Restaurant review: The Blackbird, 37-39 Leven Street, Edinburgh

The Blackbird is a new bar and restaurant that has opened on Leven Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Blackbird is a new bar and restaurant that has opened on Leven Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
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There was always a mobility scooter parked outside The Auld Toll pub.

But it’s been replaced by a tangerine road bike, winched-up above the shop front of this venue – now the Blackbird bar and kitchen.

Goodbye traditional old geezers’ 
watering hole, hello hip hang-out.

The dentures have been swapped for piercings, hearing aids for headphones and yes, something that rolls along the pavement at two miles per hour (with a basket for prescription collections and Wee Jocky the grizzled chihuahua) has been usurped by a speedy two-wheeler with no brakes. It seems pretty symbolic as we hurtle towards Hogmanay.

Perhaps, at the bells, while dancing Gangnam-style on a table, you’ll be at this place, which is owned by the people behind the ever-popular Edinburgh bars Treacle and Hamilton’s.

It fits into the recent transformation of the formerly skeezy Tollcross area, where you’ll now find quality venues like Pekoe Tea, Tuk Tuk Indian Street Food and Leven’s.

Inside, it’s pretty groovesome, with vintage mirrors hung on craggy stone walls, a ceiling that’s wallpapered with an abstract orange-beaked blackbird print, and two separate areas – one for eaters, and another for drinkers.

We bagged a table to test drive their gastropub-style menu.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to have more laid-back standards in boozers than I do in proper restaurants.

I’m quite impressed when the cutlery is clean, and am always primed to wait a bit longer for my food.

Indeed, the service here – provided by staff who look Bieber-age – is quite laid back.

There was a lengthy pause before we received our fish sharing board (£12.95).

It was decent though, with two stout, salmony fishcakes, as well as a pair of “beer-battered fish fingers” – aka oily cod goujons.

Also on the board – a mini-cauldron of mussels in a tomato and red pepper sauce, plus separate pots of basil-infused mayo and a nice mandarin-laden chutney, for dippage of our fishy bits (none of the billed bread appeared, though).

Unfortunately, our three mains sat on the pass for what seemed like an age, and we gazed at them mournfully while on the hunt for the ladies’ lavatron.

When these options were actually delivered to our tables, the best was probably the Auchterarder venison steak (£13.95) – a puffed-up beast of a portion. This log-sized piece of deer reclined on a beanbag of sweet pumpkin mash, alongside two peppery battered haggis fritters, all topped with an acorn-coloured jus.

Exactly the kind of dish you’d want before going to a Jimmy Shand gig, or whatever else young folk do these days.

Our roasted half-chicken with oregano and lemon thyme (£11.95) was also satisfying, its blackened skin as crispy as a Kettle Chip. It was accompanied by a rather watery “fennel, apple and raisin slaw”, and a pot of pleasant skin-on frites (listed on the menu as “home-cut”, so one assumes chef makes these in his flat, before cooking them up at work).

The fish stew (£12.95) made for a triple whammy of reliably sturdy mains.

It contained chunks of salmon, smoked haddock and a few mussels, all in a paprika-sweet, lemon-injected tomato purée topped by fronds of “crispy seaweed” (in the retro Chinese restaurant sense of the word – though I think it was kale rather than sugar-encrusted, deep-fried spring greens).

Side dishes of baby spinach with 
nutmeg and pumpkin with chilli oil (both £2.95) were a bit overcooked and meh. Bearable though.

Puddings (£4.95 each) were unsophisticated diabetes-inducers.

Chocolate and peanut brownie ticked all the boxes – brown, sweet and squishy, check, check, gold star.

Pear and blackberry crumble was as warming as Ready Brek, with a jug of hot custard on the side; and crème brûlée, though runny and a bit scrambled, had a good crispy lid and came with some pleasant shortbread biscuits.

Not bad. This place will be a jolly addition to the Tollcross area.

I might even hang out here on Monday night (but on the pub side).

After all, at New Year, one has to ring out the old, ring in the new.

The Blackbird

37-39 Leven Street, Edinburgh

0131 228 2280

How much?

Dinner for three, excluding drinks: £72.55