Oh, hel-lo. It’s always odd when you bump into a colleague late at night on a weekend. You usually see them in the daytime, when they’re in their civvies and sitting, slack-jawed, drooling and pale, at their desk. Then you spot them late at night, gussied up to go out on the town, and feel amazed by how an everyday boiled potato can be so transformed into a dauphinoise.
That’s how I felt on my visit to The Pantry. As it’s not far from the office, I often use it to meet pals on my lunch hour there. It’s a coffee, brunch and cake kind of place – child-friendly too, with a kiddie prison (I mean, playpen). Recently, though, along with a bit of a makeover, they’ve launched an evening menu Thursday to Saturday.
Visiting it when it’s looking all bistro-like, with music on, candles in teacups and pink tulips in vases, made me view it slightly differently. If only I’d remembered to BYOB.
The menu is a mixture of the daytime casual dishes – burgers and their ilk – that The Pantry does so well, but also fancier stuff.
As a starter, or smaller main, there are around nine Wee Dishes (£4 each), from sweetbreads with beef jus, to salt and pepper squid with aioli. They recommend two per person. As they all sounded magnificent, it was hard to narrow it down, like choosing which friend to join you on a life-raft.
I went for the Uist crab and Welch smoked salmon rillettes, which featured a trio of papaya-sized quenelles of herb and caper speckled aerated creaminess. It came with three small triangles of rye bread, but there weren’t nearly enough bricks for the cement. We took away the leftover spread for sarnies.
Our goat’s cheese option was an equally massive helping, with a whole baked crottin of milky fromage, which was plastered with marmalade and freckled by sesame seeds.
My dining partner’s dish of truffled spelt risotto was dreamy too. It looked grey and miserable in the half light, yet tasted luxuriously cheesy and feral, though the spelt gave it a comforting edge, like a baby’s blankie. Again, tons of it. We also liked the four large meaty pieces of prawn scampi, each thickly encased in beer (William Bros Birds & Bees) batter, which were served in a smoky chilli-spiked sauce.
All four dishes were fab. Another two and we would’ve been replete. So, it started to go a bit woman vs food when it came to my main of fish tacos (£12.50). Served on a chopping board, there were two 7in toasted tortillas, topped with breadcrumbed pollock, re-fried beans, avocado slices, rocket, red chilli, sour cream and a kiwi salsa on the side. This was fresh and clean tasting. I ate one (two would’ve been a feat). My other half helped me out, as he had gone for a more standard sized option.
His putty soft pan-seared calves’ liver (£15) came with a dollop of rough pea purée (we couldn’t really taste the billed horseradish), rosemary jus, and some Lego blocks of garlicky roast potatoes. The only downer was the cubed pancetta, which was so calcine hard it could’ve replaced diamonds to cut other diamonds.
For pudding, there was salted caramel brownie with ice-cream (£6.50) – but also a choice of the two teatime cakes under glass cloches up on the counter. We went for a slab of Earl Grey and lemon sponge (£2.90), which was fragrant with bergamot and heavily iced with sugary joy. We’re not sure why the brownie was so much more expensive than the cake, but it was pleasant enough – gooey inside – though we couldn’t identify the salted caramel element.
Fine, though eating here was anti-climactic, as anything after the fabulous Wee Things was a disappointment. Next time, I’m going to have six of those, and nothing else (well, maybe that cake too).
Dinner for two, excluding drinks - £52.90
1 North West Circus Place,
(0131-629 0206, www.thepantryedinburgh.co.uk)