If there’s one thing Edinburgh’s Old Town does well, it’s atmospheric closes. With steps designed to induce vertigo, ghosts (and tourists) lurking in the shadows and the threat of “gardyloo” hanging unspoken in the air, venturing down them takes nerve. But with a promise of fine food and drink halfway along such a passage, it’s worth taking the plunge.
"Where’s the dressing, the fresh herbs, the finesse? I’d settle for any additions that might make it less like something a vegan miser would concoct"
The Devil’s Advocate has been around for a couple of years and it’s the destination of choice for those who enjoy a high quality beverage.
It boasts a “200-strong whisky shelf”, “multiple award winning bartenders” and an admirable choice of local ales.
A lovingly crafted drinks menu as thick as a phone book is all well and good, but as something of a lightweight in the drinking stakes, I’m more interested in the food.
Within minutes of entering this old Victorian pump house, I’m ready to award ten out of ten to the interior designer. Industrial chic has become a bit old hat, but in this setting the brick walls, steel beams and exposed duct work feel authentic.
A mix of candles and soft lighting not only flatter those of us who’ve passed our 40th birthday, they help create a sense of having stumbled upon the perfect hideaway.
Proceedings get off to a good start when the waiter brings a bottle of water to the table unprompted and lets us know what the soup of the day is.
This sounds obvious, but how often have you asked about the soup or specials and the waiter has to check with the kitchen? It’s reassuring to eat somewhere where your hosts know exactly what’s going on.
That extends to the craft beers on tap – a priority for Mr Finch – and the impressive list of offerings results in the choice of a Barney’s Volcanic IPA (£5).
I find myself somewhat daunted by the wine list, not in terms of quantity, but because the average 175ml glass seems to come in at around the £8 mark. Ouch.
I opt for a glass of Nero d’Avola (£7.50), and while it’s fruity and smooth, I’m not convinced it justifies the price tag.
Onwards to the food. I choose the grilled halloumi and charred watermelon (£6), which is a refreshing start as the salty cheese contrasts nicely with the sweet watermelon.
Charred fruit is a new one for me and it adds an extra layer to the flavour experience. Mr Finch opts for the spiced polenta, wilted greens, poached egg and truffle hollandaise (£6).
It’s another thumbs-up for a winning combination – the chilli heat of the polenta is cooled down by the greens and the perfectly poached egg.
By this point the mezzanine dining area is packed and the room is buzzing. Mr Finch is surveying the scene and has become convinced it’s full of lawyers from the nearby High Court.
“Is there a touch of the Ally McBeals in here?” he asks. It’s a question I can’t answer and don’t have to as the main course has arrived.
And this is where things get rocky. I’ve opted for the chargrilled butternut squash, tabbouleh, rose harissa, pomegranate, mint yoghurt and toasted seeds (£12). It is literally an assemblage of the items on that list, minus the yogurt.
It’s dry and distinctly underwhelming. Where’s the dressing, the fresh herbs, the finesse? I’d settle for any additions that might elevate the flavours and make it less like something a vegan miser would concoct.
Things fare no better on the other side of the table where the glazed pork belly, Southeast Asian slaw, coriander and toasted peanuts (£18) is brought to the table as lukewarm as the reception it’s going to get. The cool temperature means it quickly transforms from succulent and juicy to a cold serving of pork fat.
The nondescript sticky sauce isn’t helping matters. The slaw doesn’t seem to have been to Asia judging by the lack of chilli, lime juice and oomph. Instead, a sad little pile of shredded Chinese cabbage with a smattering of coriander and a bit of pak choi look and taste apologetic.
Don’t mention the three sad peanuts sitting on top. And certainly don’t mention the portion of skinny fries (£3) that were forgotten
then rushed to the table pasty and under-cooked.
By the time the pecan cake with pear and cinnamon ice cream (£5) arrives, we’ve pretty much lost interest. The cake is sweet and the ice-cream is delicately spiced but it can’t detract from the second act catastrophe.
“I guess it’d be a good place to come if you had a work expense account,” says Mr Finch. I’d agree.
For an expertly-mixed drink in a unique setting, this place is hard to beat. As for the food, I’ll leave it for Ally McBeal and her clients to enjoy.
The Devil’s Advocate
9 Advocates Close,