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Norn, Edinburgh, restaurant review

Norn most definitely lives up to its label as Edinburgh's current hot ticket, discovers Gaby Soutar

Published: August 15, 2016

I’m giving up on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

There’s too much of a chance of me getting pulled up on stage.

So far, I’ve had to rotate a keyboard in Every Brilliant Thing at Summerhall, I was made a magician’s assistant in order to be humiliated in another show, and one comedian made a comment on my clapping style – “like a Morningside lady”, apparently. Ha, ha, HA.

I usually see the performer scanning the audience for a biddable labrador-faced mug. Always me.

Anyway, I was reminded of being under the spotlight when I visited Leith’s newest restaurant, Norn, in the former premises of The Plumed Horse. It’s named after an ancient Orcadian language and created to “honour and pay tribute to Scotland’s rich food language and history”.

We were first to arrive on a Friday evening and it felt a bit like walking onto a theatre set. Maybe it’s just its relative newness, but there’s a slight awkwardness to this space, with thick porridge-coloured office style carpets, too bright lighting (on the lower level anyway), and, in my eyeline, a preparation area with a digital alarm clock. The music – The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Who – is the only relaxant.

Anyway, it turns out our script was pretty easy to memorise. There are two choices here – either four courses (£40, or £75 with matching drinks), or seven courses (£65, or £125 with matching drinks).

“Seven, please, no drinks,” I asked the waitress.

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Each course is brought out reverently by one of the four young chefs. (One of whom is Scott Smith, formerly of The Peat Inn).
This could be cringey, but they’re all so enthusiastic that it works.

And every one of their offerings is utterly beautiful, from the malty crusted sourdough with whipped butter, to a pre-starter of courgette velouté with dill, crab and caviar.

In no particular order, our courses included my favourite – “sea trout, beetroot, orache, raspberry” – with crispy shards of salty fish skin, a soft fillet the colour of Barbie’s skin, leaves of apple flavoured orache, strips of chioggia beetroot, like tiny football scarves, and bits of raspberry.

Another fish dish, “mackerel, cicely, radish, lemon”, featured six small bricks of elemental tasting fish, each topped with a ferny cicely leaf and a slice of radish, and presented in a pool of cool liquid that tasted like green.

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The “girolle, beef, sorrel” was super sweet, with layers of beefy ragu, bresaola, mushroom ketchup, upturned mushrooms and a scattering of the clover-lookalikey that is wood sorrel. Another of the punchier dishes was “lamb, mutton, pea, pine”, consisting of toasty and buttery rich sweetbreads alongside Jackson Pollock-spattered powders and purées of pea.

We loved the “venison, courgette, cherry, crowdie”, with half a charred zucchini canoe topped with pickled quarter cherries, folds of pink flesh, blobs of crowdie and miniature SIM-card-sized strips of venison biltong.

Puddings are equally inventive. The “elderflower, gooseberry, buttermilk” was a froth of pale mousse, like an Italian meringue, with frozen tooth-bothering chunks of milky unchurned ice-cream, rhubarb compote and a nutty granola-like macadamia studded topping. Like an upmarket brunch, as was our final course.

According to the trendily be-spectacled chef who delivered “bramble, sea buckthorn, meadowsweet, sourdough”, it featured forced berries from his neighbour in Dunbar. These were served on top of a meadowsweet cream and underneath a semi-transparent almond tuile topped with an ash of sourdough crumbs. This was probably the most challengingly alien tasting of all the courses (like licking the inside of the toaster, in parts), though still moreish.

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Our theatrical experience was punctuated by a single warm and jammy raspberry, presented to each of us on a silver spoon. Gorgeous.

So, looks like a seat at this place is the current hot ticket.

Prepare yourself for some audience participation, but don’t worry, it’s of the very best sort.

How much?

Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £130


50-54 Henderson Street, Edinburgh,
(0131-629 2525,

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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