Scotsman Review
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November 6, 2021

Luckenbooths opens on Edinburgh's High Street, restaurant review - is the food as legendary as the location?

We try this new restaurant opposite St Giles' Cathedral

I’m not particularly superstitious.

I don’t wear lucky pants to most restaurant reviews, and I haven’t got a rabbit’s foot to ward off the curse of bad food and wobbly tables.

I never bother chucking salt over my shoulder and I only spit on the Heart of Midlothian when I’m tipsy, it’s non-Covid times and there’s nobody to catch me.

However, I’m still in the market for a luckenbooth brooch.

These heart-shaped charms were usually presented to your paramour, and Mary Queen of Scots was said to have given one to Lord Darnley.

They were also used to help children ward off the evil eye from pesky women. I mean, witches.

In my case, I would like one to ensure a decent feed, sparkling service and a teeny bill.

Along with toys and other trinkets, they were sold at the lockable stalls, luckenbooths, that were situated by St Giles Cathedral from the 15th until the beginning of the 19th century.

This new restaurant, part of the Cheval Old Town Chambers, has named itself after them. It is not, as my husband kept saying, in a French & Saunders do Jackie Collins style, called Lucky Boots. It’s operated by The Bon Vivant Group, which also has El Cartel, Lady Libertine, The Devil’s Advocate and other popular venues in the capital.

You enter through what doubles as the hotel reception, which always gives me a Pavlovian ‘at last, we’ve arrived ’ feeling, even though we’re not residents.

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The ground floor restaurant seats 140, across two levels, with textured glass screens to partition the space. It’s very neutral, hotel chic and tasteful, and there’s a large covered terrace area outside.

They’re big on brunch, but we tried the all-day dining menu, which is served from noon until 10pm.

It included a pre-starter of bright pink feta and beetroot dip, as well as hunks of focaccia-ish toast.

The battle is on, when it comes to the haggis bon-bon starter.

These are a prerequisite at many restaurants on the Royal Mile, presumably so tourists can tick a non-threatening sized portion of this foodstuff off their bucket list. Luckenbooths do breaded Campbell’s Haggis and beef shin versions (£8). They were supposed to be served with pickled radish, but we got a non-pickled version of this veg, which was a shame. However, at least the peppercorn and rosemary mayo provided enough sweetness and tang to lift the set of three burly bollards.

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We also tried the ham hock, confit chicken and herb terrine (£8), which was a long bank of cool and chunky protein, capers and parsley, all topped by a handful of white puffed pork crackling bits that looked like popcorn, packing foam or Sugar Puffs. There was also a smudge of beetroot puree. I was happy so far, and feeling lucky enough.

As well as a Grill section, the main courses also include Bowls, so I went for the crispy duck (£16) number. Strangely, it didn’t come in a bowl, but on a plate.

Still, I’m a crockery enthusiast, who appreciated the mosaic-patterned dish. Bowls should be reserved for pudding, nibbles, pot pourri and soup anyway.

This was a warm nest of nibbly and texturally interesting bits. There was a thatch of pleasingly feathery crispy duck, as well as beansprouts, pak choi, spring onion, charred plums, watermelon cubes, pomegranate seeds and a bit of plum and hoisin sauce.

The Duroc pork dish (£16) was a heartier and more formal assemblage, with a slab of pork belly, salt baked celeriac, an apple-y jus, and a striped tower of Stornoway black pudding and potato terrine, a few candied pecans and crispy sage leaves.

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We also enjoyed their cranachan take on a Tunnocks (£6) – a dark chocolate dome filled with marshmallow and a heart of raspberry and whisky jam, along with some vanilla creme fraiche and an oaty crumble on the side. The plum mess (£6) wasn’t the usual tombola. It was served in a deconstructed style – on a plate, with shards of rather powdery and soapy tasting meringue, which I found strangely addictive, as well as blobs of clotted cream, and plum and grapefruit pieces that were frosted with a subtle grapefruit sherbet.

This place is decent, especially since their location and hours means that they have a lot of people to please - tourists, hotel guests, passers-by and locals.

I think most folk will feel pretty lucky to have eaten here.

Luckenbooths

329 High Street

Edinburgh

(0131 230 0410, www.luckenboothsedinburgh.co.uk)

Places to try Nearby

Ondine, 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh (0131 226 1888, www.ondinerestaurant.co.uk)

This seafood restaurant and oyster bar is just a haggis bon-bons throw from Luckenbooths. Their house specials include the Fruits of the Sea over crushed ice for two.

Wedgwood, 267 Canongate, Edinburgh (0131 558 8737, www.wedgwoodtherestaurant.co.uk)

This place is nearly 14 years old, and, after all these years, is still consistently good. Its autumn a la carte includes dishes such as cured haunch of roe deer, elderberry, broccoli, crisp potato and buttermilk.

Cannonball Restaurant & Bar, 356 Castlehill, Edinburgh (0131 225 1550, www.contini.com)

Seven-year-old Cannonball is the youngest of the Contini empire, which also includes The Scottish Gallery & Restaurant. They win in the haggis bon-bon fight, with a version that features pickled turnip and Glengoyne cream.

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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