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The Black Grape, Edinburgh, review - we try small plates and cocktails on the Royal Mile

This new place promises ‘good times’

Published: January 28, 2023

The phrase ‘sour grapes’ comes from an Aesop’s fable. It’s about a hungry fox that can't reach the vine.

In the end, poor old Basil gives up and tells himself that the fruit was sour and not worth having in the first place.

As the moral of the story goes, it's easy to disparage what you can’t get. Good for you, foxy. Saying you never wanted something is much easier than getting depressed about the debacle.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that foxes shouldn’t eat grapes. They’re certainly poisonous to dogs, as my friend’s Springer spaniel ate a bunch. Cue very large vet bill. I digress.

This place serves ‘small plates, wine and good times’ and is named after the fruit, as opposed to the Shaun-Ryder-fronted band. It recently opened in the former premises of Mexican cantina, Pancho Villas, which was there for an incredible 30 years. I remember ordering fajitas there as a student, sometime back in the 20th century.

Now, Murray Ainslie from Edinburgh’s Compass Group has moved in, along with his team including Stuart Hunter and Cameron Taylor of Advance Global Recruitment.

They’ve transformed the space. It’s gone from bright colours to greenish-grey and bare brick walls, with a light feature that resembles a suspended toy Scalextric track. There are single candles on tables, and smart pale wood Hans Wegner-ish dining chairs, as well as a bar area.

The warm and chatty staff quickly took our cocktail orders. Foxy opted for Sour Grapes (£8.50), which was a clear mixture, served in a Martini glass, with a sweet blend of Haku vodka, lemon oil and sauternes. It was accessorised by a single frozen grape, lanced with a swizzle stick. Gorgeous, though he wished he’d been using Sensodyne.

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I love that they’ve paid tribute to Pancho Villas with The Pancho’s Margarita (£10). This is a combination of Ocho Blanco, heather honey, bee pollen, which was dusted onto the side of the glass, pineapple, pressed lime and sea salt, for a lighter and fruitier adaptation of the standard tequila cocktail.

After checking out the nicely designed food list, we went for a spread of small plates and a couple of sides. They came two by two, as if our table was the ark.

The side dish of tempura aubergine (£6) was a goodie, with five eggplant insoles, which were crispy, rather than mushy. They came with a romesco sauce that was bionically garlicky for pleasingly humming halitosis. Our kimchi fritter (£8.50) was a lattice of more batter-coated veggie joy, except this one was slightly spicy and had a small blob of bright green spring onion mayo on the side.

Next to arrive was the day boat squid (£12.50), which was a bit of a damp squib. There were three scored sheaths, with an accompaniment of sesame-seed-topped ‘tom yum slaw’. However, it all tasted completely nude and flat. It seemed as if they’d forgotten to dress or season this dish. Weird.

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We washed it all down with our bowlful of standard skinny house fries (£5.50).

The game was back on when it came to the haunch of venison (£14.50). “This dish has been going down very well with the critics”, our waiter said.

Who are these speedy reviewers? They must’ve been camping outside, as the paint is barely dry. Give me a bloomin’ chance.

Anyway, it was very pleasant, thanks to two pink coasters of meat, plump brambles, a quenelle of celeriac puree and remoulade that was topped by a pumpkin-seed-heavy dukkah.

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This was my favourite dish so far, I think, though Fantastic Mr Fox enjoyed the aubergine most.

Our second Meat and Game section dish of ox cheek ravioli (£9) was good too, though extremely salty, but its general sticky mouthed richness felt just right, while it’s icy all the way up the Royal Mile. There were two of these pasta purses, and each had tarragon and a flurry of cheese on its rooftop.

Since we’d fulfilled our daily sugar quota with the cocktails, we skipped dessert.

I regret that now that I’m re-reading the menu. There’s a sticky chocolate pudding with salted caramel custard (£8.50) and a white Russian affogato with Machina espresso (£6.50).

Wah. I never wanted them in the first place.

There you go. Sour grapes.

240 Canongate


(0131 237 4719,


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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