Especially at number two – a 16th century house, built by a merchant called Clement Cor – with the inscription above the door; “spes altera vitae” (hope of another life) and “blissit be God of al his giftis”.
This new pub is a giftis. Owned by those behind Edinburgh cafe Pep & Fodder and bar The Bon Vivant, it’s part of a £45m regeneration of this close, which links the Royal Mile and Cockburn Street. Apparently, there are a hotel, restaurant and self-catering apartments in the pipeline.
Inside, and, over two levels, it’s all honey-coloured wood, big windows and rough stone walls – not too polished, but still a little chafed around the edges, just how we like it.
Sometimes doing a food review in a pub feels a bit like going to Pets at Home to test out their stationery. As a bar, it clearly gets 10/10 – after all, there’s a list of single malts as long as my breeches, and the service is bang-on. Example: we were on our lunch hour, so a beardy mixologist in a tweedy waistcoat muddled us up a couple of virgin cocktails – a tart-tasting sea buckthorn blend, and a bramble version for just £2 each.
Their lunch menu is burly and manly. Options include a starter of haggis bon-bons (£4), as the law states that these must be served in every eatery that’s less than 23 minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Castle. There’s also a rule that, to be truly authentic (like the official bon-bons they fire out of the One O’Clock Gun) they must be slightly dry. These were, but they were also dense and spicy, with a crispy deep-fried crumb. We also liked the coriander, cumin and chilli dip that was pooled onto the plate, though we wanted a few millilitres more. Our other starter was the ox cheek and sweet potato stovie croquette (£4.50), which was the size and colour of a red squirrel’s chubby torso. It had a suitably wet, mushy, potatoey and meaty core, but, again, they’d been skinflints with their condiments, as we needed loads more of the accompanying mushroom and chilli ketchup.
For mains, just listen to this – “beef and pork belly burger, black pudding, blue cheese, beetroot, quince aioli (£13)” – and try to resist. It was a huge portion – to insert, you’d need a mouth like Blockbuster’s post-box. Instead, I removed its toasted sesame bun hat, and dissected the contents: burger (bit anaemic, but fine), black pudding (ashy, fab), blue cheese (tangy, bubbly hot), token leaves and some wafers of beetroot. On the side, in a ramekin, was a white wine vinegary, dilly, transparent mixture that didn’t seem to be the aioli as billed, but tasted zingy and clean. Wonderful crunchy chips too.
We also troughed down the burly venison casserole (£12), with a rich, sweet and stocky jus, as well as meaty gobbets, potatoes, chopped kale, carrots, mushrooms and other miscellanea, with two medieval-looking hunks of sourdough on the side. Grand.
Our bread and butter pudding (£4.50) was a highly evolved species, with its toasty caramelised lid, bits of orange and nutmeg, and a moat of bright yellow custard. The chocolate fondant (£5.50) was decent enough, if more sugary than cocoa-y.
Considering this place is primarily a fancy watering hole, the food is rather good (and it’s the kind of stuff that drinkers want to eat). The Devil’s Advocate also makes for a perfect resident on this historic street, which, with its cleaned-up buildings, feels reanimated and new. Spes altera vitae indeed.
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £43.50