I recently saw a heron flying above the Union Canal. It was cruising towards a black cat on the bank, who completely freaked out, with all its fur standing on end.
It thought all its nine lives had ended at once.
This was surely a premonition that Leith restaurant Heron, which opened in 2021 and is truly wonderful, would win a Michelin Star.
It did, at the end of March, and made its owners, Sam Yorke, 25, and Tomas Gormley, 28, the youngest chefs in Scotland to bag this award. They’ve knocked the former winner of this precocious accolade, Tom Kitchin, off his perch.
I’m sure that they’re booked up at their original venue. For those who can’t get a table, there’s now their second project, Skua, which has opened on my favourite Stockbridge thoroughfare, St Stephen Street.
The duo have done things back-to-front, in that they started with their fine-dining restaurant, and now they’ve opened something casual, which serves until 11.30pm.
To continue the bird theme, it’s taken over the premises of Blue Parrot Cantina.
Now, the decor is entirely black. The dining room is lit by candles. It was so shadowy that the other patrons resembled the subjects of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters. Prepare to navigate with clicks. It’s the complete opposite of Heron, which is as bright as an art school studio. Also, the cludgie is outside. They have Aesop hand soap though, so that’s forgiven.
To get the menu you scan the QR code. There’s a drinks list, which was created by Heron bar manager Seoridh Fraser and includes bold-sounding cocktails that read like witches’ brews.
We tried Any Other Name (£10) with cognac, Antica Formula, gewurztraminer, Violette, rhubarb and chocolate. I’d imagined that it might be sweet, but this was smoky, with a negroni-sized ice-cube. If I’d had more than one, I might have forgotten my name.
Their green and frothy Remote Part (£10) had an intriguingly medicinal tang, which reminded me of getting my ears pierced. It’s a combination of Absentroux Vermouth, Smokey Monkey Whisky, lemon and soda. These two are grown up drinks, the opposite of alcopops.
The food menu consists of small plates, with just two bigger ones, and they come as ready.
We were always pleased to see something landing, not only for the food, but also because Fraser, who’s a fun raconteur, was working the tables.
First up was the small bowlful of sweetcorn chowder (£6), which was dense enough to eat with a fork and had the smoky rich hits of mole and chipotle. On top were bubble surfaced prawn cracker-type creations that were dotted with savoury green blobs.
We shone our torch into the bottom of another bowl and found our portion of pork larb (£7). There was crispy wild rice, minced meat, fish sauce, lime and chopped baby gem, for a refreshing and comforting Thai tonic.
For the next course, we were off to Japan with a pork belly sando (£10), with meaty chunks, kimchi and sweet chilli sauce in two crust-less white sarnies. This is really good grub to accompany booze. We were in the happy zone. Our taste buds started popping and locking like Eighties B Boys.
The trout pastrami (£6) had a different vibe. While the other plates had been punchy, this was fresh, with layered fish on rye bread and ultra creamy dots of taramasalata that were dusted by furikake.
The final plate was a bucket’s worth of fried chicken (£10) and it was compulsive eating. Each boneless piece was coated in a buttermilk-y salty batter that, in candlelight, resembled a topographic map, with rivulets of hot, jammy and syrupy fermented peach in the cracks.
There’s just one dessert – sticky toffee, stem ginger, miso (£3).
We went for one to share, though Fraser offered us an extra for free, since they were making a new batch of the miso caramel. We turned him down, as we’re watching our muffin tops, but another Brownie point to him.
It arrived in under ten minutes, and was a few blissful bites. The sponge was malty, and topped with minuscule bits of stem ginger which made me feel strangely nostalgic for something that I can’t identify. I scraped the tarry caramel off the inside of the bowl so it wouldn’t be wasted.
What a special place. It’s the yang to the Heron yin.
I have a premonition that it’s going to do as well as its avian sister.
49 St Stephen Street