Named after the ugliest of nuts, The Walnut has sprung up in the former premises of Leith Walk’s Cafe No.9.
I don’t think it’s a transient pop-up restaurant, but you might get that impression, as it seems to have swiftly slotted into the unchanged shell of what was once a greasy spoon. Although they’ve put a nice wooden sign up above the shop front, there’s a residual eau de chip fat in the air and the interior decor includes dated magnolia-striped wallpaper and dodgy paintings that look like they might have been procured from one of the charity shops that line either side of Leith Walk.
Maybe the new owners haven’t had the time or cash to spruce up this venue.
However, they have added a few charming elements, like mismatched chairs, vintage silver cutlery and gingham cloth napkins.
Should you be in a hurry, there’s an express menu on beige laminated paper, in a seaside caff circa 1983 style. The lovely geek chic waitress gave us one each, and pointed out the huge blackboard on the opposite wall that was chalked with lots of delicious sounding things.
The interior may hint at beans on toast, tomato ketchup and cups of very brown builder’s tea, but the board says otherwise. There are steamed Shetland mussels (£4.50), baked goat’s cheese (£4.25), chicken liver parfait (£4.50) and loads of other tempting options (some of which were hidden behind a couple of diners’ heads).
Yes please to all three.
The best was probably the chicken option – smooth, strong and silky, edged by pancetta, with two amorphous and roughly textured oatcakes, a couple of strips of crisp Melba toast, and a dollop of pickled red cabbage. We also loved the whole melted cheese, which was topped with bloated raisins, flaked almonds, a drizzle of sweet port and another long plank of toast. There was plenty of the mussel contingent too, in a clean tasting buttery bay and lemon broth that featured a single whole guajillo pepper, lurking at the side of the bowl like a lecherous fella hanging out at a swimming pool.
I enjoyed our comfort foody main course of octopus with coconut and sweet potato (£11.50), but my dining partner wasn’t quite so keen.
This one is a bit of a contentious crowd divider methinks. If you don’t like overall sweetness, general wet mushiness (punctuated by dollops of soft seafood) and a bright orange hue contrasting with a shade that falls between grey and pink (we’ll call it grink) you might not be a fan either.
We both, however, adored the pork loin (£8.50). It was nice to see this cut on the menu, as I’ve been at peak belly (yawn) for a long time. In satisfyingly bulky chunks, it was beautifully cooked – as moisture saturated as a bath sponge – with a squish of lemon on the top and clever Middle Eastern-ish accompaniments of stewed dates and a scattering of almonds. There was also a dollop of colcannon-ish mash and an assortment of root veg including a perfect carrot with a charred stocking seam.
It’s also worth mentioning that we had a couple of under fives with us and the kitchen here can do almost every main dish on the blackboard at a half price kids’ size. The rowdy sprats had a mini risotto (£3.75) and a duck leg cassoulet (£4), both of which went down better than any McDonald’s Happy Meal.
Our pair of puddings were excellent. I was smitten by their dark chocolate, rosemary and sea salt tart (£4). In fact, I can still taste its waxy thick ganache and herbal tang, days after my visit. Want more. The tall slice of cinnamon dusted custard tart (£4) was also a beaut – cool and vanilla sweet.
Lovely and interesting grub, served in odd surroundings that are in need of a paint job (would this be the right time to suggest the colour, grink?).
The Walnut – an ugly nut, indeed, but once you’ve cracked it, what goodness awaits inside.
(The Walnut, 9 Croall Place , Edinburgh, tel no: 0131 524 1032)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks and kids’ meals - £41.25