Leftfield, 12 Barclay Terrace, Edinburgh EH10 4HP (0131 229 1394, leftfieldedinburgh.co.uk). Starters £8 – £12, mains £14 – £25, desserts £7.50 – £8.50, wines from £28.
Leftfield, a bistro overlooking the Meadows in Edinburgh, is nothing special. This is not a criticism. Of course, it is unconventional left ideas that move things forward. Without contemplating the culinary art on the left, we would never have known that clams and vanilla are great companions (they really are) or that chips could benefit from being cooked three times instead of just twice (thank you, Heston) or that scallops and black pudding were individual ingredients that You need a couple (Bravo, Bruno Loubet).
But being unconventional can also be stressful. This could result in a chef desperate for the “wow factor,” bringing crispy bacon to the table. Hanging from a miniature washing line, or serve another citrus foam in the plaster cast of the chef’s mouth. Which you are then invited to lick. In the restaurant world, it’s all too easy for the pursuit of the unconventional to degenerate into the serious and very annoying. When all I really wanted was to have a nice dinner.
Leftfield will give you a little dinner. It belongs to Chef Phil White, who previously cooked at Fishers in Leith. He is joined by his partner, Rachel Chisholm, who has learned to run an outside catering business. It should be noted that, on the map, the restaurant is to the left of The Meadows, one of Edinburgh’s finest green lungs. And also, quite possibly, there is scope. On a long summer’s evening, when the Scottish daylight never quite seems to bleed from the sky, I fancy you can sit in the little dining room, enjoy a glass of something cold, and watch people more observant than you run about the park. The room is a warm green of the deep sea which, even on a night as dark as ours, echoes the meadows outside. There are shelves for potted plants to keep on the walls. This evening a few tables are occupied by groups of women of a certain age, heads bowed toward one another, in pursuit of the latest news.
This is the food with which you can gauge the emotional pulse of your friends. It broadly describes itself as a seafood pub. Accordingly, the sampler’s online menu included a dish of deceptively hot oysters at £85 for two, and an apparent circus of three rings of claw, tail, shell and black amethyst eye. I was relieved to find that it wasn’t on tonight’s menu because I’m a total sucker for this sort of thing. I would have had to spend the following paragraphs devising some desperate excuse as to why I ordered what could have been by far the most expensive dish available, when the pathetic reason for making my armpit-deep in buttery shells was just my simple desire to eat it. This would have given an unbalanced look to the short menu, listing appetizers hovering around a tenner and mains mostly in the teens.
It’s the kind of no-fuss restaurant where roasted beets come with goat cheese, and Shetland mussels – always Shetland – are opened in a steaming pot of white wine, garlic and herbs because you can’t improve on the good ways. There is an accidental knowledge flourish. Fatty curls of fried squid, studded with diamonds and cornmeal, on a generous mound of mayonnaise, have been given the deep pink color of potent gochujang. Hummus is not just hummus. It’s enhanced with fists of chopped basil and served with thin, standing fins of crunchy toast and fresh herb fronds. It’s a little undercooked, but it wakes up quickly with a firm squeeze of half the lime that comes with the squid and an encouraging sprinkling of salt.
For £25 they’ll do you half a lobster thermidor; Hit him twice for the whole beast. Or just stick to a deep-fried piece of snow hake, in a bure blanc dotted with black beads of roe, which French chefs for a century would have liked to approve. Throw in a dice of raw tomatoes, seeds, and some roasted new potatoes and happiness abounds. The same understanding of the virtues of a classic, which isn’t broken and doesn’t really need mending, thank you very much, is found in a piece of braised brisket that’s been lounging in the oven for several hours. It comes with pommes Anna, kale, a huge grater of Fudgy Shepherd’s Store cheese and a deep, shiny truffle gravy; The kind that will willingly make a tan inside of you as well as comfort them.
There are only two desserts if you don’t count the cheese, which I rarely do. There’s the purple flash of roasted plum with vanilla ice cream and the bright green of crushed pistachios, or a icing of deep dark chocolate mousse that stays just right from fermentation, with the sugary flavor of cluster sesame and sesame seeds. Creamy, miso caramel hazelnut sauce.
There is a quiet ambition here in Leftfield, but scroll down and it’s clear they haven’t let any of that get in the way of the core business of looking after people and making sure they are fed. Which is exactly what our waiters do. They exude the sweet vibe of this not being a workplace, but rather a job as a surrogate family.
Gaze into the darkness outside the picture windows and you can see the lights of the University of Edinburgh on the other side of the plains. Many of the city’s wealthy students live in houses on the edge of the park and I’m sure their equally capable parents bring their offspring here to feed and to check on their emotional health. The wine list wanders amicably from France to Spain to Italy and back again, in equally disturbing fashion. If you want to expand, order the Italian dessert wine with dessert. It will give you more excuse to stay.
Sometimes I locate restaurants to review within a reasonable distance. Not this time. Again, this was a case of being in town and looking for options. Again, I’m put off by the number of places that don’t open until Thursday evening, or that only offer the kind of tasting menus that make my palms itch. It is, I know, just a sign of the challenges the restaurant business is facing right now. Then I found Leftfield. It seemed just the thing for a dark November evening in Edinburgh. That’s exactly what it was.
If you feel the rise in restaurant prices accelerating, it’s because, according to the latest annual survey of nearly 1,700 restaurants in London, conducted by Harden’s Restaurant Guide. For the year to August 2022, prices overall increased by 8.2%, an increase of 11.7% for those earning more than £130 per person. The increase is the highest over the past decade, barring a small glimpse in 2011, and is the highest since the guide began calculating prices in 2000. As a result, Harden has raised the top category from £100-plus per person to £130-plus (hardens.com ).
En Root, a vegetarian and Indian-inspired group of restaurants, has opened inside Brixton’s iconic Ritzy Cinema, its third outpost in south London. It is believed to be the first cinema in the UK to have a 100% vegetarian cuisine. The all-day menu includes En Root thali including golden rice, coconut curry, dal, rainbow salad and more for £12, pakora burger for £14 and mango cheese lassi for £5 (picturehouses.com).
Chef Tom Kerridge has announced that he is ending his relationship with Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel, home to his Bull and Bear restaurant. The restaurant opened in 2019 alongside the hotel owned by former footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. Kerridge said Bull and Bear will close on December 31, allowing him to “concentrate on our London and Marlowe sites” (tomkerridge.com).