Restaurant review: The Water of Leith Cafe Bistro

The Water of Leith Cafe Bistro in Edinburgh. Picture: Stephen Scott Taylor
The Water of Leith Cafe Bistro in Edinburgh. Picture: Stephen Scott Taylor
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WE NEED to talk about seven.

1 Howard Street,


(0131-556 6887, www.thewaterof

A seven out of 10 place offers grub that’s decent and dependable – a bit better than your own home-cooking, but not necessarily sexy, memorable or exciting. The service is good, the pricing is fair and the seats are comfortable. There are no major complaints – nothing is raw, overcooked, or riddled with salmonella. You wouldn’t necessarily tell your friends about it, but you’ll be back.

The Water of Leith Cafe Bistro is a textbook seven. I’m not going to give them a four, just for the frisson of evil. Or an eight, so they might Blu-Tack my review up in the window. Seven.

They’ve recently moved from a venue by the river on Edinburgh’s Coburg Street, to new riverside premises at Canonmills. Voila, no change of name needed.

It’s a family-friendly venue, so don’t go if you don’t like being in the vicinity of babies.

One of these critters, sitting near us, had managed to smear something tomatoey over his ENTIRE FACE. There should be an award for that.

We mainly chose from the specials blackboard, which featured two courses for £11.95 and three for £14.95. Two starters from this – mussels mariniere, and chicken, pork and pistachio galantine – ranked equally. Although there were only approx nine mussels, they were all fat and open-shelled, and the leek, cider and cream sauce was a suitably rich emulsion.

Our other option had dressed down, as the galantine was accompanied by two triangles of boring toasted white bread; an iceberg, carrot and cucumber salad, and a tartare sauce that looked a bit like salad cream. It was lamb dressed as mutton (except it was made from chicken and pork – underseasoned, but pleasant, with a crunchy nutty centre).

The clear winner, when it came to mains, was the pork steak. For once, eating this cut of meat wasn’t like chewing one’s way through an oven glove. It was draped in a sweet and smoky wholegrain mustard sauce and accompanied by slivers of waxy yellow roasted potato.

We also liked the long fillet of pan fried coley, which came with a rocket and basil velouté that was served in a soup-like quantity, with a bank of half submerged buttery mash, and a wedge of lemon.

The sweet potato curry (£7.95) – the only main we’d ordered from the printed à la carte list – was the only blah dish. The solid ingredients – neat cubes of root veg, chickpeas, spinach, onion etc – were good, as was the basmati rice, it’s just that the coconutty sauce was a bit flat and needed more depth of spicing. All I could taste was powdered coriander and chilli.

The desserts here – many of which are displayed in a glass cabinet – aren’t that winsome looking. They’re of the ugly cake ilk, in that they all look beige or brown, and as if they’re made from bark chippings glued together with PVA. Luckily, I’m not one of those people who eats with their eyes (they’re the ones with lashes full of crumbs). I use my actual mouth. The chocolate rum cheesecake was magnificent, with a tinge of crème fraîche to lighten up the deep, dark, boozy elements, and though the jam-filled bakewell tart looked like tree fungus and had a base made of puff pastry, rather than shortcrust, it worked. Our flourless chocolate cake (£3.70) resembled a cracked paving slab, but tasted like a kiss from a particularly handsome cocoa bean.

“I like it here,” said one of my dining partners. “You know what, I think you should give it an eight.”

Eh? Calm down. It’s a seven.


Lunch for three, excluding drinks,