Restaurant review

Leftfield, Edinburgh: ‘Just the place for a dark night’ – restaurant review | Food

Leftfield, 12 Barclay Terrace, Edinburgh EH10 4HP (0131 229 1394, Starters £8-£12, mains £14-£25, desserts £7.50-£8.50, wines from £28.

Leftfield, a small bistro overlooking the Meadows in Edinburgh, is not particularly so. This is not a criticism. Of course, unconventional ideas from left field are what keep things going. Without left-wing culinary thinking, we never would have known that shellfish and vanilla are brilliant bedfellows (they really are) or that French fries could benefit from being triple-cooked rather than twice (thanks, Heston) or that scallops and black pudding were unique ingredients that had to be paired (well done, Bruno Loubet).

But being unconventional can also be boring. This can lead to a chef who is desperate for the “wow factor”, bringing crispy bacon to the table hanging on a miniature clotheslineor another serving a citrus mousse in the cast of the chief’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 slip into the serious, deeply boring. When all you really wanted was a good dinner.

“Boosted with handfuls of chopped basil and presented with thin toasted bread fins and herb fronds”: basil hummus. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Leftfield will give you a good piece of dinner. It is owned by chef Phil White, who previously cooked at Fischer’s in Leith. He is joined by his partner Rachel Chisholm who learned the trade running 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 most venerable green lungs. And also, most likely, a field, therefore. On a long summer evening, when the Scottish daylight never quite seems to trickle down from the sky, I imagine you could sit in the tiny dining room, have a glass of something cool and watch people more engaged than you running around the park. The room is a cozy deep green that, even on a dark night like ours, echoes the lamp-lit lawns outside. There are shelves of potted plants to keep the walls company. Tonight, a few tables are occupied by groups of middle-aged women, their heads bowed to each other, anxiously seeking the latest news.

Hake in white butter sauce on a large round white plate
“A century of French chefs would agree”: hake with white butter. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

It’s food on which to take the emotional pulse of your friends. It largely describes itself as a seafood bistro. As a result, the sample menu online featured an enticing £85 platter of hot shellfish for two, an apparent three-ring claw, tail, shell and eye circus. black amethyst. I was relieved to find it wasn’t on tonight’s menu because I’m a total sucker for that sort of thing. I should have spent the following paragraphs inventing a desperate excuse as to why I ordered what would have been by far the most expensive dish available, when the pathetic reason for having armpits deep in butter shells n would have been just my simple desire to eat it. . This would have given a lopsided view of the short menu, listing starters that hover around a ten and mains that are mostly teens.

It’s the kind of quiet restaurant where roasted beets go with goat’s cheese, and Shetland mussels – always Shetland – are open in a steaming pot of white wine, garlic and herbs because you don’t can’t improve manners. There is the occasional knowing flourish. Big curls of deep-fried squid, slashed with diamonds and coated in cornmeal, sit on a generous mound of mayo made a deep pink with shrill gochujang. Hummus is not just hummus. It’s accented with handfuls of chopped basil and presented with thin straight fins of crisp toast and fronds of fresh herbs. It’s a bit under-seasoned, but wakes up quickly with a strong squeeze from the half lime that came with the squid and an encouraging pinch of salt.

Crispy calamari on a lettuce leaf with a slice of lemon and pieces of grass, on a dark blue round plate.
‘Diamond-striped and breaded with corn flour’: crispy calamari. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

For £25 they’ll make you half a lobster thermidor; twice for the whole beast. Or simply stick with a sensitively fried piece of snow hake, in a buttery white lake studded with egg-black pearls, which a century of French chefs would greet with approval. Add a diced of seeded raw tomatoes and some roasted new potatoes and happiness abounds. The same understanding of the virtues of classicism, which isn’t broken and really doesn’t need fixing thank you very much, is present in a piece of braised brisket that’s been sitting in the oven for many hours. It comes with Anna apples, kale, a big shred of Shepherd’s Store melt cheese and a deep, glossy truffle sauce; the kind that will pretend to tan your insides just as willingly as it comforts them.

There are only two desserts if you don’t count the cheese, which I rarely do. There’s the purple sheen of roasted plums with vanilla ice cream and the bright green of crushed pistachios, or a quenelle of a deep dark chocolate mousse that’s just the right side of sickening, with the twist sweetened with a sesame tuile and a creamy miso and hazelnut caramel sauce.

Beef brisket in black sauce on a large round white plate.
‘In a deep glossy truffle sauce’: braised breast. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

There’s a quiet ambition here at Leftfield, but dig in and it’s clear they never let any of that get in the way of the core business of caring for people and making sure they’re fed. This is exactly what our servers do. They breathe the sweet air of being less of a workplace and more of a job as a surrogate family.

Squint into the darkness outside the floor-to-ceiling windows and you can see the lights of the University of Edinburgh across the Meadows. Many of the city’s affluent students live in the townhouses that line the park and I’m sure their equally affluent parents bring their offspring here both to feed them and to check on their emotional well-being. The wine list wanders amiably from France to Spain to Italy and back again, in an equally disconcerting way. If you want to be expansive, order an Italian dessert wine with pudding. This will give you even more excuse to linger.

Purple roasted plums with white vanilla ice cream and green sprinkles of crushed pistachios on a dark blue round plate.
‘The purple flash’: roasted plums with vanilla ice cream and crushed pistachios. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Sometimes I identify restaurants to review within a reasonable distance. Not this time. Again, it was about being in town and looking for options. Again, I was stymied by the number of places that only open Thursday nights, or only offer the kind of tasting menus that make my palms itch. This is, I know, just a mark of the challenges facing the restaurant industry right now. Then I ran into Leftfield. It looked perfect for a dark November night in Edinburgh. That’s exactly what it was.


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