When chef, Dean Banks, opened his first restaurant, Haar, in St. Andrews in 2019, one of the first bookings came from the cast of the hit TV drama, Succession. Filming in Dundee at the time, actors including Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin and Holly Hunter enjoyed the superb cuisine of this Masterchef: The Professionals finalist. Brian Cox initiated a round of applause for Banks, stating it was the best meal he had ever had.
Well, if Dean Banks is good enough for Logan Roy and his entourage, then I’ll take that as a recommendation. With two of his establishments now in Edinburgh, Dougie and I made a point of visiting them both.
Who is Dean Banks?
Dean Banks grew up in the small fishing town of Arbroath, famous for the Arbroath Smokie. He trained with Rick Stein in Cornwall before returning to Scotland to work in many Michelin-starred restaurants. He has cooked all over the world, absorbing skills and flavours on his travels.
Masterchef: The Professionals came along in 2018 and Dean was one of the final three contestants. He opened Haar the following year before bringing his talents to the capital in 2021 in one of Edinburgh’s landmark hotels. Dulse Seafood & Wine followed in 2022. The Dean Banks group also run The Forager pub in Dollar, a small town east of Stirling.
Dean Banks at the Pompadour
Located in the historic Waldorf Astoria (The Caledonian Hotel) on Princes Street, this elegant restaurant aims to highlight the absolute best of Scotland’s cuisine. We made the booking to coincide with a regular trip to Edinburgh. What we didn’t bank on was The Queen falling ill that day in Balmoral and to hear the sad news that she had died from the doorman of the hotel as we arrived for dinner. The atmosphere was therefore quiet and respectful. But, telling ourselves that we still had to eat and that it was actually quite fitting to be experiencing the finest Scottish fare at such a time, we ordered cocktails, toasted Her Majesty and lapped up every course of the sensational tasting menu.
The Chefs Signature Classic Menu changes seasonally so what we ate in September 2022 won’t necessarily still be on the menu. We began our feast with the wildly vague and definitely underestimated ‘snacks’. This turned out to be a theatrical display of oysters with waves of dry ice tumbling out of a white bowl which resembled an upside-down sea urchin shell. I’ve never chosen to eat oysters before but I suppose if you’re going to try them, why not let them put on a bit of a show. They were – and I’m very surprised to be saying this – sensational. Fresh, tingly and worthy of a ‘bravo’ for their performance.
From that ostentatious oyster overture, the programme continued with the loveliest loaf (a corn and sunflower coblet), a Loch Melfort trout ceviche and a hand dived scallop. The main act was Dean Banks’ signature dish – St Andrews Bay smoked lobster with mirin and dulse seaweed butter. Utterly delicious. A melt-in-the-mouth beef cheek swept on from the wings, followed by a Manx Loaghtan hogget (that’s a young sheep, not a small pig as I had anticipated).
A chocolate, cherry and lemon verbena concoction closed the show and, for the encore, coffee was served alongside petit fours craftily hidden in little drawers of a cleverly-designed box.
The meal was astonishingly good from start to finish. I can see now why Dean Banks’ food was given the Roy family seal of approval.
Dulse Seafood & Wine
Keen to experience more of Dean Banks, a few weeks ago we opted for lunch at Dulse. Marketed as a ‘neighbourhood-friendly restaurant’, it’s a bright, modern eatery on bustling Queensferry Road in Edinburgh. Interestingly it’s not far from Dean Bank Lane although there’s no connection to the chef.
The focus again is on the best Scottish fare but this time solely seafood served as sharing plates – try saying that after a glass of Banks’ own Lugun Gin. Propped up at the bar on the ground floor, I savoured the gin mixed with elderberry as a frothy pink cocktail ‘the elixer’. Dougie opted for a highland highball (umeshu, 12 year old Dalmore whisky, kaffir lime and bitters).
Lunch beckoned upstairs. We shared octopus with burnt tomato and citrus barley, and trout pastrami with rye bread. This was followed by banana leaf steamed hake and the dayboat special, halibut fillet. These exquisite dishes were mopped up with the sensational bread loaf which, just like at the Pompadour, was an Instagram-worthy dish in itself. Dougie’s decision to add a side of new potatoes to the mains was an excellent one – we scoffed the lot.
Full of lovely food and lunchtime tipsiness, we meandered back to our apartment in Stockbridge, taking a route along Dean Bank Lane. Maybe one day they’ll add an ‘s’ to the street name in honour of this talented chef who is clearly on a mission to showcase Scottish cuisine at its finest.