YOU KNOW you’re too early if you’re the bird before the bird who catches the worm, or if you find that you’re hanging out with the diplodocuses when you’re quite blatantly a mammal.
I was slightly annoyed when I arrived at The Pantry to find posters announcing that they would be launching an evening menu in three days’ time. Not that there’s anything wrong with lunching at this new farm shop and kitchen, with its deli counter and icy white Metro-tiled décor.
It is, in fact, the sort of lively and bright family-friendly venue that’s ideal for a daytime visit, although, it would have been nice to see what head chef Ian Henderson, whose experience includes working at Michelin-starred restaurant ABaC in Barcelona, can really do, with the benefit of a fancier dinner service. It’s my fault for being premature.
The daytime menu is amazingly well priced – a bowl of soup is just £2.50, sarnies £4-ish, with mains from £5 up to £10.50. As a tightwad, I often find it hard to justify brunch when I’ve got a perfectly adequate box of Special K in my cupboard at home. However, I could be persuaded to spoil myself, while there’s a menu that boasts all-day breakfast dishes such as ham hock hash with a poached duck egg at only a fiver.
Apparently, local produce is the hot sell at this place, though the menu doesn’t name-check much of it, so you just gotta trust them on that.
Our posse went for three mains, plus a salad and a couple of sides.
The daily “stewp” (£4.50) – a portmanteau of stew and soup, which could equally (but less catchily), be described as “brothasserole” – was a bacon, chestnut and thyme variety.
Presented in a glass bowl, it was sturdy-tasting and wintery, like a pimped-up Scotch broth. There were hefty chunks of the meat and nut ingredients, as well as carrot, leek and tattie, with two slices of sour dough on the side.
My fillet of sea-reared trout (£10.50) was crispy-roofed, with a topping of pure-white pickled fennel, which gave this option a Nordic vibe. It was teamed with speckles of quinoa, plus rocket leaves, cashew nuts and a citrusy dressing. This dish felt cleansing, like diving into an outdoor plunge pool in the altogether.
Our other option – a neat portion of Arbroath Smokie kedgeree (£6.50) – was as it should be, with gently curried rice, chopped parsley, and plenty of haddock. An artful twist was provided by its accessories – a pair of soft-hearted quails’ eggs – which had been lightly breaded and deep-fried, until they resembled yellow-gold tulip bulbs. Lovely.
For additional topiary, we’d gone for the macerated beetroot salad (£6), which featured pickle-sharp ribbons of this root underneath a cloud of rocket. There were also contrastingly sweet cubes of squash, a swirl of orangey yoghurt dressing, and a scattering of pumpkin seeds. All this made for a pleasantly harmonic mishmash of flavours, but nitpickers might like beefier bits of beetroot and squash among the leafy fuzz.
Sides here are rather exciting. Who could resist the crispy pork (£2.50)? Three little piggies certainly couldn’t, and we chomped our way through five coaster-sized pork scratchings, alongside a dollop of tomato and apple chutney which, thanks to its cunning fruitiness, helped to disguise how wickedly artery-bothering this option was.
We also ordered the mushroom tapenade (£2.50), which was drizzled with a Frazzle-flavoured smoked bacon oil, and presented in a mini Kilner jar. As the earthy and garlicky tasting spread went quite far, more than three small slices of Melba toast would have been handy.
For afters, the cakes weren’t particularly titillating. We had a brownie, a slice of lemon drizzle and another of apple and walnut cake (£3 each). The latter was good – squishy, with a rich cream cheese frosting – but the others were a bit desiccated and nondescript.
Two days after our visit, I read a Tweet making reference to Edinburgh’s current cakey hotspot, Love Crumbs. “Delighted to report that @thepantryman now sells @hellolovecrumbs cakes”.
So, yeah, my bad timing, as the gateaux will now be delish and they are doing proper evening meals.
If I liked the imaginative yet homely food at The Pantry on my visit, imagine how much better it’ll be now.
• The Pantry, 1-2 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh (07595 432214, www.thepantryedinburgh.co.uk). Lunch for three, excluding drinks, £41.50
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