NOISY garden birds are the best thing about spring. If only we could translate their song. This place, in Leith’s Vaults – the former premises of the Vintner Rooms – has a walled cobbled courtyard out front with resident blackbirds amongst the shrubbery. It’s very civilised to be piped into this space (where there are three hopeful al-fresco tables laid out) by the sound of the cheeper’s jolly melody making.
I’ll just feed its tweets into Google Interspecies Translate. “Oy yous, get oot of my gerden, pi** off”.
Yep, it’s like gangsta rap lyrics set to Brahms, so swiftly remove yourself from those feathered potty beaks and go inside, where you’ll find a long bar area as well as a separate dining room with pure white stucco walls featuring naughty cupids gorging on grapes. Built in the 18th century, this building was once a warehouse, where they sold Bordeaux imported from France. The focus is still very much on wine, with matched suggestions for every course and wine flights.
Owned by actor, writer and director Zak Hanif and his partner Aiste Plechaviciute, their menu was designed by head chef, Atilla Horvath, and food consultant Anna Hamilton of Alright Treacle. We went for aperitifs of Prosecco Cantina Bernardi (£5.50) with our starters of wood pigeon breast (£7) and ravioli of crab (£7.50). I felt a bit guilty about my game option, as there’s currently a rotund wood pigeon, Ted, who sits on my bird feeder at home, like a hen on its nest, and eats everything we put out. Branches sag when he sits on them.
Anyway, although the demure portion size of this course would upset greedy Ted more than the fact that we might be eating his cousin, the meat was rosy and soft. It was served on a pile of choucroute that was flecked with orange zest, and a splodge of oddly ivory coloured “carrot and apple purée”. The billed blackberries had been replaced by three blueberries, which were slightly superfluous to requirements.
Our pasta option consisted of three pillowy parcels of mashed crab (complete with three shards of shell) in an electrifyingly strong lemony butter. We’re not sure where the “charred spring onion” had run off to, but the chopped chives worked well enough.
Good so far, but the main of slow cooked pork belly (£14) was dreamy. There were two huge bricks of beautifully cooked juice-saturated meat, a golden comma of puffed crackling, plenty of perfectly seasonal purple sprouting broccoli, cubes of saliva-promoting pickled apple and a large scoop of the sort of mash that would make the Smash robots commit harakiri. An ugly smear of crushed hazelnuts on the side of the plate was kind of pointless, but everything else made me very happy indeed.
The pork belly was dreamy – two huge bricks of beautifully cooked, juice-saturated meat
My pan fried salmon (£15) was a fusion affair, with a fillet of garlicky and five spice-dusted fish on a bulb of wet pak choi, butter-coloured couscous dotted with raisins and flaked almonds, and a moat of bright yellow and creamy saffron sauce (which also had a curry-ish note). Shouldn’t have worked. Did.
By the time our puddings arrived, it had gotten dusky outside and the candlelit room was all atmospheric, with light dancing off the gilded mirrors. Sadly, the concept behind the passionfruit parfait (£6.50) wasn’t that cohesive. It’s rather odd to have something fruity, cold and creamy teamed with equally icy mango sorbet, though there were also crisp struts of almond tuile, and chocolatey biscuit bits too.
My dessert – dark chocolate fondant (£7) – had a perfectly runny middle, but was more sugary than cocoa rich, while its accompaniment of “honeycomb ice-cream” tasted like regular vanilla – I’d expected it to be laced with nuggets of cinder toffee. Despite this, I’m a big fan of Anfora, even if the resident blackbird, on its way to bed, did sing, “Get out, and don’t come back until next mating season, ya bams,” as we tripped across the courtyard. Just try and stop me, cheeky beak.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks