The Scran & Scallie, restaurant review: My Scottish guests are confused. 'Is it for the tourists?' ventures one
1 Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge, Edinburgh (0131 332 6281)
Saturday 07 June 2014
As the summer approaches, Edinburgh braces itself for the annual influx of tourists and festival-goers, all looking for somewhere authentic to eat. We want something happening and local, they will say. Not one of those tartan and heather and a-wee-dram-afore-ye-go places on the Royal Mile.
At which point, I'll find myself a bit stymied. Because this year I've got the perfect restaurant for them. It's a buzzing local with a starry pedigree, slightly off the tourist track in the New Town, in studenty, semi-trendy Stockbridge. But does it conform to the no-tartan, no wee-dram requirement? Hell no, it most defiantly doesn't.
The Scran & Scallie (it means Food & Scallywag: brace yourself, things are going to get worse) bills itself as 'Edinburgh's leading gastropub', and there's some serious gastro-clout behind the claim. It's the latest collaboration between Tom Kitchin, of The Kitchin and telly fame, and his old friend Dominic Jack, chef-patron at Castle Terrace, their earlier joint venture. They both hold Michelin stars, and their first gastropub promises a refinement not normally associated with Edinburgh boozers.
The Scran & Scallie is fully booked on a Saturday lunchtime, but I've been told we'll be able to wait in comfort in the bar. Not really true; we endure half an hour of cramped perching on high stools before we go through.
It's worth the wait. Convivial and clubbish, this is a room that just works. Its scrubbed brick walls, duck-egg tongue and groove and exposed filament lightbulbs are saved from cliché by a low-key hunting-lodge vibe – bleached antlers, blankets thrown over chairs, and subtle tartan upholstery. It feels both modern and warmly traditional, right down to the chalked-up sign over the fireplace reading 'Lang may yer lum reek'.
That sign's just a taste of the horrors which await in 'oor menu', a document which, from its opening 'sit ye doon yer welcome' is for some reason expressed in homely dialect, although the food is played absolutely straight. So under 'yer starters', there's beef tartare, ox tongue with bone marrow, and squat lobster ravioli. 'Yer mains' range from venison sausage and fish and chips to whole roasted plaice. And 'nae meat nae fish' offers vegetable barley risotto and veggie burger. 'Yer puddins' are listed with 'suggested swallies to match' and 'brave wee scallies' can order half portions.
WTMcF? Does anyone really speak like this outside the Broons? My Scottish guests are confused. "Is it for the tourists?" ventures one.
The only nod to Scottish heritage on the food side is a daily special of haggis, neeps and tatties. Another special, Highland Wagyu burger and chips, costs £19, risking an attack of the Victor Meldrews in the splurge-averse Scottish diner.
The generosity of the nibbles should go some way to mollify the thrifty – a sack of fine bread, root veg crisps, a bucket of airy pork scratchings, and another of pigs' ears, shredded and baked into a crisp filigree. This last, a brave challenge to Scottish dentistry, is so explosively crunchy it makes conversation impossible not just on our table, but on those around us.
Two starters are introduced with a little homily about how they represent the two styles of the chefs – "Tom's creativity" in a Kilner jar of chicken liver parfait under a shimmering apple and Calvados jelly, with a lightly pickled red cabbage slaw, and "Dominic's nature-to-plate ethos" in a simple, succulent Wye Valley asparagus with perfect hollandaise.
Both trad pub dishes we try are a cut above, particularly a huge, glossy steak pie, the meat dark and rich, the buttery pastry lid impaled by a hefty marrow bone. Fish and chips, the haddock fried in a miraculously light batter, is only let down by the chunkiness of the chips.
It's with the more refined dishes, though, that the quality of the cooking shines. Crisp-skinned hake comes with a sharp artichoke and broad bean barigoule. And shoulder of hogget is a seriously sophisticated plateful, the meat rolled tight into a shiny parcel which unpacks into a sybaritic, deep-flavoured braise.
Puddings include a panna cotta so light it's almost anti-matter, and a brownie served on a metal skillet, with stout ice-cream and a jug of hot chocolate sauce.
'Aifter that there's nothing but coffee, a wee dram an' lurk in the bar', the menu ends menacingly. To which we say, away and boil yer heid. The bar isn't lurkable and though it may serve beer, this isn't really a gastropub. It's got a toddlers' play area, for goodness sake. No, it's a fine, user-friendly little restaurant, with charming staff, a super-competent kitchen, and a comfortably mixed clientele obviously so devoted to the place they can ignore its vernacular oddities. It may have put the 'kitsch' into Tom Kitchin, but lang may its lum reek.
The Scran & Scallie, 1 Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge, Edinburgh (0131 332 6281). Around £30 a head before wine and service
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