One such recent opening is seafood restaurant Cafe Fish on Henderson Street, taking over what was one of the area’s old-school drinking dens, which had been appropriately named The Vintage Bar. The refit has eliminated all traces of dingy pub, and has instead managed to marry what is a rather fabulously gleaming new interior with classic Edinburgh Victorian architectural features like the stained glass and cornice work. Beat that, G1 Group. What’s really enticing is that whilst this is without doubt a restaurant, they’ve also put in such a ridiculously cool looking bar that passing trade might well still identify it with its former incarnation and pop in for a nosy.
We booked in for a rather sharp 7pm table last Wednesday night. Via the retro revolving door , we entered the room, and after a friendly greeting on all our parts, were offered our pick of tables. Despite the temptation to sit facing the bright open kitchen, we took a seat opposite the bar and got to perusing some drinks. I’d had a hankering for some Chablis since around 3pm, so didn’t hesitate in ordering a bottle from the excellent and classy whites-heavy wine list. The fella went for a Hendrick’s and tonic, and I was happy knowing the wine balance would tip nicely in my favour.
We sat down, and started munching on some nice bread whilst we started on the menu. Mention has to go to the rather fun paper that the menu is printed on, back page of which is packed (tight like sardines) with interesting facts about Leith’s history, general info on various species of fish, and the provenance of the restaurant’s own supplies. There was a super selection on the menu, from which we chose starters of Thai crab crostini with Asian salad, and the Stornoway pudding with caramelised onions and Charente goats cheese.
The crab was a simple and elegant affair. It was lightly flavoured with fresh chili and coriander, and complemented by the superfine strips of peppers. I thought that maybe it could have done with just a tad more bite by way of a tiny bit more citrus, but I graciously conceded defeat to G who said it was just perfectly delicate. As for the black pudding, well, it felt ‘wrong’ choosing a non-fish item in a seafood restaurant but figured it must have earned its place there. Wow, and how. This has officially been voted as one of the top combos ever, due to its huge rich flavours. The salad garnish seemed a bit superfluous until we tried the crisp, thinly sliced raw red onion with the black pudding, goats cheese, and onion confit. This was big in such a way that it could have just as easily made an amazing main course.
Our main courses were roast spiced Atlantic cod with olive oil mash and salsa, and seared Atlantic halibut with puy lentils and bacon, and roasted vegetable purée. The cod was another big-hitter in the flavour stakes, with a real kick-ass seasoning, but gorgeously complemented by the sweet salsa of tomato and peppers, and tasty mash. The halibut dish was a more subtle affair altogether – the fish again cooked perfectly, landed atop the lovely puy lentil and bacon stew. The roasted veggie mash had lovely mellow celeriac flavours which I’m a total sucker for. The menu also had a selection of side dishes available at a supplementary charge. It didn’t seem that either of the dishes we had chosen needed anything else, although maybe the halibut dish could have done with a side of vegetables, but only for the purpose of a slightly brighter aesthetic.
For sweet eats, G took the predictable route with sticky toffee pudding ( I wonder if there’s any science behind the theory that any restaurant who tries to take it off the menu closes within six months…) which I left him to enjoy. I presume it was good, as it was gone in 60 seconds. I went with the plum crumble which was accompanied by a cute little fish-shaped jug full of custard. The pud was baked into the bowl, and had a fantastic nutty topping which I loved and which covered the soft and just the right-side-of-tart fruit underneath. I vowed to remember to start baking things with plums whilst they’re in season.
Reading the menu, it’s evident that Cafe Fish are thinking local and West-coast sustainable, and are vocal without being worthy about showcasing Scotland’s wares. A great ethos which benefits everyone from supplier to diner. It’s reasonably priced (£19 for two and £23 for three courses) and with a nice relaxed atmosphere they seem to be pretty flexible about people just popping in for a single course, or an oyster shooter at the bar. By the time we left, the place had a nice buzz about it, and given that a good number of the tables were walk-ins , it’s nice to see that it looks like tides of good fortune are coming this way.