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Mark Donald: 'I want the focus to be on flavour overall; that's how I made the menu'
- Suzy Pope
- 6 June 2019
We catch up with the new chef behind the Michelin-starred Number One at The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh
Hidden within the prestigious walls of The Balmoral, Michelin-starred Number One stands on its own as a destination restaurant, welcoming foodies from far and wide. Number One is an Edinburgh institution and has a long-established history of delivering exceptional dishes. With new chef Mark Donald at the helm, the classic menu has been reinvented into something new and invigorating while keeping the superior level of quality for which it is known.
Mark is a classically trained chef, but that doesn't mean he intends to stick to the tried and tested traditional ways of cooking. 'I started washing dishes when I was 16,' the Glasgow-born chef says, and perhaps it's these humble roots that shape his vision for Number One. 'I want the focus to be on flavour overall. That's how I made the menu, it sounds basic, but I just chose food that I like to eat,' he says. Simple. This comes across loud and clear in Mark's self-confessed favourite dish; BBQ squab pigeon. It's barbecued over an open fire and combines a number of different techniques and flavours. In Mark's words, 'it's all the tastiest things in one dish.' The pigeon comes with a side of blood cake, essentially dauphinoise potatoes cooked in blood sauce. The plate is finished off with XO spicy crab sauce, a little bit of Asian fusion. It's a dish that crosses continents, cuisines and cultures summing up the entire menu on one plate.
Mark has travelled across the world, working in kitchens in Sydney, London and Copenhagen. He's worked with some of the top names in fine dining, including the exclusive Hibiscus in London and Noma in Copenhagen. On top of his classic training, he's taken aspects from the molecular and Nordic movements. The spring menu at Number One is a marriage of Scottish produce and international flavour, with wagyu beef from Perthshire, or that spicy sauce with the squab dish, which is made with Scottish crab but based on a recipe from Hong Kong.
'Of course, it has to look beautiful too,' he says, adding that the elegance on the plate should match the artfully designed interior of the restaurant. 'There's something psychological about food presentation. If it doesn't look good then your brain tells you it doesn't taste good,' he says. Preparation begins hours before opening and the result is art on a plate. The pink lady apple tartlet looks like a tiny Catherine wheel, with a neat quenelle of yoghurt sorbet on the side. The whole dessert wouldn't be out of place on display in a modern art gallery.
'I want to be playful, not fussy,' Mark says. Diners can experience the chef's inherent fun side in the form of a sweetie trolley, finishing their fine dining experience with a rhubarb and custard macaron, foie gras chocolate truffle or a traditional piece of Scottish tablet with a coffee and a dram.
The food at Number One has always been exceptional, but perhaps in the past has aired on the classic, safe side. With Mark Donald at the helm, it has revamped its menu with the aim of innovating and surprising its guests.
Number One at The Balmoral, 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh, roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/the-balmoral-hotel/restaurants-and-bars/number-one/, 0131 557 6727.