GOD loves a trier, and so do we mere mortals.
10 Lady Lawson Street
0131-221 1222, www.timberyard.co
When Andrew and Lisa Radford’s pair of well-kent Edinburgh restaurants, Atrium and Blue, closed after almost two decades of excellence last year, there was a worry that two of the capital’s most respected restaurateurs might simply fade away, unable to mount a comeback in the teeth of a recession that’s hit top-end Edinburgh restaurants particularly badly.
The Radfords always insisted the closure of their restaurants above the Traverse Theatre had as much to do with the four-year renovation of the neighbouring Usher Hall as it did with the squeeze of corporate lunch accounts or the runaway success of nearby Castle Terrace. Just to prove it, they’re back with a bold new venture, Timberyard, in nearby Lady Lawson Street.
If the positioning, literally a stone’s throw from Castle Terrace, seems counterintuitive, it may actually make a good deal of sense. Dominic Jack’s restaurant has gone on to claim Michelin-star status and, as such, there has inevitably been a degree of price inflation. The Radfords presumably believe they can reclaim much of their clientele, especially now the Usher Hall is fully functioning again.
They were also lucky enough to find the perfect site when the old Magill timber yard on Lady Lawson Street became available, providing one of the most interesting and idiosyncratic spaces in central Edinburgh. The Radford family – as well as Andrew and Lisa, eldest son Ben heads up the kitchen, youngest son Jo runs the bar and daughter Abi does marketing – have done a remarkable job of turning the space into a landmark restaurant, putting up huge windows on to the courtyard and making the most of the building’s industrial heritage to produce a memorable setting.
Bare, metallic lighting abounds, but so does bare untreated wood, while the stylish bar that dominates one side of the cavernous main dining room is a huge slab of slate-coloured metal fronted by stools crafted from iron and sawn-off planks; a conscious fusion of the rustic and the industrial. The whole effect is pleasingly minimalist, and while the edifice could look quite bare and stark on a quiet midwinter evening, it was three-quarters full and vibrant on the night we visited.
If Timberyard recaptures the sense of the stylish and contemporary that made Atrium and Blue so successful early on, they’ve also grafted on the borderline obsession with provenance and sustainability that underpinned the restaurants’ success in the middle years, long before most restaurateurs had developed such a keen sense of culinary responsibility.
That preoccupation with ingredients was once again clear from an eclectic wine list and a sparse menu that was nevertheless bursting with detail. The other thing that was notable was the thought put in for vegetarians: there were none of the usual cop-outs, although the presence of beetroot on both the bite-sized and main vegetarian courses wasn’t overly clever.
Our meal commenced with the ‘bite-sized’ course, which basically turned out to be mini starters (or, if you were feeling uncharitable, amuse bouche for which you have to pay), with Vicky choosing the Loch Creran oyster with shallot vinegar while I opted for the venison tartare with spelt toast. I definitely had the better of this course, with the delicate flavour of the venison nicely complemented by the tomato and the sweetness of small shards of red pepper, while Vicky’s single, medium-sized oyster disappeared at speed to be swiftly followed by a moment’s reflection and so-what shrug.
My starter was also by far the better of the two dishes, with the seared chicken livers cooked to perfection and accompanied by gorgeously al dente broad beans, plus shallots and a mystery ingredient that turned out to be Phantassie turnip. Vicky’s small bowl of ham hock salad, in which the slivers of hock were accompanied by mint, baby gems, peas and fragments of spelt toast, left her in a quandary: it was fine, as these things go, but she was struggling to see how it could be worth £6.50. You can take the girl out of the country ...
In fact, the subject of cost is an interesting one. Although there is enormous goodwill towards the Radfords from customers and rivals alike, one of the many reasons for the Atrium’s latter travails was the fact that it was pretty damned expensive, and when the initial interest abates it’ll be interesting to see whether Timberyard is sufficiently less costly than nearby Castle Terrace (we worked out that the average dinner here costs £35, although lunch is considerably cheaper) to prosper.
If I had landed the best of the opening exchanges, Vicky definitely had the better of our main courses. This hadn’t started out well when the advertised mutton loin with chanterelles, peas, Welsh onion cake and spring onion turned out to be lamb and the trimmings, but I decided to press on regardless. Vicky, however, loved her halibut with fennel, celery, tomatoes, herb oil and a scallop, which was a fusion of a well-cooked (if slightly small) fillet with a collection of fresh, provocative flavours from the accompaniments.
My lamb wasn’t so impressive, though. I didn’t mind the smallish portion but, while virtually everything else was perfect about this classically constructed dish, the most important part of the puzzle was a severe disappointment, with the double whammy of lamb that was both bland and verging on tough. I like to give my jaw muscles a workout over dinner, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.
Pudding was good though: my glazed lemon tart was perfection, and the accompanying raspberry sorbet was excellent. Vicky’s elderflower wine and mint jelly, in which were encased raspberries, was “fine” but a notch below a similar dish she had two weeks previously in a different restaurant.
So, will Timberyard prosper? I hope so, and not just because the Radfords are culinary royalty in the capital. The reports that have already filtered in are routinely positive and it’s easy to see why because the environment is unique and uplifting, the staff as friendly as you’d expect in a family-run restaurant, and the food just needs a few tweaks to remind everyone of why the Atrium was such a success for so long.
• Timberyard, 10 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh (0131-221 1222, www.timberyard.co)
• Bill please: Bites £2.50-£3.50 Starters £6-£8 Main courses £12-£17.50 Puddings £7 Cheese £8
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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