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The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage, Edinburgh, restaurant review

Scale Calton Hill to try one of Edinburgh's best new restaurants, says Gaby Soutar

Published: January 11, 2019

My new year’s resolution? To eat more carrots.

Once the sun goes down, I’m as blind as a mole in a tanning booth, or an axolotl under a disco strobe.

Anyway, this all adds to the excitement of going up Calton Hill after dark, to visit restaurant The Lookout, which has opened in partnership with the new Collective Gallery space, also up here.

We took the stairs up from Waterloo Place, which is probably the more civilised route.

It was wild though, with a pest-y wind that unwound my scarf (so that’s how Beltane Festival participants end up nude) and pouffed my hair.

Once we got to the top, there was momentary disorientation, with the National Monument looming in the shadows.

But there, out of the dark, appeared… a ghost, muttering about Edinburgh’s disgrace.

Only joking, it was Dale Mailley, one of the restaurant owners, who must have walked up from their other place, Gardener’s Cottage on London Road. Does he go up and down all night, rescuing strays, like a shepherd after a storm, we wondered?

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Anyway, we latched on so he could lead us to the restaurant, which was being buffeted by the wind on its cantilever perch on the hill. The door closed with a wumph, like we’d entered a sci-fi portal. It was warm and bright, natural chaos begone.

Their views of the east side of the city, of course, are amazing, even at night, when they’re competing with twinkly reflections.

The menu is similar to their Gardener’s Cottage fare – rustic and gamey and forage-y.

To kick off, you get a little plate of charcuterie.

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There were folds of Parma ham, and a couple of types of salami, one with a truffle-y vibe, and the other lighter and fennel infused, as well as green apple slices and a drizzle of honey, which, apparently, they source from their Czech kitchen porter’s grandad.

There were slices of their lovely sourdough, probably made at their bakery Quay Commons, and whipped butter.

To start, I went for the malted rabbit and hare yakitori (£9), which was cooked on the grill in their open kitchen and basted in a sweet sauce. Hunks of meat were strung onto a wooden kebab stick – some pale bunny cubes and feral nuggets of hare – with a single silky centred kidney on the end, like a decanter stopper.

We also liked the Arbroath smokie (£8), which had its flavour softened and smoothed by a frothy and herby leek and potato sauce, with slivers of celeriac and two game chips on the top, like the leaves that might get caught in your hair on the trip up.

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My main course of halibut (£23) was one of those comforting dishes that sent me into a semi-conscious reverent dwam. I shovelled in the pale fillet, along with a layer of stocky and fishy mayo, with a texture like curds, half a dozen mussels, sea purslane and thin cross-sections of cauliflower.

So good, as was the side of slick and buttery smoked potato (£5).

Our other main was roe deer (£22) – three beautiful bricks’ worth, along with a barley mixture, like creamy risotto, threaded with carrot and with a frilly underskirt of kale. We loved the blobs of sweet pear puree, which lifted the mouth-coating richness.

We weren’t sure what they’d do with the Douglas fir that was billed as appearing with the pineapple tart tatin (£9). The feathery twigs turned out to have been singed and used as decoration, like a disassembled Christmas wreath. Please don’t be the one person that will attempt to eat it.

Anyway, it smelled lovely, for sensory theatre to go with the otherwise classic sticky and juicy wedge of tart and its vanilla ice-cream.

It was wonderful, and the trip up here is part of the experience, though if you’re a bit nervous or solo, taxis can drop you off (see their website for instructions).

Feeling cocky, we descended the spookier side, on to Royal Terrace. En route, we encountered a pair of tourists skipping about with head torches on, a cityscape that was paved with lit-up tenement windows and a slightly ominous chalky mauve sky.

Magical, and if you’re blind and get lost, you can always shout for Dale.

The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

(0131-322 1246,

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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