IT was my somethingth birthday last month. When it came to eating out, I eventually settled on this bistro, which opened in June in the former premises of Howies Cellar, and is the sister venue to the Edinburgh Larder café on Blackfriars Street.
Edinburgh Larder Bistro
1a Alva Street Edinburgh
0131-225 4599, www.edinburgh-larder.co.uk
How much? Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £50
I was seduced by the online menu, which read like poetry to me, with offerings focused on foraged ingredients, seasonality and sustainability.
It’s like someone had peered into my cranium, rifled through my cravings, yens and fancies, edited out my junk food foibles, and cleverly condensed the best stuff into a list.
But, when it came to the eating, I was disappointed (someone else was paying, thanks Dad, so I tried to keep grinning). The food was clunkier than it had sounded, a bit too greasy here, overseasoned there.
The basement-level space, even with its cheerful sage and cream paint job, began to feel oppressively dungeon-like.
It was the foodie equivalent of the dumps.
Anyway, I was reluctant to return. Until I heard that they had a new chef, Finlay Nicol, formerly of the New Bell.
The menu has barely been tweaked, but the execution and presentation of dishes has changed considerably. A Stornoway black pudding duck egg (£5.75) had been a bit like blunderbuss grapeshot the last time we’d had it. This time, it featured a warm and runny-yolked oeuf, clad, Scotch-egg style, in a thin layer of breaded black pud.
To zing up this burly dish, the plate was dotted with titchy pickled cauliflower florets and gherkin crumbs, like a piccalilli that had blown off granny’s pork pie.
Our other starter – a patty of brown crab (£5.95) – was ozoney, topped with struts of fennel, ringpull-sized pieces of red-skinned apple, cucumber, sprigs of dill and sweet cicely. It was refreshing and summery – a beachy breath of sea air, like a sexy jellyfish whispering sweet nothings into one’s ear.
A main course of Peelham Farm pork belly (£13.95) wasn’t bad. There was a large, soft slab of pig, decently cooked, with a layer of crackling on the top and chewy zig-zagging strips of ear. Its accompaniments of braised peas, soft lettuce and pink fir apple potato pieces were fine, but it was slightly bland overall and needed some more seasoning or spice.
I guess, if you’re committed to sourcing the best local ingredients, you don’t want to mask individual flavours. Still, I think they’d held back too much.
By contrast, my mackerel main (£12.90) was rather special. It was presented on a rectangular plate, like a landscape canvas covered with tasty daubs.
The fishy fillets, with crinkle-edged gilded skin, were strewn with cress and interspersed with hunks of roasted beetroot, pale blobs of crème fraîche and milky goats curd, waxy potato and radish discs.
Light and simple.
Both puddings were spot on. Raspberry five ways (£5.95) featured various riffs on this whiskery berry. As well as a tile of dense mousse, which was sandwiched between caramelised pastry, there was a globe of fruity, candy-pink ice-cream, a cola-cube-sized jelly, a pair of white chocolate-covered raspberry truffles, and … we couldn’t find the fifth. Maybe it was the plain old rasps, which were hanging around on the plate, looking peeved that they hadn’t been chosen for a make-over.
It was nice to see gooseberry (£5.50) on a menu, as my little green friend is oft forgotten. In this case, he was stewed, with any tartness diffused by mini-meringues, a citrusy gel, whipped cream and a raspberry syrup. It looked a bit like a pavlova that had been run over, but tasted like edible prose.
Oh, and mention must be given to the cute little thyme and meadowsweet shortbreads that were presented along with our bill. And the fact that, since opening, this place always seems to have offers on, so check the website before you visit.
If the Edinburgh Larder Bistro carries on improving at this rate, it’ll be magnificent by the time I turn something-or-other years old.
It’s a bit belated, but happy birthday to me.
• Edinburgh Larder Bistro, 1a Alva Street Edinburgh (0131-225 4599, www.edinburgh-larder.co.uk)