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Leith Chophouse, Edinburgh, restaurant review

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Published: November 2, 2015

The moon looks huge, though it’s only a waxing crescent, but there are still a lot of oddities on Constitution Street.

I keep my head down and pick up my pace, trying not to acknowledge the flickering shadows and whispering (branches, must be branches) as I pass the South Leith Parish Church graveyard, where the medieval mass graves of women and children were recently discovered.

Either my night vision is failing, or, like a tunnel into a mountain, this street seems to be getting darker the further I go, and there’s somebody very flat-footed gaining on me, while whistling an eerie tune.

"The rib-eye was a cross-hatched beauty that was almost as soft as fillet"

I seek refuge in a black-painted premises – Leith Chophouse – but try to push the wrong side of the door on entering, in a panic. There are beards inside – WEREWOLVES! – nah, just hipsters. And the eerie whistler? That’d be my dining partner, bit late, catching up, as per.

Thankfully, we couldn’t have picked a better place for a nerve soothing feed. The staff are super solicitous, offloading bags and coats and finding us a good seat – a seasonally appropriate pumpkin-coloured banquette. This place is the most recent opening from Mark Fraser and Michael Spink of the Compass Group, which already includes Edinburgh’s Sygn, Monteiths and The WestRoom. As the name of their new venue suggests, they only serve Sweeney Todd style pies. I joke, it’s all about the beef – butchered in house and dry-aged in their special fridge.

It’s not all red-blooded fare though, we went for a starter of lobster bisque (£7.50). It was gorgeous – the essential essence of this sea-creature. Just to make it extra juicy, they’d added a dispersing dollop of caviar, croutons and coils of spiced mayo. My corned beef (£7.50) was a light puffy wad of a sort-of beef parfait, laced with tiny capers and toasted cumin. It came with two struts of Melba toast, loads of pickled red cabbage and a puff of horseradish crème.

For my main, I opted for something non-steaky – the monkfish scampi (£13.50), which came with tartare sauce or curry mayo (I went for both, and they let me). It was pretty marvellous, with a half dozen eyeball-sized gobstoppers of white fish in a russet coloured light batter. The acidic tartare was chunky with chopped gherkins and capers, and the curry sauce was an upmarket take on a chip shop version. Sides are £3.50 each. I couldn’t eat my kimchi ‘slaw, as it was endurance test level hot, but the skinny fries were addictive.

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My other half went for the rib-eye (350g, £21) and it was a cross-hatched beauty that was almost as soft as fillet, yet with more musky flavour. Brown butter hollandaise (or go for bearnaise, peppercorn or bone marrow gravy) provided the moisture; a side of beef dripping chips featured perfect blocks of potato joy, and a pair of beef dripping fried eggs (£3), complete with pan scratchings and frilly edges, were a poetic imagining of how this greasy spoon special should taste.

Perhaps it was the sweet and sour Aalborg Symphony cocktail (£7) that pushed me over the edge, but we’ve never before had to scale down to a single pudding between two.

We shared treacle tart (£5.50), which was probably the only non-disappointing version of this pudding I’ve ever ordered. It was buttery and lemony, with a blob of a silky crème fraîche ice-cream on the top.

Shockingly good food. I’d expected another hipsterish joint with a menu that didn’t eat as well as it read, but there you go. Not a Halloween horror story after all (though his whistling is very annoying).

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Dinner for two, excluding drinks -
£ 68.50

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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