Restaurant review: Frontier, Edinburgh

Frontier on Edinburgh's Gillespie Place. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Frontier on Edinburgh's Gillespie Place. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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FIRST I find my way to the Frontier, somewhere opposite the garage in Edinburgh’s Viewforth, push my way through the door and, bah, there are already other people here. Pop goes my fantasy about being a pioneer, exploring virgin territory.

THE VERDICT

HOW MUCH?

Lunch for three, excluding drinks,

£54.35

FOOD

6.5/10

AMBIENCE

7/10

TOTAL

13.5/20

I’m late when it comes to this here frontier which, it turns out, opened over six months ago.

I hadn’t noticed. They’re just not that conspicuous, mainly because it’s so dark inside that it looks vacant, though, if you peer into the window, there’s a cute display of sugared almond-coloured birds on branches.

Inside, it’s a cave of sorts, with kitschy photographs of a toy American eagle landing on a burger and a plastic buffalo exploring a chip box, and, on the big wooden tables, dissolving pillar candles, even though it’s midday.

I imagine the chef as a big brown bear, patting burgers together with his be-clawed paddy paws.

Owned by the people behind Edinburgh retro-loving institution MUMS Great Comfort Food (formerly Monster Mash), which serves bangers and mash, pie, macaroni cheese and other cockle warmers, all with a free side order of nostalgia, this place has a similarly unpretentious, affordable and anti fine-dining vibe. It’s soul food for those who are a bit scared of anything too fancy.

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Starters come in at under a fiver, and we went for pulled pork potato skins (£4.25), lemon shallot crab cakes with lemon aioli (£4.50) and buffalo chicken wings (£4.95). Sure, the sticky brown chicken wings weren’t crispy, but that piquant hot-sweet sauce was good. You couldn’t taste the lemon shallot in the pair of crab cakes, but they were satisfyingly hearty. And the pulled pork potato skins were blander than they should have been, but they couldn’t have injected more pig meat or bubbly orange cheese into those tattie shells if they’d utilised an industrial packing device (perhaps the sort of thing that prises Spam into its tins, or drums Tarmac onto road surfaces).

We had to try one of their signature burgers next. The bacon and cheese version (£10.70), manfully speared through the middle with a steak knife, was a beast of a thing. It featured a glossy sesame topped bun, which didn’t collapse under the heft of the unfashionably thick patty, which had a rough, rustic, mincey texture and a chargrilled taste, and was topped by a melted blanket of cheese, battered and fried onions, and some fatty Band-Aids of decent bacon. Skinny, crispy fries were its natural partners. A goodie overall.

Our carnitas main course (£11.50) consisted of a large enamel bowl of slightly dry, braised and shredded pork, surrounded by three paper pots – one of chunky guacamole, a juicy tomato salsa and another of sour cream. It came with four saucer-sized flour tortillas – more please, as we were left with a huge surplus of plain meat.

When it came to the aromatic catfish (£9.95), the texture was slightly off-putting. This fillet came wrapped in the foil that it had 
been baked in, but seemed a bit flabbily textured and jellified in 
bits. On the side: a red cabbage coleslaw and spikily-flavoured salsa verde, a buttered corn on the cob and some more of their snake hipped chips.

Our orange and maple cheesecake (£4.25) – sloshed in syrup – was everything you could want a cheesecake to be, and more. I wanted to go deep sea diving in it. Same goes for the salted caramel sundae (£4.25) with vanilla ice-cream and oodles of sauce. Hand me my snorkel.

Anyway, don’t get any ideas about being the first to visit this place, there have been many others before you, including moi.

It’s not going to be the most exciting foodie frontier that you’ve ever explored, but it has personality, and, though it’s yet to be verified, I’m pretty sure the chef is a grizzly bear.

Frontier,

8 Gillespie Place,

Edinburgh

(0131-228 1145, www.frontierestaurant.co.uk)