We sit for lunch at one o'clock on the dot, letting the calm wash gently over us after the tick-tock tension of the chock-a-block M8.
We can see Paul Kitching and many - is it really seven? - staff silently bobbing away together in a cheffy collection of outfits - whites, blacks and even blues, stripes and checks, pancakey caps and bandanas - in that glassed-over open kitchen there. From here they look like doctors and nurses and maybe some pirates too, bent over an operating table with the patient, our lunch, being tweaked and tweezered into Michelin-starred health before being sent out to the cold, cruel world. I say cold and cruel because I have eaten here before and wasn't massively blown away by Mr Kitching's multitextured take on dinner. At all. But as he remains, probably, the boldest and most off-piste of Scotland's star chefs we booked lunch for Cal's birthday with the thought that whatever happens will be memorable.
I can tell you now through the magic of fast forward that memorable it will be, and while the starter was one of those wacky all-terrain affairs that had its moments but still walked the plank, the main courses were made of ingredients that sang gloriously from the same sea shanty sheet and the desserts were simply great.
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From the moment we walked into this Edinburgh townhouse, with its curtain-draped walls and that kitchen drawing the eye, we felt we were somewhere special. At just £30 a head? What a bargain. Yes, it was quiet earlier and while it's not got the cool slouch of, say, Andrew Fairlie's, it's relaxed.
What of that food, then? Onion and caraway bread is handed round from a tower of soft, sweet, deliciously buttery and briochey slices. Pickles, surely prepared on the premises, are placed on the table too in a pretty low-lipped bowl from which they escape the minute anyone tries to spear them with a fork, sending oily getaway trails all over the crisp white tablecloth.
First starter? Egg mayo in a cup is a lively tasting accompaniment to a series of ingredients that include aubergine, pasta and four types of mushrooms, including enoki, golden enoke, shiitake and woody maitake. There's mozzarella and mustard in there too. And truffle. Each component is perfectly, even beautifully prepared, but together? It's slightly crackers.
Mr Armstrong's smoked salmon is next. Did the waiter really say cooked at 60C? It's so soft and delicate yet deliciously flavoured that who would want to eat anything else? Not me. I could maybe squeeze in this jumbo prawn, prepared with such breathtaking, almost clinical care. But the selection of hard and soft vegetables, macadamia nuts, vegetable crisps even, the fleeting pimento cream and the onion-infused rice on the side? Are you serious? Enough of the style. Where's the substance?
Thankfully it arrives with the main courses. How perfectly moist is the baked chicken breast? How light the ham? And that chicken skin - gone in a single crunch. There's black sweet garlic holding it all together and a crisp, salty, tasty sliver of aubergine. Wild rice cream brings that cohesive punch missing from the starters. The spicy popcorn? Yes, this is the same dish. The world's most perfectly filleted anchovy? It's on here too. We also ordered a slow-baked trout. It is prepared with the same deftness as the salmon, with a foamy white bean sauce licking it all into shape.
Earlier we argued over who would get the Turkish delight brulee for dessert. I lost. It's not my birthday. It's as good as it sounds, but the second prize, the Edinburgh mess, turns out to be a virtually meringue-free concoction of soused strawberries and cool, sweet, deliberately melted ice-cream laced with soft shortbread. So light. So simple. So bloody good.
3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh (21212restaurant.co.uk, 0845 222 1212)
Prepare to be entertained as Scotland's boldest Michelin-starred chef plays games with every course. Sometimes it works. 4/5
Extraordinary couches and drapes cover one wall. The kitchen demands attention. An interesting, almost Austin Powers take on a townhouse. 4/5
Reserved, warm and friendly - avoids being stuck up and therefore very good. Bit too fast at topping the glasses up, though. 4/5
Lunch is the bargain in Michelin-starred restaurants and at £30 for three courses it is worth every penny. 5/5
Starters all about the ingredients with nothing to pull them together. The chicken and garlic worked fabulously while dessert was superb. 8/10