As the sun leaves us about half-way through our day, we have to find our way back across town with heads down, hoods up, between puddles of streetlight and actual puddles of…well, water. After a friend mentioned his ‘November blues’ in passing, I realised it has taken me until the start of winter to process the late-September food I had at Fhior, perhaps because it is only now that we come to terms with the significance of seasonality, the significance of the present.
The seasons have well and truly changed in Edinburgh, the shift is tangible. It only takes a trip to one of Edinburgh’s markets to see transformation seemingly overnight. Leeks, swiss chard and cabbage replace the tomatoes, lettuce and courgettes of August. In Madrid a couple of weeks ago the fruit was ripe and colourful as though it were midsummer, but here the stalls are practically unrecognisable from their summer selves. Much like the people, the fruit can seem paler, less colourful and deflated.
This time of year, you can experience the phenomenon of the sun-set and rise at relatively sociable hours. This is spectacular, but simply isn’t conducive to growing what we can in the summer, no matter how many poly-tunnels a farm has. If groceries are jet-setting from Africa or the Caribbean, then of course they won’t taste as good, would anything after twelve hours on a plane? You can go the whole winter helped along by supermarket imports, but it is a little bit like going the winter insisting on wearing shorts and sunglasses.
Why am I thinking about my dinner at Fhior? For the uninitiated Fhior is the by-product of a Michelin-tipped entrepreneur and his love for seasonal goods. Fhior is supposed to be old Gallic for ‘truth’. The place takes the ethos of seasonality as its backbone, nothing has a shelf life. The butter offered with their ancient grain bread is churned in-house and used in all their cooking. Food is offered to delight in the change of seasons, not to languish in any particular trend or tradition. To call this Scottish cooking is only in reference to the fantastic ingredients in its immediate proximity. It owes far more to progressions of modern Scandinavian dining in foraging and locality.
Dishes arrived with bubbly waiters who talk you through the plate and take their time with it, ancient words like sea aster, hispi, sweet cicily all sounding like they belong in some witch’s pot, but collide on the plate with a simplicity which makes happiness seem the easiest thing in the world. It takes courage to base an entire dish in reverence of hispi (a type of cabbage), but dressed with buttermilk and truffle it was utterly irresistible. The dining area might be called plain, but it is a fitting void which is filled when the beautiful local-thrown plates emerge.
So often in the street people button their coats to the top, and brace against winter, and they do not move from this pose until April. We spend so much time empty-eyed, ‘getting through’ these months. Fhior’s philosophy of a momentary glimpse of the fields and the country, of the present season in which we are all rooted, is an ethos which might help us to appreciate these months a little more. The menu is offered only after the dining experience at Fhior, because choice doesn’t come into seasonality, and now it is winter it is even more important to take every opportunity to remind ourselves what it is to live well and truly in the present.