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Basil's, Edinburgh, restaurant review

The retro food at Basil's isn't brutal, but it is quite basic, says Gaby Soutar

Published: October 3, 2019

None of your “Don’t mention the war” or “Boom, boom”.

The name of this restaurant has a more highbrow namesake than Fawlty or Brush, though it’s hard not to say its name in a Sybil fashion.

Even if you’re unaware of mid-century Brutalist architects, you’ll probably have been inside some of Sir Basil Spence’s buildings.

You might not have liked them if you’re a fan of Doric columns, porticades or cartouches. As a closet romantic, I find them a bit cold, like glaciers crossed with Daleks.

There’s John Lewis, Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh University Library, bits of the Western General Hospital, Brown’s Close and streets in Newhaven, where this new neighbourhood bar and restaurant is situated, including Laverockbank Avenue and Great Michael Rise.

To fit the mid century theme of this place, formerly The Annfield pub and now owned by the team behind Glasgow restaurants Ardnamurchan and Cafe Antipasti, they’ve gone for Sixties decor touches, like the test card mosaic that frames the kitchen pass, and a retro menu.

They’ve stopped short of Spam, but there was a Coronation chicken salad, which we tried as part of the Market Menu (£12.50 for two courses, or our choice of £16.50 for three). This wasn’t bad, with shredded chicken, a pale yellow curried mayo and a pangolin’s scales worth of flaked almonds, all on top of a couple of leaves of bouncy lettuce.

They hadn’t gone with the raisin ingredient, probably because that’s too contentious. Anyway, it did seem odd eating this dish on its own, sans sanger, like having a starter of egg mayonnaise.

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Their cauliflower fritters (£5) were a bit more modish, with small florets in a puffy light batter cladding and an opaque hot chilli dip on the side. Our crab on toast (£6.50) was the most neglected starter.

The pink meat was rather pulpy, and my first bite yielded a shard of shell. Still, it came with a nice thick slab of olive oil-drizzled toast and some wet watercress salad.

The only dud in the main line up was the Brutalist burger (£14) – a municipal car park of a course that featured skinny fries and a bun with a char-topped roof. There was a rather overdone and spongily textured thick patty wrapped in bacon and stuffed with black pudding and orange cheese.

On top of this was a salty slurry of ragu-ish “dirty sauce”, which may or may not have contained chorizo. It was sloppy, like someone had left a cake out in the rain.

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Our second Market Menu course of chicken cordon bleu went down slightly better, with a breadcrumbed and hedgehog-sized bolster of cheese and ham stuffed poultry. It came with a handful of buttery capers, green beans and a dollop of buttery mash, for a hearty meat-and-two-veg week night tea kind of vibe.

We also tried the confit duck leg (£14), which had nicely burnished skin. The accompanying dauphinoise was garlicky enough, but a bit watery and the blob of boiled spinach didn’t seem quite fancy enough. This dish was doused in old fashioned gravy, none of your fancy jus.

It’s been a while since I had vintage dishes like this in a restaurant. I’m not sure if there’s demand.

We shared all three puddings, including a rhubarb trifle (£6), served in a sundae glass to show off the squelchy strata.

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It was 30 per cent cream, as fluffy as Spence’s ‘tache, the same amount of fruity pink jelly, 20 per cent thick custard, 3 per cent flaked almonds, 5 per cent stiff sponge and 12 per cent pure nostalgia, even without the sherry.

Their sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice-cream, from the Market Menu, was in the lower middle of the STP league table, and the dense chocolate tart with tablet crumb (£6) was decent, though the fake tan coloured caramel crème fraîche was an unnecessary invention.

This is a nice enough place, and a good addition to the neighbourhood, though not worth travelling across town for. Still, like all architectural plans, the foundations are there. Just don’t expect any fancy flourishes, it’s Brutalism.

Basil's Edinburgh

9-11 Annfield Road, Newhaven, Edinburgh

(0131-551 5430,

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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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