Fhior, Edinburgh: A restaurant that shows you the true power of food

Molly Codyre can see why locals were so incandescent at the departure of Scott Smith’s former restaurant. Let’s hope this one isn’t going anywhere soon

Tuesday 09 November 2021 14:39
<p>The grilled mackerel is deceptively simple yet enlivening in its ingenuity</p>

The grilled mackerel is deceptively simple yet enlivening in its ingenuity

There are places that you eat where you leave satiated and happy. There are others you leave grumbling and disappointed. Every now and again you leave somewhere invigorated and incandescently joyous. Such is the power of food and a meal to dictate your mood. Edinburgh’s Fhior firmly falls into the latter category. In fact, this might just be one of the country’s best restaurants. |

Fhior is owned and operated by Scott Smith and his wife – formerly of Edinburgh’s much-lauded Leith-based Norn. If you read any Edinburgh best restaurants list between the closure of Norn and the opening of Fhior, it’s likely to have lamented the closure of the former. There seemed to be a palpable level of culinary grief in the city. Well, as if rising from the dead, here is Fhior. At the time, the restaurant was quoted as a more aspirational project than Norn; announcing the opening of the restaurant back in 2018, Smith wrote that the project would be “bigger, better and more ambitious”. I was never lucky enough to try Norn, but I can only imagine Edinburgh locals were practically frothing at the mouth when their recently crowned best restaurant was quickly improved and expanded.

The cod medallion pushed the boat out in ingenious ways

Found on Broughton Street in a stretch of the city between New Town and Bonnington, Fhior is an unassuming space from the outside – as is a la mode with these Scandi-influenced restaurants. The space is sparse and simplistic, almost acting like a blank canvas for the meal to come. The menu is begrudgingly left on the table, but it’s folded over and slotted into a wooden stand, Fhior evidently being part of the increasing number of restaurants that also like to have your meal come to you as a surprise. Being the rule-breaker that I am, I took a quick glance at the menu, only to see dishes cryptically listed by the three dominant ingredients: “chanterelle/cabbage” and “lamb/carrot/cavolo nero”. While not necessarily incorrect, these descriptions are a reviewer’s nightmare, and desperately test my memory (spoiler alert: the actual number of components on each plate rivals an Ottolenghi recipe’s shopping list).

But I suppose I’ll have to forgive them. Who needs laborious descriptions when the plate in front of you so firmly speaks for itself? Plus, enthusiastic and wonderfully friendly wait staff are more than able to talk you through the elements of each dish as they set it in front of you. Maybe I’m biased because (full disclosure) a mate of mine works here, but he wasn’t on duty the evening I visited, and everyone else was just as knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Especially noteworthy were the wine pairings and their accompanying descriptions. Fhior has dug up some truly interesting bottles, and isn’t afraid to experiment with gastronomic combinations. A Spanish red from Galicia seems like an odd match for a cod dish, but the partnership is dazzling. These are interesting wines that wander into natural territory without alienating viticultural purists. And whoever is choosing them truly knows their stuff.

However, it is ultimately the food that will draw you in at Fhior, and isn’t that what a meal is truly about? So many dinners I have had recently have been amazing for so many reasons, and I am the first person to say that going to a restaurant isn’t just about what you consume, but it is a true delight to go to a restaurant where, even when you strip everything else back, the food still speaks so eloquently and delightfully to the calibre of the place.

In a league of its own: the lamb

In the name of frugality, we opted for the seven course rather than 10 course menu. Both serve the same thing – the 10 just has three extra courses – and I did almost regret it when I saw another table receive their cheese course (an elevated take on a cheese and pickled onion toastie) but our meal ended up being the perfect amount of food. Often you get to the end of one of these meals almost bursting at the seams, unable to enjoy the final few courses. At Fhior, this was not the case.

Snacks kicked things off suitably. Fermented wild carrot was wrapped in wild garlic for one of those mouthfuls that flaunts the kitchen’s joyful experimentation. The first course was lightly grilled mackerel served with slow-cooked lettuce and dehydrated tomatoes was served atop a tomato vinaigrette to create a mouthful that was deceptively simple yet enlivening in its ingenuity. Some of the dishes that followed echoed this uncomplicated approach, like the beetroot, which was shaved into pappardelle-style ribbons, lightly cooked and simply topped with nasturtium and elderberry gels. Others pushed the boat out in ingenious ways, like the cod: a beefy medallion grilled until it formed a crisp, golden crust, served with kale and a heavy pour of chicken butter sauce that was rife with deeply savoury flavours and a kind of salty meatiness that allowed the creaminess of the cod to sing. It was one of those dishes that makes you look up at your dining partner in awe as each element of the mouthful comes to the fore.

Then there was the lamb, which was in a league of its own. Carrots are slowly roasted with chunks of liquorice and then pureed to give the finished product a subtle aniseed note. Tender fillets of lamb neck are cooked to perfection, still erring on the side of pink without falling into over or undercooked territory. Separately they would have been lovely, together they were impeccable, especially when paired with the ragu. Oh, that ragu! It was silken, and so tender it seemed to evaporate into the surrounding flavours, boosting them with a deep, concentrated meatiness. The whole thing was so good I didn’t hear from my fellow diner for about five minutes, busy as he was oohing and aahing in joy.

Both desserts were fruity and bracingly refreshing, the perfect palate refresher after what was a meal of culinary innovation. In particular, the one listed simply as “pear/honey/pineapple weed” was quite simply made from these three ingredients, but also so much more than that – the fruit finely sliced, an ice cream infused with a whisper of the herb’s tropical flavours and the honey cooked into a firm, biscuity crisp. It was a suitable punctuating point to an evening rife with compelling food. I can now see why locals were so incandescent at the departure of Smith’s former restaurant. I only hope this one isn’t going anywhere soon.

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