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Pumpkin Brown, Edinburgh, restaurant review

There's a lot of potential in health café Pumpkin Brown but the menu needs a little more punch, finds Gaby Soutar

Published: July 18, 2016

"Good thoughts will shine out of your face like sunbeams.”

When I was little, Roald Dahl’s The Twits was my bible.

I half believed its adage that the couple in the book looked so gnarly because they were negative and miserable. If I thought happy thoughts, I could be good-looking.

I’m reminded of this when it comes to the current well-being trend (see Instagram and every new cookbook that lands on my desk, thrice weekly).

The person specification of a wellness writer/blogger is as follows: twenty-something and stunning.

Good and aspirational, apart from the subliminal message: you’re ugly and old because you’re not eating the right things.

I’m sensible enough to know that my looks are down to nothing but bad genes.

Nothing can save me, not even the grub at this new organic, vegan, gluten free cafe (owned by a suitably young and gorgeous person), which caters for all kinds of food allergies. It’s stapled onto the side of Dancebase, so is perfect for temple-like bodies.

With just space for a couple of indoor tables, this place is mainly takeaway, with just one daily cooked option. On our visit, there was a pot of veggie lentil bolognese (£5.95) on the hob. While we waited for the rice to cook – “it’ll be 15 minutes” said the Drew Barrymore-look-a-likey waitress – we tried a couple of their ready made salad bowls – the Jamaican jerk cauliflower salad (£4.50) and the Mexican Buddha bowl (£4.95).

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Both worthy, but a bit boring. There were shredded greens in the jerk salad, as well as vaguely spiced florets of veg, chopped spring onion, raisins and quinoa. We think the Jamaican jerk bit must have been in the creamy dressing, which was pleasant enough, but not particularly spicy.

We prefered the Buddha bowl – according to the online Urban Dictionary, this is “a bowl that is packed so full it has a rounded ‘belly’ appearance on the top much like the belly of a Buddha – mainly thanks to the lush blob of cashew cream on top. This ensemble also featured naked chickpeas, red peppers, quinoa and a sweet potato pulp, with a wedge of lime on top.

Their smoothies (£3.50) are probably very good for you, by virtue of being almost devoid of sugar. The amber version had orange, carrot and ginger in it, the green featured spinach and apple, and we tried a berry recipe too. I imagine that a splash of coconut water might have made these concoctions slightly more palatable. They seemed to have just used plain old tap to dilute the mix, which made for a bland proposition.

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Still, we all enjoyed the massively generous portion of veggie bolognese when it arrived, as it was hearty with lentils and brown rice, with lots of tomatoey sweetness.

This is what we’d re-order if we came back. That and the turmeric latte (£3), which was comfortingly nutty and sweet with coconut milk.

Cakes looked rather lovely, but their lack of flavour sapped the soul.

There was a rather unpleasant cheesy tang to the passion fruit pudding (£3.25) in a pot, though the oaty bottom wasn’t bad. We had liked the concept of the peanut butter and jelly chia pudding pot (£3.50) and the peanut butter topping was good, but the other ingredients, including the engorged chia, didn’t taste of much.

I’m not sure I can remember much about the blueberry and lemon slice (£3.95), with its pretty marbled topping either, except that it wasn’t very lemony or sweet.

I wouldn’t say any of these cakes could really fall into the dictionary definition of “an item of soft sweet food”.

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Still, I’d eaten healthily, and I’m sure there is potential in this little cafe, especially for those who have intolerances. However, perhaps they’ve gone a bit too far down the ascetic route, and are catering to those well practised in self denial, rather than the average punter.

At least, thanks to eating all that guilt-free grub and thinking relatively happy thoughts, I look a little bit less like a Twit (though some might disagree).

How much?

Lunch for three, excluding drinks, £26.10

Pumpkin Brown
16 Grassmarket, Edinburgh
(0131 629 1720,

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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