Leith, Leith, glorious Leith.
At a time of year when central Edinburgh is chock-full of tourists, locals in search of a good meal set their compass north-east and set sail for calmer waters.
Down on the Shore, Teuchters Landing is a good place to relax, with its choice of 90 whiskies, 19 beers and 20 wines and bubblies on the menu.
Complete with views out over the water, it’s the sister bar to A Room in Leith and just the place for a pre-dinner aperitif. I try very hard not to get distracted by the “mug menu”, but it’s fair to say I’ll be returning at a later date for a mug of macaroni cheese.
Mr Finch is feeling buoyant, having procured a pint of his beloved Fallen Brewing’s IPA while I nurse a V&T. We’d hoped to sit outside on the pontoon, but monsoon-conditions have put an end to that notion.
A 10-second sprint across the way brings us to the warm welcome of A Room in Leith. The decor comes complete with wood panelling, nautical lights, maps and whisky cask lids on the walls while the menu has a Scottish/French flavour with plenty of seafood and a commitment to local ingredients.
Ostrich fillet looks like a bizarre anomaly, but it turns out it comes from a farm in the Borders, so there you have it. The menu is set price – £20 for two courses or £25 for three – so we get stuck in.
"It’s a classic combo with a buttery base, rich chocolate ganache and lots of fruity, creamy happiness. Our two spoons are soon doing battle for the last mouthful"
As the waitress approaches with the starters, Mr Finch’s expression becomes dark. I turn around and see the cause: slate platters. As I’m sure you’re aware, bits of slate don’t have the useful rim that’s such a popular feature on plates. We once had dinner at a restaurant where the poor bloke next to us ended up with steak juices all over his lap when the slate failed to contain them. The result was a tense atmosphere as he negotiated a discount to cover dry-cleaning.
Mercifully, on this occasion the food remains on the slate.
My sautéed girolle mushrooms, vegetarian black pudding and red chard come with spiced coriander pesto and toasted pine nuts. The oil in the pesto makes a break for the tablecloth but that’s the only bad thing I’ve got to say about it. What is in vegetarian black pudding? I have no idea, but it is nutty and works really well with the earthy mushrooms. The dish has everything you want from a starter – the portion size is delicate, it’s pretty to look at, the flavours tickle your palate and it leaves you wanting more.
On the other side of the table, Mr Finch is enjoying smoked venison and smoked wild halibut with celeriac rémoulade and pickled red onions. It’s another winner, with the halibut getting the thumbs-up for its light texture and flavour, while the celeriac brings a mustardy kick and the pickled onion gives a fresh tartness. The only disappointment is the venison – the taste is good, but the look and texture is a bit pre-packed.
Onwards to the mains and our large glasses of Santa Helena Merlot (£6.70) and Finca La Colonia Malbec (£7.20) are fresh, fruity and going down well. My veggie haggis, neeps and tatties are a world away from the rustic bowlful I serve up at home. Alternating little scoops stretch out across the plate, adorned with an Arran mustard and whisky cream and onion chutney. It’s another winning taste combination with the smooth, savoury flavours of the haggis and mash enhanced by the rich sauce while the tangy chutney keeps things interesting.
Mr Finch is in his happy place, with a 10oz sirloin, mushrooms, tomato, red onion rings and chips in front of him (£6 supplement).
The steak is declared juicy and well-cooked and he’s happy
to have the flavourful whisky peppercorn sauce served in a little gravy boat on the side rather than pre-poured across the plate. The chips come in for high praise, being “hand-made, which is a rarity”.
There’s not much room left for dessert, so we opt to share a double chocolate torte with Chantilly cream and raspberries. It’s a classic combo with a buttery base, rich chocolate ganache and lots of fruity, creamy happiness. Our two spoons are soon doing battle for the last mouthful.
The rain continues to lash down outside but this is the best meal we’ve had for a long time. A Room in Leith is the neighbourhood restaurant you wish was in your neighbourhood. Unpretentious and welcoming, it offers fresh, local ingredients that are well-cooked and keenly-priced.
That sounds simple, but when other places are tripping over themselves to put smashed avocado, pulled pork or whatever else has been deemed hip on the menu, it’s great to find a restaurant that has the confidence to steer its own course.