Restaurant review: Blackfriars Bar & Restaurant, Edinburgh

Blackfriars Restaurant in Blackfriars Street Edinburgh. Picture: Joey Kelly
Blackfriars Restaurant in Blackfriars Street Edinburgh. Picture: Joey Kelly
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If all the routes you made through your city were threads, then I would have made a rather sturdy weave around Black Bo’s bar. Sure, the fabric would be a bit moth-eaten and mildewed by now, because it hasn’t been a regular haunt of mine for about a decade.

Blackfriars Bar & Restaurant

57 and 61 Blackfriars Street, Edinburgh (0131-558 8684, www.blackbos.com)

How much?

Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £62.50

But, even after it closed down a few years back, I found myself passing by and reimagining nostalgic Technicolor snapshots of Good Nights Out of Yore.

It was one of those places where the toilets are atrocious, but that didn’t detract from the magic, which was partially down to the rear view out to the verdigris-topped dome of St Patrick’s Church, and the general gang-hut feel of the space.

Still, it died because of our neglect, but now it’s alive! Well, sort of.

New owners have reopened it as Blackfriars Bar & Restaurant. However, they’ve kept the blue neon Bo’s sign outside and much of the original charm and personality is intact, though it’s less ramshackle. You could now eat your dinner off the cisterns in the downstairs toilets.

Their bar area serves reasonably priced sops for beer, such as a spiced beef roll with coleslaw and barbecue sauce for just a fiver, while, the next-door restaurant is more of a three-course affair. As befits the hipster environment (I’m usually quite good at Guess the Tune, but I had to Shazam the music they were playing – it was Clump by a band called Tunng – no, I haven’t heard of them either), the menu is zeitgeisty.

It sort of reminds me of the grub at Edinburgh’s The Gardener’s Cottage, though head chef Andrew Macdonald is formerly of First Coast, Urban Angel and Restaurant Martin Wishart.

Chosen from a concise list of four options, I started with the spiced cauliflower (£5.50), in tribute to this place’s former incarnation as a vegetarian eatery. It featured conker-sized florets of char-lined cauliflower, quenelles of a very mild goat’s curd, pine nuts, coriander seeds and the contents of a hedgerow, aka sorrel leaves and other elemental greenery. 

Very interesting, but it kind of tasted as if something punchier was missing. My metaphorical glass was half-empty.

I’m a bit fussy about eggs and tomatoes together. In a full breakfast, I insist on them being partitioned by a sausage, or one of them being kettled by button mushrooms. Luckily it wasn’t me having the black pudding option (£6).

My dining partner thought it was dreamy, with two crisp slices of brioche-like toast topped with a soupy and livery-tasting home-made (kudos for that) black pud. On top – a fried egg with a bulging, tangerine-hued yolk, capers, parsley and scraps of smoked tomato.

The latter ingredient was part of that foodie purgatory that bridges intensely revolting and utterly delicious (a place where pongy cheeses and olives reside). We both loved it.

It made a reappearance with the hake dish (£16.50), pulped into a sort of creamy sauce that was drizzled underneath a huge fillet of fish and in little nibs amongst a mixture of asparagus, celery and ivory-coloured surf clams. On the side – two salt hake fritter bollards, which were unusually bouncy and sweet.

My main of lamb chump (£18) was equally appealing. The plateful boasted a drizzle of minty salsa verde round its outskirts, as well as carrot-flecked stocky green lentils, canary yellow-stalked rainbow chard leaves, halved asparagus spears and about seven slabs of wet and very rare lamb. Splendid.

The portions here are made for those who are about to go into battle.

Puddings are totally superfluous, but I went for the churros (£5) anyway. I was presented with six fat doughnutty pipes, crusted in sugar and accompanied by a pot of robust melted chocolate. Great, but I had to wrap up five in my napkin.

A triangle of custard tart (£6.50) was nutmeggy, with a fat scoop of butter-coloured ice-cream on the side, and some still-tart stewed rhubarb, to take the edge off all the sweetness.

The food here is delightful and clever, the service is comparable to being tended to by chatty angels, so I don’t understand why there weren’t any other diners here on a Thursday evening. Not one.

And there were only two surly-looking cool kids in the bar next door. Where is everyone? I don’t get it. They should be weaving their threads in the Blackfriars’ direction. Unravel. Go. Run.

Three to Try

The Bungo

17-21 Nitsdale Road, Glasgow (0141-423 0023, www.thebungo.co.uk)

This is a dawn-until-dusk affair, with a brunch menu and all-day options that include their superfood salad or a harissa-roasted chicken breast.

Kilberry Inn

Kilberry, Argyll (01880 770223, www.kilberryinn.com)

There’s lunch, dinner and accommodation at this whitewashed cottage with its red tin roof. Try to resist the pork belly braised with orange and cardamom.

The Wheatsheaf

Main Street, Swinton (01890 860257, www.wheatsheaf-swinton.co.uk)

The Blackboard Menu supplements the à la carte list at this hotel and restaurant. It’s available from 6pm until 9pm, with dishes that reflect what chef has got in fresh from his supplier that day.