I’m sorry Craig and Charlie, but sunshine on Leith is overrated.
I prefer a rainy cityscape, with the Firth of Forth draped in haar.
Up on the industrial-chic eighth-floor bar of Scotland’s first vertical distillery, even the staff stop occasionally, and are transfixed by the watery vista. In the sixth floor shop, where they serve products from their trading arm, The Leith Export Co, one of them tells me that he’s hoping to see an orca.
Good luck with that. At least I spot plenty of seabirds on my visit.
There’s a superstition that they carry the souls of sailors. I wonder if that’s why one of them looks like it’s trying to break into one of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Maybe it wants some rum, though I’m sure it’d be just as happy with the scurvy-beating Lind & Lime Gin that’s also produced by this distillery’s enterprising owners, Patrick Fletcher and Ian Stirling. However, the most desirable in-house tipple has to be the Scotch that’s distilling downstairs. You can watch it percolate with a 90-minute tour, which involves bottling a miniature of its precursor - the New Make Spirit.
This transparent nip features in one of the bar’s cocktails, Moonshine on Leith (£9), but I tried The Cobbler (£8) instead. It featured their Port of Leith Distillery Oloroso, Manzanilla, orange cordial, black walnut bitters and nutmeg, for something more comfortingly Christmassy than a selection box.
My husband chose the Le Garde Electrique (£10) - a sophisticated mix of their Le Garde Écossaise Champagne, chamomile, ginger and lemon. However, if you’re not into cocktails, they’ve got a selection of ‘new wave whisky’, including their Perpetuity Blended Scotch, behind the bar.
To accompany the booze, their head chef, Patrick Whittaker, who has experience at Scran & Scallie and Hamilton’s, has opted for a small plates menu. We went for five of these to share. Actually, four, but the waiter brought us an extra by mistake, then gave it to us for free. Bless him.
Our bonus dish was the Ayrshire pork sausage roll (£11), which had pancetta and a duxelle of mushrooms tucked beneath its golden pastry collar, and came with a large blob of brown sauce. We were splitting everything, but I’m sure my husband pinched two thirds of that.
Although I hadn't imagined that it would be cold, we also loved the cricket-ball-sized Arbroath Smokie Scotch egg (£11). It was light and salty, with a soft yolked oeuf in the middle and a topping of teeny nonpareille capers and a chiffonade of chives.
The hot dish of Clava Brie tartiflette (£9) was served in its tin, so there were satisfyingly crispy edges for us to pick at. Underneath the layers of cheesy potato tiles, was the hidden treasure - ahoy me hearties - of peppery haggis.
Then there was the vegan option of confit black salsify (£8). There were four of these dead man’s fingers, each plastered by rose harissa and hazelnut dukkah and piled onto a cushion of roasted garlic hummus. We also tried the chicken liver parfait (£9), which was thickly spread on a fat dinghy of ‘chicken fat brioche’ and topped with tiny cubes of soft pear and a few sorrel leaves.
The sides were excessive, but we did surprisingly well to polish off the ramekin of hand cut chips (£4) and the Brussels sprouts (£4), which were probably up there with the best I’ve had, since they had been crisped up and anointed with tahini and lemon.
After all that, we thought we’d just have a scoop of house-made ice-cream for pudding.
The vanilla and bourbon, or chocolate and port versions (£4 each), sounded excellent, but a member of staff told us that someone had left the freezer open the night before so they weren’t available.
Instead, we went for the date and tawny port treacle cake (£8). I was imagining something warm and sticky, but this cold bundt cake, swerved with candied walnuts, compote and green apple matchsticks, was a little less decadent than I’d imagined.
However, the wedge of Lanark Blue on the side was consolational.
As is being here, at the top of the world, on a rainy day in Leith.
The only thing to make it perfect would be an orca sighting, though I suppose a haunted seabird will do.