to concentrate this event on produce from the island with a specific focus on their fantastic snails. Our guest speaker will be Gerard McDonald to whom we have been buying the little delicacy from for years now. Gerard will talk us through the life of an Isle of Barra snail and all about what makes them so special. On the evening we’ll also have a very special performance from Heidi Innes performing a ‘Tribute to Edith Piaf'.

In our eyes this is the perfect way to celebrate Slow Food and Bastille Day (14th July) with friends and family. Great music and authentically French food with lots of garlic, parsley, red wine and a much loved Scottish delicacy.

There’s limited availability so make sure you book your space early.

We look forward to seeing you.

• Table d’hotes all starting at 6.30pm for a 7pm serving
• Cost: £15.00 (£12.50 for Slow Food members). This includes a glass of wine, starter and main course. Dessert or cheese is available at a supplement of £3.00
• Call 0131 557 1600 or email to book