[Tom Kitchin at Southside Scran]
The Auld alliance is alive and kicking at Southside Scran bistro in the affluent Bruntsfield district of Edinburgh. Opened by chef Tom Kitchin in November 2018, it combines the ambience of a French bistro with the cuisine of a Scottish master chef. It is the third of his venues in the capital, alongside his eponymous Michelin starred restaurant in Leith and the Scran and Scallie gastropub in Stockbridge, which holds a Bib Gourmand. .
The attractive, spacious interior, designed by Michaela Kitchin, evokes a distinctly Parisian feel, enhanced by French background music. Plain wooden and tiled floors, mirrors and brass fittings, including an impressive mesh screen, blend harmoniously with the dark green and brown colour scheme. Different table arrangements in the split level dining area are paired with a variety of seating, featuring comfortable banquettes and classic bistro chairs in a range of materials and textures.
[Southside Scran Interior]
Natural light cascading through the wide picture windows give the restaurant a bright airy feel. At night, cleverly positioned wall, pendant and spot lighting, together with a roaring fire in the bar area, give the restaurant a comforting, snug feel, especially in winter.
Pride of place must go to a magnificent Maestro Rotisserie, a boon for daily poultry, meat and fish dishes.
[Head Chef Hearty Derlet and FoH leader for the evening Diego Carrozzo]
Hearty Derlet, Head Chef, comes from the Kitchin fold, having spent two years in Leith before moving to China and returning for the bistro’s opening as sous chef, before being promoted. Leading a team of seven, he ensures that Tom Kitchin’s philosophy of “From Nature to Plate” is given full expression in the varied menu. This involves the sourcing of the finest, mainly Scottish, seasonal ingredients as the basis for cooking French bistro style dishes. Consistency in cooking standards is maintained through limited opening – Wednesday to Sunday lunch and dinner – relieving pressure on the kitchen, and a modest range of dishes, each of which can be perfected.
The November menu featured four starters, £12.50 to £18; five “From the Land”, £16 to £26; three “From the Sea,” £15.50 to £19.50 and fish of the day at market price; three salads in two sizes; four vegetarian dishes, £8 to £14; eight sides all £4.50; and five desserts, £8.50 each. To these are added daily starter and main “specials.” Prices are fair and realistic given the outstanding quality of the produce, the skill in cooking, the generous portions, the well-judged service and the refined surroundings. They also compare favourably with similar restaurants in Edinburgh. For those on a more limited budget, a set lunch (3/4 courses (Including cheese) for £21.50/29.50), with three choices in each course, offers excellent value for money with no reduction in the standard of the cooking.
Heading the front of house team on the Saturday lunch time we visited was Diego Carrozzo, another veteran of the Kitchin fold, whose undoubted charm was matched by his extensive knowledge of food and wine. His warm, welcoming, relaxed yet professional service quickly put us at our ease
Our lunch began with a good selection of nibbles: crisp baguette with good butter; a well flavoured, smooth chicken liver mousse with calvados jelly, homemade crisps and cornichons. Whilst lesser establishments often charge for these basics, here they are offered freely.
A first course of salmon raviolo featured exemplary thin pasta encasing a generous, well-seasoned, textured filling of the subtle tasting fish. Balancing this was a vibrant, deeply flavoured, rich yet not too creamy shellfish bisque. An acid test of an accomplished kitchen, this passed with flying colours.
The earthiness of an open, thin chickpea pancake worked well as the base for the beautifully fresh white meat of Newhaven crab. This was spiked with as a well-judged oriental kick of chilli, ginger and coriander’ which did not overwhelm the delicate crab. It was also pleasing to see good use made of the brown meat in a mayonnaise served separately. Little gem lettuce added the crisp salad texture the dish needed.
A “special” of veal sweetbreads saw this delectable piece of offal accurately timed to produce a caramelised crust and soft, smooth, creamy flesh. Roasted and pureed pumpkin gave an earthy sweetness which contrasted with the mild, savoury taste of the sweetbreads. Soft pillows of sautéed gnocchi added substance to the dish which was finished with crisp sage leaves and pumpkin seeds. Overall, this was a beautifully conceived and well executed dish.
Scottish mallard en croute from the main menu was not a dish for the faint hearted. The two very generous slices comprised a meal in itself; had I known, I would not have ordered a starter. With a mild gamey flavour and slightly coarse texture, the fatless breast and leg meat of this wild duck, together with a vegetable farce, was wrapped en crepinette and pancetta, before being covered with puff pastry. The result was moist, tender meat encased in a crisp, flaky, golden crust with no soggy bottom. Finished with a smooth, gently sweet parsnip pure and a rich red wine reduction, this was a tour de force of game cookery.
A whole small turbot, expertly cooked on the plancha grill, was deftly skinned and filleted at the table by Diego, adding a little theatre to the service. The large flakes of the gleaming white flesh retained their moistness, and it was good to see the often overlooked but delicious cheeks also being served. Sauce Grenobleoise, with its beurre noisette, lemon and capers gave a rich and sharp lift to the mild flavoured fish; brown shrimps added a stronger seafood note and croutons gave a contrasting crispness.
Three side dishes – a ragout of lentils and lardons, fondant potatoes, garlic and spring onions, and warm French beans, hazelnuts and shallots were given the same care and attention as the main courses. The large portions were designed for sharing.
Nor was there was any deceleration in the desserts, often the Achilles heel of bistro menus
From the set menu, a Sea buckthorn tart had crisp pate sucree and well balanced sweet and sour filling, the berries reduced down with sugar and carrot juice to moderate their intense bitterness. A cold and acidic quenelle of yogurt sorbet provided the ideal foil in temperature and texture.
Finally, from the main menu, a pear poached in red wine was suitably soft and yielding. Stem ginger gave a warming note, and crème Chantilly was well flavoured with vanilla. This fruit and spice combination, balanced by the richness of the cream, worked well in this simple yet well executed dessert.
Good espresso finished a memorable lunch, one enhanced by relaxed ambience and the exciting buzz of contented diners as the restaurant began to fill. Now in its second year of trading, Southside Scran has made its mark in the vibrant Edinburgh dining scene. Well above the average bistro standards in its food, service, design and décor, it can only go from strength to strength in a highly competitive market. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its visit and will follow its progress with interest.