Restaurant review: Lioness of Leith, Edinburgh

The Lioness of Leith. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Lioness of Leith. Picture: Neil Hanna
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I NEARLY moved to Duke Street. That is, until our third flat viewing, when we came down the stairs to find some fresh graffiti, the door kicked in and a girl peeing in the stair.

It’s a bit rough round the edges, this street, but it’s coming up in the world, just enough that this new gastropub has appeared on the corner, in what was a boarded-up and dilapidated bar.

So, the equilibrium is balanced at the level where an independent business can flourish, but it’s not gentrified to the point that Starbucks has twigged, moved in and drained the street of individuality. Hooray.

This was my second visit to the Lioness of Leith. The first time had been for a weekend brunch and it was OK, though the portions were small and the staff a bit zombified.

Owned by DJ and chef Joseph Malik, it seems that eventide is when this quirky place really comes alive.

There’s night-clubby lighting, which disguises the fact that the lovebird perched on a chandelier is stuffed, not about to flit down and pick up the crumbs of one of the dishes on the imaginative menu.

I’m sure that, in life, she would have liked a peck of our boquerones (£3.70) – deep fried and sunshiney battered anchovies, with a hint 
of holidays and a side of tartare sauce.

Another starter of mussel and spring onion pâté (£5.50) was served in a kilner jar and, though smooth, had a rather soggy texture, like a meaty smoothie. However, the flavour was good – intensely bivalvey, with discs of crimson hemmed radish on the top, and a couple of slices of crispy toast on the side.

All portions are John Goodman-sized.

“It looks like a human rib cage,” said my dining partner, of her roast pork belly ribs (£8) main.

This option was rather blobbily fatty in parts, but featured loads of rich and slippery meat, ribbons of savoy cabbage and whisky-infused chopped onions, all polka-dotted by capers.

As the protein queen, she didn’t care about the lack of carb. I would have, but I had plenty of roasties as well as creamy coleslaw, with my wiener schnitzel (£11.50). I say schnitzel singular, but there were two ginormitzel bits of pork, like a kangaroo’s orthotic insoles, all furred over with golden breadcrumbs and deep fried.

This is food for those who’re on a big night out and expect to eventually find themselves in CC Blooms, dancing on the bar, with only one shoe on.

Compared to the burly mains, served up like something you’d get in a 15th century coaching inn, puddings are unexpectedly chichi – like the wares of a five-star hotel. The dark chocolate delice (£7) was a neat mound of smooth cocoa-y sweetness, pierced by the shrapnel of a hazelnut biscotti and accompanied by a pleasantly chewy chocolate crisp curl, as well as a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

The whole, cardamom-infused pear (£6), which came with a shiny clutch of whole candied hazelnuts was lovely too. It says on the menu that this was also teamed with “coffee bun croutons” and I’m sure they were there, but it was too dark to take a photograph and, at that point in proceedings, I was already half way to losing a shoe.

This place warrants an 8 out of 10, as its affordability has to be taken into account. Where else can you get such cracking bar food for so few shekels? I should have bought that flat, Duke Street is obviously the place to be.

The verdict

How much? Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £41.70

Food: 8/10

Ambience: 9/10

Total: 17/20

Lioness of Leith

21-25 Duke Street, Edinburgh

(0131-629 0580)