IF YOU asked a bunch of aesthetes, designers, businessmen, foodies and secret shoppers to design the perfect bar and bistro for a well-heeled Edinburgh commuter village like Lasswade, there are two things you could say with some certainty.
Paper Mill, 2-4 Westmill Road, Lasswade
0131-663 1412, www.thepapermill-lasswade.co.uk
The first is that they would undoubtedly enjoy the extensive research they would have to undertake. And the second is that the fruit of their labours would probably look something like the Paper Mill, which has been a hugely popular addition to the village since its opening last summer.
This 140-cover restaurant, in a former Victorian paper mill on the banks of the River Esk, has it all. Its waterside situation and terrace are every bit as stunning as that of the Bridge Inn at Ratho, and its design is every bit as contemporary and light as that of the Birdcage in Musselburgh. Inside, a low-hanging collection of large, moon-shaped lampshades instils a sense of intimacy to a high-ceilinged, formerly industrial space, achieving the same effect created by a theatre designer at Steak, in the capital’s Picardy Place. There is also more than a hint of achingly urban Timberyard in some of the design flourishes. Although it was sparsely attended on the Tuesday night when we visited, friends tell me it’s so boisterous at weekends that the atmosphere is reminiscent of the most frenetic nights in Jamie’s Italian in the run-up to Christmas.
Most of all, though, the menu at this handsome new establishment looks like that of the city’s Hotel Du Vin or the Galvin Bistro at the Caledonian hotel. If this sounds like a dig, it’s not meant to be: apart from the ridiculously small writing, there was virtually nothing I didn’t like about the chef’s intentions, as revealed through his menu. There was more than a nod to local producers, some super-cheap children’s options and a two-course Eat Local menu that was available for £10 at lunch and £20 for dinner from Monday to Thursday. There were even some of the cheaper and less fashionable cuts in evidence – bavette steak (or flap steak, if you qualify for a bus pass) and pollock being the obvious examples.
The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating, and in David Millar (the ex-sous chef of the Kitchin rather than the medal-winning Olympic cyclist and part-time gastronome) the Paper Mill has recruited a man with impeccable credentials. His menu certainly whetted the appetite, with a range of dishes that covered a variety of different genres and styles of cuisine while staying mainstream enough to tempt even the fussiest of Lasswadeites.
I decided to start with the Wester Deans Farm Scotch egg with haggis and salsa verde, while Bea opted for the roasted Orkney hand-dived scallops, which were served in their shells and came with a white wine sauce. Though they were so small they almost looked like queenies, the scallops were nevertheless succulent and nicely completed by a thick, creamy and rich wine reduction. At almost £9, they were definitely on the expensive side, but just about carried it off.
My Scotch egg was a more engaging and interesting dish. It was by no means perfect – the haggis that made up its interior had a commendably smooth texture but was a little too spicy for my taste, while the egg yolk, which would have been better had it been runny, was hard. However, this gastropub staple was a well-conceived dish elevated by a punchy, yoghurty salsa verde that tasted like it contained a good handful of basil.
If we were happy enough with our starters, our main courses were fine too, without ever threatening to pull up any trees. Bea’s pan-fried fillet of pork was tender, if a little bland, but came with a maple and bacon crunch that gave some body to the ensemble. It was also accompanied by a dollop of soft mashed potato and Stornoway black pudding, with a dish of over-salted spinach on the side.
If that qualified as decent-quality comfort food, my duo of venison was a little more than that. My two discs of roast loin were more cooked than I’d have liked but were packed with flavour, while the venison haunch shepherd’s pie was a revelation: the top half was fluffy potato, the bottom a deep, almost harsh flavour of coarse-cut haunch that stood in stark contrast to the more subtle flavours of the loin. Accompanied by the darkly acidic braised winter kale and chestnuts, it made for an enjoyable and thought-provoking dish.
Pudding was a mixed bag. My pear and almond tart with caramel sauce was excellent, though the shortbread ice-cream could have been creamier. Bea’s rhubarb cranachan, however, was a disappointment: a sickly deep covering of cream on top and an all-too-thin layer of what tasted like canned rhubarb in the basement.
It’s fair to say that our puddings mirrored our general experience at the Paper Mill: very solid indeed, without ever threatening to get people raving, and just about warranting the prices. As for the place itself, the bistro surroundings are superb and the voluminous wine bar, with its huge selection of beers and wines by the glass, is the sort of place that’s perfect for meeting up with a group of friends. In the summer, when the sun is shining and the river Esk gurgles past, the terrace must be a wonderful place to while away a few hours. All in all, this is no near miss – it’s a hit, even if they have yet to find the bullseye.
Two course lunch (Mon-Thurs) £10
Two course dinner (Mon-Thurs) £20
Main courses £11.95-£21.95