Restaurant reviews: three of the best bistros
Jonathan Trew samples a selection of Edinburgh bistros.
THE EDINBURGH LARDER BISTRO 1a Alva Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4PH. Telephone: 0131-225 4599.
Open: noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm -10pm (Tue-Sat). Three-course average cost: £23. House wine per glass: £4
Friendly, warren-like bistro
A new sister operation to the Edinburgh Larder Deli Café on Blackfriars Street, the ELB hits all the right buttons by aiming to use sustainable, local and seasonable ingredients, significant proportions of which are foraged and pickled. The debt to Rene Redzepi’s influential Noma restaurant is acknowledged on ELB’s website, which sets out its aims to deliver an “adventurous Scottish/Nordic” menu.
On the plate, this means starters such as light, summery crab freshened and sweetened with apple. It means pink, deftly-seared pigeon breast with a good, toothy spelt risotto and dainty pineapple flowers, a new one to me.
Main courses were less of an instant hit. Skirt steak will always have some chew but, hopefully, not as much as ours did. The meat had good flavour though and the dish’s beer-pickled onions and roast bone marrow delivered heaps of umami.
A dish of pork belly, crispy ears, peas and Pink Fir spuds was let down by the meat. The actual flesh was soft but topped with a thick layer of blubbery, unrendered fat and tough skin which hadn’t crisped.
A fantastic chocolate and salted caramel tart with mighty fine malted ice cream went some way towards making up for the underwhelming mains.
If not always completely up to speed on some ELB offerings, the staff are nonetheless enthusiastic and passionate, prices are very reasonable and the kitchen is heading in the right direction. Promising.
Ambitious and heart in right place but needs polish
PETER’S YARD 3 Deanhaugh Street, Edinburgh, EH4 1LU. Telephone: 0131-332 2901.
Open: 8am-10pm (Mon-Fri), 9am-10pm (Sat-Sun). Three-course average cost: £18. Bottle of fruit juice: £2.20 (licence planned)
Compact, neat and slightly austere Swedish cafe
Well-established in Quartermile, the Peter’s Yard bakery recently introduced its Swedish-style café to Stockbridge. Artisan breads, cake, ice creams and coffees are all available to sit in or go but it’s their “no-compromise sourdough pizza” which is perhaps the biggest draw.
Available in just four styles (topped with veggies, anchovies, Parma ham or Ventricina salami), all at a tenner, it’s a great pizza. You can tell Peter’s Yard are confident about their product as they have parked their metaphorical tanks on the Pizza Express lawn and opened right next to the Stockbridge branch of the national chain.
Cooked to order in a giant open oven, each pizza is made with top notch ingredients with impeccable pedigrees. I’m not going to bore you with their flour sourcing but let’s say that it’s the culinary equivalent of a Swiss finishing school.
The results are worth it. The bases are bubbly around the edges with little patches of char underneath. They are not crisp like a Neapolitan-style pizza but have a satisfyingly toothsome chew instead.
I loved the chilli kick of my salami pizza accompanied with crumbly feta, gooey mozzarella and the slight bitterness of Kalamata olives. An anchovy pizza, studded with tiny explosive capers, was satisfyingly salty.
The bright lights and basic seats mean it’s not a place to linger but for a quick, hugely enjoyable pizza, it’s a winner.
Posh pizza with impeccable Scandi credentials – perfect for Stockbridge
THE GARDENER’S COTTAGE Royal Terrace Gardens, Edinburgh, EH7 5DX. Telephone: 0131- 0131 558 1221.
Open: noon-3pm, 5pm-10pm (Thu-Mon). Set five- course dinner £25. House wine per glass: £5
Enchanting, fairy-tale bistro
Located in the formerly derelict gardener’s cottage in Royal Terrace Gardens, this new venture, set up and run by two ambitious, young-ish chefs with stylish pedigrees, is deservedly making a big splash. The Gardener’s Cottage is bang on trend without being bum-achingly trendy.
The “local, seasonal” mantra may be in danger of becoming hollow marketing speak in some quarters but, when you see what Dale Mailley and Edward Murray can do with simple, fresh ingredients, it makes terrific sense.
In the evenings, a set five-course meal, served at communal tables, is the name of the game. The specifics of the menu will have changed completely by the time this is in print but the objectives will be the same: top notch ingredients, cooked and presented carefully but without fuss or faff.
For me, a dish of pink, charcoal-roasted lamb served with savoury chanterelles and big, crisp spinach leaves was the highlight. For my partner, it was a summer berry tart with meadow sweet ice cream that had her making eyes at the chefs. With both dishes, the chefs’ skills and techniques perfectly highlighted each ingredient’s flavour rather than masking them.
The sociable seating arrangement may not appeal to Edinburgh’s more buttoned-up residents but, at the risk of sounding like a lentil-loving Guardianista, it is perfectly in tune with the buzzy, informal and convivial atmosphere. It is not an underground supper club but eating at the Gardener’s Cottage is a companionable experience in which the shared company is as enjoyable as the excellent food.
Fantastic food in a unique, quirky setting
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