Restaurant review: Caley Sample Room, Edinburgh

Picture: Kate Chandler
Picture: Kate Chandler
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Beer fact. On a recent brewery tour, I heard about isinglass, or finings. Apparently, they’re dried fish bladders, which are added to some varieties of beer to clarify them.

In tribute to our piscine buddies, I will drink like a fish from now on (that is, by absorbing water through my skin and gills, while blowing bubbles at 
the surface).

At this gastropub – a nominee in the Best Pub Grub category at the Scottish Restaurant Awards 2012 – they have 46 speciality beers, plus a seasonal selection, not to mention 37 wines, most of which are available by the glass. And food options, of course, many of which are chalked up on a specials board.

Also, as this is the final weekend of the Fringe and the centre of town is hoaching, you may still be able to find a table here, as it’s slightly off the beaten track.

I say that, but it was packed with locals on our Tuesday night visit. So, good luck with that (or book).

The decor is smart, but still pubby (don’t expect Molton Brown products in the bathrooms), with a carpeted restaurant area, where wooden tables are topped with tall thistles in vases.

Our trio shared two options to start – confit duck Scotch eggs (£5.50) and pan fried chicken liver salad (£4.50).

I’ve never had livers so creamy and smooth, which melted into a meaty buttery paste. Although this spreadable offal was supposed to come with a “herb crouton”, there was nothing quite as dainty sounding. Instead, it was accompanied by a spongy doorstop of lily-coloured toast – perfect to absorb the dark, sweet and peppery jus, which was like beef dripping.

However, even with a handful of rocket, this dish is only a salad if you are Henry VIII, or the kind of Roman who owns a vomitorium.

Continuing the burly theme were a pair of quacker gob-stoppers, each of which contained a dinky quail egg heart. These came with a ramekin of paprika-sprinkled mayo, to provide some lubrication (as did a bottle of Thistly Cross Cider, £4.95 and a Windermere Pale, £3.75). Pretty good.

For mains, they were out of the Nigella-inspired cola-braised pork belly (£10.95), so I opted for the oven-roasted chicken supreme (£13.95). This was a crispy-surfaced piece of, slightly underseasoned, but springy-fleshed chook, which was hunkering down onto a mixture of potato wedges, kale, spicy chorizo and frog-green broad beans.

Aside from the latter, which are in season, it was a rather wintery dish.

But, still, I see what they want to do, with their hearty style of grub. They know that lettuce doesn’t absorb beer.

There was a similar theme with the organic lamb shank (£13.95). This piece of meat, with its bone punching the sky like Freddie Mercury’s fist at Live Aid, was super mulchy. It came with a mound of marjoram and chilli-spiked sweet potato mash, which was sloshed with chickpea dotted gravy.

Hairs on the chest, moustache and sideburns-as-wide-as-Bradley-Wiggins’ kind of stuff.

The pan-fried grey mullet (£10.95) wasn’t quite as successful as the other dishes, as the dense fillets were bronzed on top, but gelatinous and stringily undercooked in their pink middles. However, the accessories were nice enough – if chaotic – with French beans, blanched spinach, cherry toms and an unusual jus containing peas and lemon thyme, all strewn across the plate.

Our triple whammy of puds included a mouth-puckeringly sour lemon curd tart (£4.75), a decent chocolate bread and butter pudding (£4.75) and a fun ice-cream sundae (£4.50), made with raspberry coulis, squished meringue and their daily special of gooseberry and ginger ice-cream.

When we got the bill, we were surprised by the bargainousness. Aha. That’s because Monday to Wednesday, 5pm to 9pm, they do a Supper Club, so dishes marked with a SC are part of a two courses for £11.95, or three for £14.95 offer (grey mullet is part of this offer, as were the chicken livers).

Edinburgh has a shortage of good gastropubs (certainly compared to Glasgow), and the Caley Sample Room is probably the best.

• Caley Sample Room, 58 Angle Park Terrace, Edinburgh (0131-337 7204,

• How much? Dinner for three, excluding drinks, £59.35