Scotsman Review
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  • Ambience - It's important that a restaurant is inviting. We rate the decor, comfort and atmosphere.
  • Drink - Is the wine or cocktail list as exciting as the food, or does it fall short? Same goes for soft drinks. 
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March 20, 2018

Thomas J Walls , Edinburgh, restaurant review

Keep an eyeout for this former optometrist turned trendy coffee shop, a great brunch venue which makes a sight for sore eyes in Forrest Road, Edinburgh, says Catriona Thomson

When you hit your mid-forties, it's not uncommon for your once keen vision to take a tumble over the cliff of age-related farsightedness.

Thomas J Walls

Thomas J Walls, Forrest Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

This natural process, called presbyopia, where the lens begins to harden and loses flexibility,makes seeing things up close a little tricky.

After a series of comedy errors involving misreading minuscule lettering, I decided enough was enough, and made an appointment at the opticians.

I'm not keen on anything eyeball-related, although the young staff,well used to oldies in eyesight denial, went out of their way to praise my distance vision, saying it was better than 20/20.

I used to believe that flattery will get you nowhere, but one pair of spectacles later with an extra charge for a reflective coating, I'm not so sure.

As a celebratory first outing, I'm taking my new Gregory Pecks out for brunch with a chum.We are headed to Thomas J Walls,which is situated near the Meadows and Edinburgh university, and as neither of us has been before, it hopefully won't be a case of the blind leading the blind.

Thomas J Walls

Thomas J Walls, Forrest Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Lisa Ferguson 

I'm also using the occasion as an opportunity to confront my ommetaphobia (fear of eyeballs) because in a previous incarnation this place was an optometrist. I've often admired its sophisticated vintage interior, complete with dark wooden panelling and stained glass panels, while passing on the bus.

It is the brainchild of Edinburgh coffee shop guru Jonathan Sharp, who also owns Kilimanjaro, Project Coffee and Blackwood Coffee.

He opened Thomas JWalls in 2016,wisely choosing to keep the name and much of the Art Deco interior.

Once through the door you are guaranteed a warm welcome, as there is a roaring fire.

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Despite my new specs, I'm too embarrassed to peer closely at the artwork, to find out whether it is an original painting hanging on the wall.

I thought my peepers must be playing tricks on me, as the Bertie Wooster styled logo on the menu at first glance features around Harry Potter lens and part of a pince-nez.

However, it is actually a disguised coffee cup with handle. A fun optical illusion,and it certainly brought a twinkle to my eye.

For another visual pun lookout for the eye chart in a frame. Loosely based on a traditional letter chart named after the Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen who developed it in 1862, here it spells the restaurant's name.

After a long overdue natter,we ordered a latte and cappuccino (both £3.05), which arrived pretty as a picture with a leafy work of art on top, just the right mix of bitter grounds and comforting milk and froth.

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The all-seeing one taunts me with her perfect vision as we settle down to scrutinise the food offerings. Lunch options include smoked salmon rosti (£8.50), and chorizo chickpea and kale shakshuka (£7.90) but I order a bowl of piping hot sweet potato and bean soup, (£4.30) which was perfectly seasoned and hearty on a chilly day.

Again I thought my eyes had deceived me, as a backward glance to check what I'd ordered showed an alternative choice of cumin and cauliflower or beetroot broth.

So my advice would be order quick if you see a tasty chowder you fancy as it runs out fast.

Our plates arrived promptly,mine with a healthy double portion of wholesome, dunkable bread, slathered in butter.

My chum opted for avocado on toast (£7.60) which featured two perfectly poached eggs, placed upon slices of avocado, which were liberally and artistically decorated by pumpkin seeds and coriander.

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Not just eyecandy though, but the perfect foil to the scattered creamy crumbs of salty feta.

Eagle eyes even spotted a tiny piece of shell on her plate, but deftly removed the pesky item before there was a dental disaster.

I picked the halloumi sandwich, which featured cheese grilled to perfection, accompanied by slithers of asparagus, and avocado (£6.20), which to my mind was a winning combination and tasted divine. We couldn't resist tray bake temptation, selecting a square of moist cranberry filled flapjack (£3.20) and a nutty rich brownie (£3.40).

In case that wasn't enough of a sweet treat I ordered a hot chocolate chaser (£2.90) which arrived with a pure white cube of marshmallow loveliness, while the wholesome one opted for a tongue tingling juice (£3.80).

What else to help her see in the dark, but a large glass of carrot, apple and ginger? It was cheerfully bright and freshly squeezed,so you could almost feel the antioxidants doing good with every sip.

If you are starving and need a quick bite, then this spot will be a sight for sore eyes.

Thomas J Walls

35 Forrest Road, Edinburgh EH1 2QNN

(0131-261 7582, Thomas J Walls Facebook)

Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
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