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Henderson's Bistro, Edinburgh, restaurant review

Henderson's Bistro is a worthy and much-needed expansion to Edinburgh's vegan restaurant scene, writes Gaby Soutar

Published: September 12, 2015

Food real nice. I like nice food.

It’s so hard to write a restaurant review when you’ve got limited words. I always imagine that chefs have a similar challenge when it comes to cooking vegan style. Subtract meat, eggs and dairy – elements that add easy flavour and texture – and you have to be more ingenious when it comes to creating something palatable and satisfying.

If anyone can do it, it’s Henderson’s. With 53 years under their pleather belts, they’ve recently re-launched their small vegetarian bistro as a vegan restaurant. Although Glasgow has its fair share when it comes to both genres, apart from David Bann, there’s nothing much in Edinburgh for herbivores, let alone those who eschew all animal-derived products. And there is obviously a market, as this place was as packed as a tin of baked beans on a Saturday lunchtime.

Starters are casual, with a choice of nibbles, nachos or salads. We went for a nibble – the sharing plate (£6.70) – featuring six puffy slices of flour dusted sourdough, a large jumble of decent black and green olives, one pot of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and the pièce de résistance – a coarse and herbal coriander, lemongrass and coconut hummus.

I’d like to crown Henderson’s the queen of hummus. They make the supermarket stuff seem more suited to grouting (if you don’t mind a garlicky stench while you’re showering).

Our wakame and edamame salad (£6.10) had the acronym ngci beside it, which, apparently, stands for no gluten containing ingredients. It boasted an iodine hit that was like mainlining TCP, with a shredded nest of sesame seed topped wakame, edamame beans, grated carrot and cucumber, chilli flakes, poppyseeds, and wilted bean sprouts in a gingery and salty takami (a gluten free version of soy sauce) dressing. Loved it.

The raspberry and almond version (£5.10 for small, £8.70 for large, ngci) was much less exciting, but sprightly enough, with a pile of rocket, a handful of raspberries and loads of flaked almonds in a balsamic dressing.

Of our three huge main courses, the cashew fritters (£9.10) looked the least appetising – like a craft project gone horribly wrong.
There were two firm and fragrant cardboard-coloured patties which, according to the menu, contained spiced cashew, smoked tofu, lemongrass and coconut, all slopped with a pint of poster-paint-bright satay sauce. There was also a high-rise of basmati rice, as well as a couple of raw bok choy leaves, cucumber and sliced radish salad. Ugly, but good – savoury, nutty and sweet in all the right places.

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The separate components of my orange and chilli nacho crumble tofu (£9.40, ngci) – a crumb and seed-coated slab of pebbledashed protein, a pile of quinoa, chopped courgette and lime salad, and a pearl coloured and chilli studded fruity compote (which may have been made of stewed pears) – were kind of blah individually. However, put all these elements together and it popped. Maybe that’s how vegans roll.

Our sturdy chickpea pancake with lentil and apricot (£9.10, ngci) featured a thick folded crêpe that resembled a sock puppet with its mouth stuffed full of broccoli, yellow lentil and dried apricot pâté, as well as grated vegan mozzarella. For moisture, there was a zigzag of sriracha sauce and a pot of chunky apricot chutney. It felt really naughty, yet probably included our five a day as well as more fibre than a bumper box of All Bran.

Puddings were a bit ho-hum. Lime cashew cheesecake (£4.75, ngci) sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. It had a saline-ish taste, with a sloppy coconut topping and a damp gritty base. Surely sugar, or at least agave syrup, is permitted in vegan land. Something was missing.

The cherry pie (£4.25) was better, with its jammy maroon filling and convincing shortcrust pastry.

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Despite a couple of meat free duds, kudos to the chef, who is obviously a very ingenious person. This is the first time in ages I’ve eaten a meal that hasn’t featured animal protein, been doused in melted butter or clarted in cream, and, apart from the sweet stuff, I didn’t feel hard done by.

Food real nice.

Lunch for three, excluding drinks

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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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