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Harmonium, restaurant review, Edinburgh

The inventive vegan food at Harmonium is much better than a baked potato, says Gaby Soutar

Published: August 24, 2017

Thanks to my deep passion for baked potatoes, I could probably survive as a vegan.

Three tatties a day would be fine (though the breakfast one might not go down so easy).

Perhaps I could get a job in SpuduLike and take advantage of their staff discount? I’d have to forego butter, of course, and any cheese or meat based fillings. Actually, it seems more complicated than I had initially thought. Argh, forget it.

That’s why, for whatever reason they decide to go animal product free, I have respect for those who maintain a vegan way of life. It’s the opposite of mindless munching, and must complicate eating out, though Edinburgh has raised its game in recent years.

We don’t have to just say, “try David Bann” when anyone asks for a recommendation.

The most recent addition to a small coterie, including my precious Baked Potato Shop in Cockburn Street, is this new eatery, on a corner spot previously occupied by hipster bar The Vintage.

It’s the newest creation from the team behind Glasgow’s mega successful vegan-friendly eateries Mono, Stereo and The Flying Duck.

My sister and I took our mum along and thought, as a wheeze, we wouldn’t tell her about the vegan thing. It’s an easy ruse to maintain since, oddly, the menu features quite a few meat references.

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So, apart from saying, “What ARE these again?” when we offered her one of the “oyster mushroom scallops” (£4.95), she enjoyed these fungi, which came with nibs of convincing chorizo, as well as real deal rocket leaves and coriander.

Pretty good and, for a non-vegan, this dish occupied a spot that was better than most mushroom dishes.

When it came to the florets of warming harissa-baked cauliflower (£4.95), there was a nice combination of herbs and spices – za’atar, coriander seed, mint, dill and parsley – in the mix, along with more rocket.

The baby leeks (£4.50) were probably the most forgettable dish, but whole roasted leeks are always pesky, with those horsehair-like fibres that act as oesophageal dental floss.

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They came with a handful of tantalisingly flesh-coloured butter beans, a touch of chilli and, apparently, some dry vermouth, though I wasn’t really getting it.

Onto another dish that aped meat, but to better effect. The breadcrumbed crab cake (£8.50) was a masterpiece of plant matter engineering, made of fibrous jackfruit, so it had the texture of Mr Krabs, but without sacrificing his right to continue walking sideways along the seabed.

Surprisingly satisfying, and we liked its topping of aioli and dill, and the accompaniments of steamed greens, baby potatoes and samphire.

While I ate this, our stooge was happily enjoying what she thought was a special of “chicken katsu curry” (£7.50) – a huge helping, with crumbed and onion-seed-sprinkled tofu, a spicy sweet brown sauce and brown rice. It all slid down the hatch, without a grumble from an octogenarian who usually does meat and one (sometimes none) veg.

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“It was made of tofu,” we said. “What’s tofu?” mum replied, as she scraped the bowl clean.

My wild mushroom rigatoni (£8.50) didn’t look too appealing, with a slightly clotted sauce on top, but the flavours were great, with a punch of truffle oil, a salty and sandy layer of “walnut Parmesan”, spinach and some miso sticky sweet strips of vegetable matter biltong.

For pudding, the sea buckthorn and chocolate cheesecake (£5.50) option, along with a convincing scoop of faux ice-cream (made from who knows what), was a free-from triumph, and they had managed to temper the bitterness of this notoriously astringent fruit so that it actually tasted quite nice.

We also enjoyed the stewed fruit in the rhubarb and peach cobbler (£5.50), but the oaty cobble (you know, the doughy bit on top), was a bit chewy and clumpy.

Did I miss meat and dairy products at Harmonium?

A bit (though one of our party didn’t even notice they were absent).

Still, if I were a vegan, I’d be willing to exchange a few of my thrice daily baked potatoes for a visit here.


60 Henderson Street

Edinburgh (0131-555 3160)

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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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