IT feels like we’re on the cusp of autumn. There’s a carpet of yellowing sycamore seeds on the ground, a few amber leaves and, what’s that? Oh, it’s an empty beer bottle and a condom packet.
It’s easy to forget that you’re slap-bang in the city centre, when you’re following the winding path down the steep slope of Royal Terrace Gardens. The trees create some kind of traffic noise-absorbing canopy.
Gardener’s Cottage – the new restaurant in the William Playfair-designed 19th-century house which had been unoccupied for years – looks twinkly in this cod rural pocket off London Road.
Its pair of refurbished dining rooms are lit by silver candlesticks, perched on communal tables which are made from wood reclaimed from ocean liner SS Olympia. There are clay vases full of fragile-looking white anemones, with silver cutlery laid out and Duke Ellington trumpeting from a record player.
We were the first diners to arrive here, on an early-bird, pre-7pm dinner visit. In the open kitchen, young chefs and owners Dale Mailley and Edward Murray, formerly of Edinburgh’s Atrium restaurant, looked frantic with prep, as this place has been pretty jumping since it opened.
Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they offer lunch the rest of the time and brunch on weekends.
For dinner, there’s a set five-course menu for £25, with daily changing options – all created with seriously seasonal and locally sourced ingredients – chalked up on a board outside (or, see what’s being served if you follow them on Twitter, @gardenersctg).
For fusspots, they can tweak dishes. Our waitress checked to see if there was anything we didn’t like.
Let them do their worst, we said.
Our bread course consisted of a sharing plate of thinly sliced and velvety snow-white lardo, with a topping of chopped hazelnuts. We lathered this hammy crunchy-smooth mixture onto slices of their springy sourdough, and tried not to fill our faces too much.
The official first course resembled a page in a book of pressed flowers, with foraged leaves, discs of golden beetroot, braised baby gem, sun-coloured nasturtium petals and frothy ricotta.
It was so pretty that I had a sense of wabi-sabi, aka the Japanese aesthetic that something is even more beautiful when it’s transient. I inhaled it in a few dreamy bites. Sayonara.
Salt hake was a smidge burlier.
This was like a take on bacon and eggs, with a patty of dried and salted flaky fish providing a foil to peppery sprigs of bittercress and the oozy and creamy halved egg that was perched on top.
Then it was time for the main event – pigeon. It was very pink and pan-fried, with breast meat and a little salty leg, which I nibbled like a squirrel gone carnivore. On the side was a rustic pile of parsley-strewn pearl barley, plus slivers of roasted plum, borage flowers, and a mixture of chopped hispi cabbage, sliced green beans and walnuts. Joy.
I got a bit of shot in my meat. However, as I liked this dish so much, I’m going to have it made into a snazzy earring.
Cheese course was next. “Are you ready?” said the waitress. Oh yes.
This offering consisted of a large triangle of bonnet – a hard goats cheese –with a pair of puffy Bath olivers and half of a pleasingly wersh apricot. According to the waitress, even the latter was local, sourced from an East Lothian farm.
Pudding was a crowd pleaser. A thick and crumbly hazelnut biscuit was topped with a puddly mound of lush chocolate cream and surrounded by caramelised apple chunks.
I’m bored with the city, I want to move to the countryside, please.
And by that I mean this magical cottage in Royal Terrace Gardens, where Mailley and Murray can feed me every day (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when I will grudgingly cook my own dinner).
That was the best meal I’ve had this year, and it’s almost autumn.