Pubs in Leith have a certain reputation. They have been, in the past, the kind of place where were you to ask for a menu, you’d be shown the door.
If you inquired what the food options were, you’d be told take it or leave it. It’s not that good food was hard to find past the city boundary, it’s just that you wouldn’t expect to find it in a hostelry.
"Wee word of warning – either arm yourself with more napkins than you might feel is necessary, or pick up some extra Vanish on the way home"
Leith is quite a different proposition for those looking to dine out nowadays. I don’t know that I’ll go as far as one of my colleagues, who compares Leith Walk to La Rambla of Barcelona, but it’s certainly moving in the right direction.
Take The Mash Tun. Once known primarily as a last/first stop for football fans exiting Hibernian’s Easter Road ground, it now has a reputation as a purveyor of craft beers and hearty food. And with a kitchen that counts Spanish, Portuguese and Polish chefs among the team helmed by a Scot, it must surely be reaching higher than the microwave lasagne school of pub grub.
We decided to share a starter of Parmesan polenta bites (£3.95), even though I am wary of most menu dishes that have polenta in them – all too often a menu overestimates both its kitchen’s capabilities and its diners’ willingness to eat a dish that resembles wallpaper paste.
Something which can be simplicity itself to cook can frequently turn out to be dreadful. However, when this dish was popped down in front of us, we were very happy. Six fat fingers of crispy crusted polenta arrived with a lovely little salad (even if it was covered in squirty balsamic dressing).
Each piece was incredibly crisp – partially due to the fact that they had come straight from the deep fat fryer, as opposed to being shallow fried in olive oil and butter as they would traditionally do in the north of Italy. But the Parmesan crust had great additional seasoning from black pepper as well as rosemary and thyme.
Burgers are what The Mash Tun says that it does best: handmade with locally sourced Scottish beef and served on a brioche bun. If you’re going to make that kind of claim, you’d better hope that your burger lives up to the billing. Which it did – and didn’t. The burger itself (£10.95) is enormous featuring a 6oz steak mince patty with bacon, gherkins, tomato, bbq sauce and goat’s cheese.
Wee word of warning – either arm yourself with more napkins than you might feel is necessary, or pick up some extra Vanish on the way home. This burger is possibly misnamed as The Mash Tun, and should perhaps look at adopting Curate’s Egg in future.
The bun and bbq sauce were both far too sweet for my taste. The goat’s cheese was one fat slab that did its best to escape to my lap the second any attempt at biting into the burger was made, and the bacon was flabby and of infinitely inferior quality to the beef patty, which was wonderful. The burger came with fries (straight from freezer to fryer – but none the worse for that) and what I took to be a piquant beetroot dressing – but turned out to be red cabbage smothered in unguent, tasteless mayonnaise.
Mr Turner went for the 7oz flat iron steak (£12.95) with tomato, mushroom and fries along with a choice of peppercorn sauce, chilli jam or garlic butter. Mr Turner was thinking healthy thoughts and also ordered a small side salad to share.
The steak was fabulous – another great testament to whoever their butcher is. The tomato was, unusually, properly cooked and had flavour, as opposed to the ball of watery lava that most cooked tomatoes end up being.
The mushrooms, however, were slimy and tasteless, and the peppercorn sauce merited a one-word description – gloop. The salad was a nice balance of baby tomatoes and mixed leaves that again, unfortunately, had been attacked with the squirty balsamic dressing.
Blessed with friendly staff, a nice wine list and a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks, it’s a great pub to head to.
And if you want to eat while you’re there, this menu definitely comes up to snuff. As to whether it’s somewhere that you would head to in order to eat, the jury’s still out on that one.
The Mash Tun
154 Easter Road
Edinburgh EH7 5RL
Tel: 0131-661 3896, www.mashtunedinburgh.co.uk