I’m so glad my flat-sharing days are over.
One housemate was sick in the bath. Another lectured me for leaving a fingerprint on his fridge, and there was an Aussie who liked drunken cooking, always using loads of chilli flakes, after midnight.
I’m sure chef Stuart Ralston didn’t ever wake up coughing, with eyes watering, or discover passive aggressive messages like, “I lick my cheese”, written on Post-It notes.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t have named his new restaurant, Noto, in tribute to a former New York flatmate and late pal, photographer Bob Noto.
This place is Ralston’s second project, since he also owns the well established Aizle, up at the Pleasance, where diners are presented with an ingredients list rather than a menu.
His newest city-centre place is less conceptual, with small and larger à la carte plates served all day Wednesday to Sunday. The website describes it as a “New York-inspired restaurant with a love for Asian cuisine” and they’ve painted over the black walls of this location’s previous resident, Iris, with gallery wall white.
The menu is relatively short and easy to navigate.
We relaxed our minds and let the dishes we truly wanted reveal themselves. North Sea crab (£8) was a shoo-in.
It was perfect as a starter, with a crab’s carapace acting as fondue pot that was full of a fragrant mixture of hot melted butter, soft white meat, chopped chives and dill. On the side were pads of sourdough, to sweep up the liquid seaside sunshine.
This went very well with one of their cocktails – a headily strong negroni (£10), with Campari, Cocchi Rosa and Pickering’s Gin.
Next was Berkswell cheese croquettes (£6) – three Ferrero Rocher-sized bullets obscured by a fleecy thatch of grated cheese and filled with melted nutty fromage and mushrooms.
These could be a new currency. I would be happy to be paid in them. We also loved the cured trout (£12), with cat’s tongues shaped lozenges of fish, each topped with minuscule cubes of green apple, mustard seeds, chives, and doused in a zingy ponzu jus that our waitress had poured over the top.
Despite their indigestible quality I do love Jerusalem artichoke (£10), and this set of three feral tasting discs had been teamed with blobs of pulpy cheddar, crumbled walnuts and shavings of peppery truffle.
These were all smaller dishes, but we’d also gone for two biggies.
The lobster (£16) dish was rather excitingly mad-cap, like a comforting Japanese take on the recent trend for lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.
There was a sort of creamy risotto of koshihikari rice, XO sauce, sun dried tomatoes, chips of roasted garlic, pieces of lobster and crispy onions, and, on the top, a potpourri of feathery katsuobushi flakes, catching the breeze from the restaurant’s open windows so they swayed like an ostrich’s quiff.
Our final savoury dish was fried buttermilk chicken (£14) – thigh meat in a loose parka of batter.
This was served in a bao that wasn’t the usual pure white and folded-over mitt-like creation but bap-shaped, fluffy, golden and dashed with sesame seeds. The inside was plastered in a mushroomy umami mayonnaise and a mildly spicy kimchi.
There are just two sweet things for pudding, so that was easy. Their Scottish raspberry, crème diplomat tart (£8) featured wood sorrel strewn raspberries face down in a fluffy cream, all squeezed into a tiny buttery tart base, like elephants crowding into a Mini Cooper.
Go for that – the lighter option – if you’re nearly stuffed to the rafters.
Otherwise, try to attempt half of their Italian-meringue-topped Michael Cluizel chocolate (£8), which was as thick as emulsion and deeply rich, perhaps because of the miso ingredient in the ganache.
“Defeated?” asked the waitress, before she took away our one failure. Only until next time.
This is the capital’s most exciting restaurant in a while.
I’d say it’s the perfect tribute to an excellent and clearly much loved flatmate, definitely not the sort who’d lick your cheese.