A couple of years ago, the swans on the Union Canal hatched five cygnets. These ugly ducklings tootled around for a while then, overnight, they were gone from their nests. The parents looked bereft for months.
I commute along the towpath every day, and staged a look-out, but Fluffy and the gang were gone. Very sad, but it was also the most dramatic thing to happen along this stretch of water for months (apart from that time someone tried to drive a car along the canal when it was frozen – very bad idea).
But, now, more thrills, as Akva has opened in the former premises of Cargo, right at Lochrin Basin, where there are life-size swan statues that have probably been ridden by many a drunk.
It’s the latest opening from the Swedish couple Anna and Mike Christopherson, who have monopolised the Edinburgh bar scene with a series of openings over the past decade: Boda, Joseph Pearce, Sofi’s, Victoria and Hemma.
I’m a fan of their laid-back and community-minded hang-outs, where they throw crayfish and knitting parties, quizzes and dating nights.
It seems more about having fun than getting leathered (and riding a swan). While most of their bars are in traditional Victorian blocks, Hemma was the first to be housed in a comparatively new building in Holyrood Road, which they’ve managed to make feel more like a living room than a morgue.
They’ve applied a similar formula at the modern, double-level echo chamber of a space that houses Akva.
With comfortable, mismatched seating inside and out, a ping-pong table and extremely laid-back staff, you could hang out all day and almost forgive them for the fact that Phil Collins was playing on the stereo.
To start, the three of us shared a helping from the salad buffet (£7.50). This had to be done in secret, because that price is strictly per person, but I was very restrained when it came to filling my plate.
"It’s the standard fare that they serve at all their venues – inoffensive, better than most pubs, but pretty dull overall"
On a trestle table by the door, there was a spread of Asian slaw, dilly potato salad, grilled aubergine, a gluey goat’s cheese pasta, squash salad, slices of citrus and thyme-sprinkled roast chicken, rye and sourdough bread, assorted pickles and other bits and pieces.
Apart from the great bread, nothing was particularly exciting. Some additional herbs and seasoning wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Mains are similarly MOR. The smoked salmon and potato rostis (£7.50) turned out to be smoked salmon WITH potato rostis.
There was plenty of fish, but the triangles of grated potato were a little underdone and meh. They came with “horseradish crème fraîche”, but we couldn’t taste any of this hot root.
Our roasted salted beef (£10.50) wasn’t bad, with sheets of peppery soft beef, pickled cucumber, spinach, another anaemic rosti and more horseradish crème fraîche, while, my Thai fish burger (£10.50) was a spongy pink puck with a good hit of chilli in the salmon mix. It was served on a dollop of lime-injected yoghurt in an ordinary white bun, with skinny fries, a salad (more pickles, cos and tomato) and a little blob of coleslaw on the side.
The waiting staff took so long to take our plates away that their half-eaten contents are seared on to my brain. Despite this, I’m glad I took photos of the food we’d had as an aide memoire, because the grub here is pretty forgettable.
As far as puddings go, they were sold out of the interesting sounding things – the Swedish chocolate cake kladdkaka (£3.50) and cinnamon and cardamom pastry kanelbullar (£2) were gone – so we ended up with a standard chocolate brownie (£2.50) and a slice of carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese icing (£2.95).
Anyway, I feel annoyed at myself for choosing to review this place. It’s the standard fare that they serve at all their venues – inoffensive, better than most pubs, but pretty dull overall. Still, that’s not everything, and Akva has so much more to offer. Ping pong! Crayfish nights! It’s an exciting time on the canal (especially as the swans have five new cygnets).
Lunch for three, excluding drinks - £41.90