Our niece has just entered her twenties and we wanted to go out to celebrate. But where to take a young person for dinner? Brandon’s of Canonmills was previously the Cross and Corner, but it’s recently been refurbished and is now a hipster gastropub with exposed brickwork and herbariums lining the walls. The menu promises “humble, honest and authentic” food.
"A quick taste of the blue cheese sauce knocked my embattled tastebuds into submission. There was nothing subtle about this bruiser of a dish"
There are actually two menus – one for the bar, which is more of a grazing (read “packing”) style and the dining room menu – which is where we were.
The menu doesn’t have starters and mains as such, but is split into small plates and bigger plates. Initially I thought this no more than an affectation – but our charming waiter explained that they didn’t want their diners to be hidebound in how they ordered – if you wanted two smaller plates, that’d be grand. If you just wanted one of the bigger ones, that too would be fine.
And so we had a look – and my heart sank. The first small plate was white onion, apple cider soup with cheese croutons. It sounded wonderful to me, but immediately put our young companion on alert. We had obviously brought her somewhere that we wanted to eat – not somewhere that she was going to enjoy.
There then followed desperate scanning of the entire menu (which isn’t easy given the fashionable mixture of dimmed lighting and small font size on the menu). But younger eyes than ours had immediately – and delightedly – spotted the bruschetta with wild garlic pesto and Parma ham (£7). Mr Turner had already decided on the squid with fennel and oregano rub and harissa mayo (£6).
When I saw that there was a black pudding scotch egg (£6) on the menu I had a squeal of recognition. So, it’s true what they’re saying in Ambridge – it really is on all the fancy city menus. Lauren pronounced the bruschetta perfect, but I found the wild garlic pesto wildly overpowering.
The squid was in a light tempura batter and was given a wonderful piquancy from the harissa mayo and the black pudding scotch egg was a revelation. Black pudding has become a staple on most restaurant menus nowadays, but is usually served as a slice atop a fancy mash. This is a modern and fresh way of using wonderful ingredients. A soft quail’s egg was at the centre with the fat of the black pudding lending itself to the crispiness of the shell.
It was a real treat that made Mr Turner think twice about listening to The Archers if this was the kind of thing they were coming up with.
Our bigger plates were, indeed, bigger. Lauren and I had severe doubts about being able to finish them. She had plumped for the sirloin steak with blue cheese hollandaise and pickled red cabbage (£18). A perfectly cooked piece of sirloin – she had requested medium rare – was smothered in a Roquefort hollandaise and a healthy helping of cabbage.
Lauren proclaimed the steak and the sauce wonderful – but there was no way she was touching “the red stuff”. I, however, haven’t met a pickled vegetable that I didn’t like, so I helped myself to a generous portion. Boy, that was pickled. It hit me right in the back of my mouth and made my ears tingle.
A quick taste of the blue cheese sauce knocked my embattled tastebuds into submission. There was nothing subtle about this bruiser of a dish. Mr Turner opted for duck leg with pancetta, parsnips and chard. The skin of the duck was crispy while the flesh retained its moisture and fell off the bone.
My cod with a sumac and lemon crumb served on goat’s mash (£15) was another huge slab of food. The sumac topping echoed the north African notes of the earlier harissa mayo and provided a crispy, peppery punch to the solid piece of slightly overcooked cod. The goat’s mash was a disappointment. Goat’s cheese and mashed potato – what’s not to like? But this was dry and a little lumpy.
Lauren’s eyes lit up at the sticky toffee pudding with ice cream (£5), although my waistband strained at the thought of a heavy pudding. I thought that the Come Dine With Me staple lemon posset with raspberries and granola (£6) sounded a much lighter finish to the meal.
Lauren’s pudding turned out to be a light and gently flavoured ginger sponge with a soft caramel sauce and a delicate vanilla ice cream and my posset had the perfect balance of tartness from the lemon softened by the sugar and cream – with the granola adding a welcome crunch to the unguent dish.
It’s a confusing menu – some dishes have a real lightness of touch and inventiveness with ingredients, while others seem determined to rock you back on your heels and leave your tastebuds battered for days afterwards. Luckily we escaped with only one or two bruises – but we wear them with pride.
Brandon’s of Canonmills
1 Canonmills, Edinburgh
Tel: 0131-558 7080