It may be a school night, but when there’s sunshine on Leith what’s a girl to do but get out of the house in search of some convivial company and good food?
Step through the door of Nobles and you emerge into a happy cocoon of chatter, where a portrait of a smiling Bill Murray sets the tone.
Nobles opened its doors in 1896 and it’s a feast for the eyes. At our table Mr Finch is framed by an oil painting of galleons doing battle at sea, photos of Frank Zappa and Picasso and a stained glass panel overhead.
The character of the original space is alive and well, embracing its nautical heart and bringing it bang up to date.
Having taken a good few minutes to digest the surroundings, it’s on to the menu. Our waiter brings a carafe of water with ice and lemon and rolls off the soup and day’s specials without any prompting.
Without wanting to sound like Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, it’s a joy to find a restaurant where the staff know what they’re doing.
We start proceedings with drinks – a smooth and elegant Waipara Hills Pinot Noir (£6.90, 175ml) for the lady and a citrusy pint of pale ale (£4.40) for sir from Dalkeith-based Cross Borders Brewing Company.
The menu is compact but filled with tempting dishes and, having ordered, we get a nice surprise in the form of some crusty poppy-seed bread and oil to keep us going.
As the starters arrive a hush descends on the table. Mr Finch and I haven’t had much luck in recent months on our tour of eateries. Could this be the moment our fortunes improve?
The dishes look pretty as a picture and taste just as good. My roasted cauliflower (£5.50) is perfectly balanced – the bitter, toasted brassica smoothed out with a satay-like almond purée and complemented by a light, herby salad of quinoa with pomegranate vinaigrette.
Across the table, there is an air of contentment. Despite my having begged Mr F not to order pork belly due to it never meeting his standards, he goes ahead and opts for the pork belly & squid (£7.50).
All praise to the chef for putting a smile on his face. This pork belly with sesame glaze is declared to have just the right mix of crispness melting into softness and the fresh squid is cooked to perfection. A gingery apple slaw completes the happy picture and a proclamation is made: “It’s good. Very good.”
We’re both feeling a bit emotional at the thought we might have found somewhere that could become a regular haunt. Then Mr F’s main course is put in front of him.
The food looks appetising but it’s been served on a piece of wood rather than a plate, a pet hate, although not as bad as putting it on a bit of slate. Still, he tucks into the Eyemouth crab claw (£13.50) with gusto.
It comes with Thai crab cakes, béarnaise and a soy dipping sauce and fries, all of which are declared fresh, tasty and perfectly cooked, but from the sideways glances he’s giving the people at the next table, both of whom have epic platefuls of fish and chips, I can tell there’s some food envy going on. The crab claws are declared a success but the feeling is that they would work better as a starter.
On my side of the table there are no regrets. The veggie haggis & beetroot burger (£11) comes in a brioche bun and the smoked garlic aioli has been kept away as per my request due to a mayonnaise phobia.
I was expecting the “chilli jam” to be a splodge of sweet chilli sauce as it usually is everywhere, but instead it’s a home-made tangy concoction that adds a punch.
The burger is bread-crumbed with a satisfying bright pink middle thanks to the beetroot, which really complements the veggie haggis.
The salad of lamb’s lettuce, cucumber and radish is lightly dressed and the chunky chips are a marvel.
I’d describe them as wedges – skin still on, laced with salt and rosemary and cooked to golden and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.
Put these inside two slices of buttered white bread and you’d have my perfect last meal.
It’s not long before Mr Finch is making incursions in them.
We’re full to the gunwales, but manage to fit in the petit fours (£5).
Three are chocolates – one has layers of white, milk and dark chocolate and another has a rich raspberry filling.
My favourite is the white chocolate and fresh walnut, then the wild card in the pack is a little crystallised jelly which tastes like a mango colliding spectacularly with a cola cube.
It is a sweet and memorable end to a sweet and memorable meal.
Words: Louisa Finch
44a Constitution Street,
Tel: 0131 629 7215