THERE are many things I like in restaurants, but the acronym BYOB is my second favourite – pipped only by the same letters on the door of a restaurant within 100 yards of a decent off-licence.
1-2 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh
Starters £5-£6, Main courses £10-£19, Puddings £5, Cheese £6
Or, in the case of the Pantry, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, make that within a two-minute walk of a pair of really decent wine shops that are clearly competing head-on. Throw in the minimal £2 corkage charge and things look pretty rosy for this new arrival.
It would be wrong to overlook the impact BYOB can have on the average Edinburgher as the chance to save a tenner while drinking better-than-usual wine with your meal is not to be sniffed at. Nor is the chance to sit in a big picture window and indulge in some people-watching in this busy part of town.
But there are other reasons for the Pantry’s success. During the day it’s the deli offerings, and in particular the soups and stews. In the evenings from Wednesday to Saturday, the presence of head chef Ian Henderson, whose experience includes working at Michelin-starred restaurant ABaC in Barcelona, certainly plays a part. So, too, does the relaxed atmosphere, the quality of the food and the ethical sourcing policy.
Described as an urban farm shop, the Pantry is by day a deli that makes a big hullabaloo about supplying mainly locally sourced produce, whether that’s in the form of chutneys or ready meals, backing it up with a huge list of suppliers. In short, this is exactly the sort of USP that is going to help a new place survive in this corner of Stockbridge during a downturn that has claimed other nearby restaurants.
The Pantry is on the site of a branch of Herbie, the popular deli that produces sourdough bread the equal of any I’ve tasted. Sadly, the Pantry’s bread was just the common or garden variety, but it was pretty good, and came with little triangles of butter that was sprinkled with finely chopped sea salt. This is the sort of attention to detail that catches the eye, as is the batons of fresh cucumber in the pitchers of water.
My starter of chicken liver parfait had also had a great deal of attention lavished on its production. Tiny squares of particularly slick parfait were accompanied by even more miniature sticks of marinaded rhubarb, with little triangles of thin-cut, unleavened spiced bread and miscellaneous dots of quince cream finishing off the ensemble. It was a qualified success: the combination of tastes worked perfectly, and the parfait had a gorgeously creamy texture; sadly it lacked the real sledgehammer intensity of flavours that would have raised it from merely good to great.
Bea’s simply constructed starter of Buccleuch black pudding with Jerusalem artichoke crisp and apple was less fancy but equally impressive. The black pudding was good – not too moist and with a nice, faintly gritty texture – and the artichoke crisps were a surprisingly effective accompaniment.
I managed to restrain myself from choosing a main course of either the spelt and vegetable cake with mushroom broth, roast garlic potatoes and herb coulis, or the king scallops with caramelised ride, sunblushed tomatoes, pea shoots and parmesan. I plumped for the pork loin and belly with mash, spring greens and Arran mustard sauce while Bea opted for the megrim sole with “posh roasties”, crispy shallots, mushroom butter and spinach.
My pork was pretty impressive, especially the ever-so-succulent loin, but it needed much more of the mustard sauce to leaven the whole dish. There were, however, few misgivings about Bea’s megrim sole, which is the less expensive and more abundant version of Dover and lemon sole. This came with what were called posh roasties, but which looked like any other roast potatoes I’ve ever eaten. Not that it mattered: the white flesh of the fish was so succulent it would undoubtedly have fallen off the fork had it been cooked a minute longer. This was quality cooking, combining alternative ingredients with thoughtful combinations and doing it all on a formidably tight budget.
If what had gone before was more than passable, the pièce de résistance was kept until last. If you decide to visit the Pantry any time soon, make sure you try the chocolate and giraffe (yes, indeed) tart with chantilly cream and blackberries. This is a wonderfully light pudding with perfectly whipped ice-cream that would keep even the most persistent child quiet for hours. Bea rounded off with a Scottish cheese plate that featured Barwheys cheddar, Clova bonnet and Biggar blue.
There’s a lot to like about the Pantry, from endearingly earnest service to the commitment to local and ethic produce. Nor is it ridiculously expensive, especially when you factor in the savings on booze. Nor, it seems, am I the only one to have reached this conclusion, judging by the brisk business it was doing. Indeed, it was so brisk, the evening opening hours will surely have to extend to all-week. And you would find no complaints here for such a course of action.
• The Pantry, 1-2 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh (0131-629 0206, www.thepantryedinburgh.co.uk)