25c Thistle Street, Edinburgh
(0131-225 2605, www.hendersonsofedinburgh.co.uk)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £36.20
I feel an affinity with this pioneering vegetarian business, which is also at that tricky stage of life.
Opened in 1963 by the late Janet Henderson, and now owned by her children, it has just turned 50 years young, with a 50-day long series of events to celebrate (www.hendersons50.com).
As well as the St John’s Terrace branch, there’s the original basement-level canteen-style eatery and upstairs deli, both on Hanover Street, and, tucked round the corner on Thistle Street, the family friendly bistro. The latter has a vibe I’ll politely describe as bohemian. It’s slightly scruffy, with grease-speckled grey banquettes, cloudy water tumblers and shelves of paperbacks and plants. The lino on the staircase to the restaurant is blackened by decades of footprints. You get the impression the uncontrived interior has evolved organically over the years, which adds to its charm in many respects, and deflects from it in others. But, you know, it’s well-loved, so, Respect! for the doyenne of Edinburgh’s healthy-eating scene.
The service is also quite casual.
Our waiter stumbled up the stairs, and into the dining room, broadcasting the words “I feel awful” within our earshot. To be fair, we’d only recently appeared and I’m not sure he realised there was anyone in the restaurant, but I hope he was suffering from a hangover, and not some highly virulent tropical vomiting bug. Starters landed speedily.
I’d gone for two patés (£4.50) from their selection. The lentil and apricot version was a cumin-scented putty that I’ll buy from their deli for future packed lunches. In fact, as I couldn’t eat it all, I asked the waiter if I could take the remainder home. “Sure, but I don’t know what I’ll put it in,” he said, helpfully. Our sweet red pepper variety was definitely more of a runny dip than a paté, but no worse off for that. On the side – three spongy slices of their own (rather forgettable) brown bread and two uniform rectangles of unyieldingly cold butter.
We were both impressed by the three Kinder egg-sized falafels (£4.50), which had a loose and springy texture, with a chilli-coriander flavour. These came with a big pot of very good garlicky hummus, and some pitta soldiers.
The Moroccan stew (£8.95) – the “curry” option from the specials board – was a lukewarm mixture, with blocks of still-firm carrot, soft butternut squash, aubergine, and firm cubes of smoked tofu, all in a tomatoey ragu. There was also a virtuous dose of fibre in the form of a wholegrain rice tower, plus a ramekin of gently spiced raisin and apricot chutney and another of natural yoghurt. For the price, a good effort.
My dining partner’s aubergine bake (£9.75) wasn’t sure whether it was supposed to be a hot or cold option.
It consisted of some green endive (cold), topped by a gelatinously slug-like potato dauphinoise (warm), then a fat disc of roasted aubergine, with a nutty crumble topping (warmish) and, flooding the plate, a crimson-coloured redcurrant sauce (cold). He didn’t like this dish (“The aubergine thing is like a vegetable flapjack”), but I thought it was quite nice. Make of that what you will.
I think puddings might be their forte, as the frozen honey and mascarpone cheesecake (£4.25) was a work of considerable genius. Basically, it was a creamy semifreddo on a pastry base, with a cinnamon-dusted lid.
When it came to our other dessert – the apple and blackcurrant bakewell (£4.25) – pudding puritans might grumble about its lack of frangipane-ness, but it was nicely fruity-centred and topped with crispy, flaked almond scales.
I never got my doggy bag of paté, but I could never be too critical about Henderson’s. That would feel a bit like giving a sweet (and slightly eccentric) old lady a Chinese burn. It will continue to do its thing, and people will still love it. While I ride around the city on a quad bike with my much younger totty, it will be pointing and laughing, safe in the knowledge that it will outlive us all.
THREE TO TRY
Hillhead Book Club
Vinicombe Street, Glasgow (0141-576 1700, www.hillheadbookclub.com)
Hang out here if you like ping-pong, computer games, music and vegetarian grub, including baked fig, squash, honey and pomegranate salad.
58 Westport, Dundee
As well as cakes, there are always decent meat-free savouries at this popular hang-out. Try the Moroccan spinach and feta filo pie.
21 Whitehill Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow (0141-554 9981,
This cafe and bakery offers vegetarian and vegan food. Try a sarnie with jerk squash, banana salsa and peppers.