Having visited Edinburgh several times in the last three years, I am constantly surprised to discover yet another hidden corner of this majestic city.
Stockbridge, in the north-west edge of Newtown, is slightly off the beaten tourist track, but only ten minutes’ walk from the city centre. With its quaint cobbled streets and village feel, it has attracted an increasing number of well-heeled residents in recent years. Although this “Shoreditch of Edinburgh” lacks the redeveloped warehouses of its London equivalent, evidence of gentrification exists in abundance. Property prices have rocketed whilst and abundance of jewellers, craft shops, galleries, coffee houses, restaurants, gourmet grocers, artisan bakers and charity shops, along with the Sunday market, all contribute to the communal, Bohemian charm.
Along with an eclectic range of niche shops and pubs at basement level, St Stephen’s Street is home to the Stockbridge Restaurant, owned by Chef Jason Gallagher, and his partner Jane Walker, who heads front of house. In a highly competitive market they have, over 11 years, established a thriving neighbourhood restaurant which also attracts those from further afield. Sound business acumen, judicious pricing and, most importantly, mastery in the kitchen are the secrets of their success.
Being open at lunch only for advance bookings of parties of six or more makes shrewd business sense. Recently, the restaurant has played host to groups of American and Scandinavian visitors, golfers from the EU and a wine club annual lunch. The policy also facilitates a healthy work – life balance often lacking amongst restaurateurs. That Jason and Jane couple have been able to happily raise a young family as well as maintaining high standards in cooking and service is a testament to their success. Indeed, Jane comments that theirs is a “lifestyle rather than a job.”
The pricing strategy also works, with a variety of menus to suit most pockets. The three course Tuesday to Friday evening set menu, with three options in each course, is £23.95 for two courses or £27.95 for three. The evening carte, with five choices at each stage, is realistically priced at an average of £8.45 for starters, £22.95 for mains and £6.45 for desserts. Best of all is the Sunday night menu, featuring dishes from the carte and set menu for a bargain price of £27.95 for three courses, with the additional attraction of Bring Your Own wine for a modest corkage fee. Overall, such pricing has encouraged much repeat custom including many early, pre theatre diners.
The wine list contains sections helpfully described as “Soft and fruity”,”Powerful reds”, “Spicy” and so on. It was also pleasing to see Nyetimber sparkling wine amongst the Old and New World vintages.
The low ceilinged basement dining room with black stone walls and large gilt mirrors which create a greater sense of space is given light relief by colourful artistic prints. Spotlighting and candles add to the cosy, intimate feel. Well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery add a degree of formality which is only fitting given the delights to be served on them.
Jason, who was awarded City Chef of the Year, 2008, prepares a seasonally changing menu using first rate ingredients, the suppliers of which are proudly listed on the menu .What impresses about his cooking are its honesty and lack of pretension. There are no gimmicks or experimental techniques. Instead, classical skills are employed to produce accurately timed, well balanced dishes in terms of flavour, texture and temperature. Presentation is attractive without being too contrived and portions are very generous indeed.
A Sunday evening dinner allowed me to try a range of dishes from the menu.
A selection of breads – walnut, white and granary – impressed with their crisp crusts and delicate crumb. A chive and chervil dip with fruity olive oil gave a punchy, herbal lift to the home baked breads.
A cup of smoked haddock chowder was suitably rich and creamy with great depth of flavour. Contrasting texture was provided by diced butternut squash, sweetcorn and mushrooms, whilst a scattering of spring onion added a lively fresh note.
Braised ox cheek, a starter on the menu, could easily be offered as a main course, given a larger portion. The slow cooked unctuous meat had a soft texture that simply melted in the mouth. Perched on a mound of smooth horseradish mash which soaked up the intense red wine sauce, it was attractively presented in a mini casserole dish. Onion rings added a contrasting texture, although the batter in this instance might have been a little crisper.
A dish of seared scallops was precisely timed to produce a caramelised crust and succulent sweet flesh. The seafood worked well with butternut squash puree and a lively apple salsa of contrasting texture and temperature. Serrano ham added a savoury note which the dish needed although the caramelised walnuts proved one ingredient too many.
Roast grouse, not a dish for the faint hearted, offered a punchy, peaty flavour, It benefitted by being wrapped in bacon, preserving its moistness during its roasting which was well timed. So too was the resting time for this notoriously difficult to cook game bird. Duck liver pate on toasted brioche added a decadent note whilst crisp game chips, a flavoursome bread sauce and a rich jus completed the classical garnishes.
A pre dessert took the form of a miniature strawberry trifle, again classically rendered with layers of jelly, custard and cream.
An assiette of chocolate featured an embarrassment of riches: a chocolate and walnut brownie with a crisp top and soft gooey interior; a chocolate crème brulee with a perfectly caramelised crust and rich custard; piped mounds of light white chocolate mousse; and a velvety smooth milk chocolate ice cream. Overall, this composition succeeded in not being too heavy, rich or sweet.
A magnificent sharing cheese board supplied by I J Mellis featured a range of Scottish cheeses in prime condition. Served with quince jelly, honey and pine nuts – an ideal foil for blue cheese – crackers, oat cakes and crisp bread passed through pasta machine, this could easily have been a meal in itself.
Good coffee and petit fours – mini fondant chocolate, Rocky Road; fondant cape gooseberry and walnut and chocolate biscotti completed a memorable meal. This was enhanced by the welcoming, cheerful service and well informed service of the young front of house assistants seamlessly managed by the charming and engaging Jane Walker who also demonstrated an extensive knowledge of wines.
Overall, it is not difficult to see why The Stockbridge Restaurant was awarded Gold in the fine dining category in an award scheme for the city’s restaurants, founded by the Edinburgh Restaurateurs’ Association. This involves a process by which diners can assess the venue, service and food using a points system. With such a distinction, along with two AA rosettes and other accolades, its future looks assured and it is likely to go from strength to strength. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its visit and hopes to return to this delightful, understated gem of a restaurant.