|A wildly great pub lies inside.|
If I were religious, I would swear my prayers had recently been answered. For years I have been chanting the mantra “please might someone open a decent pub, with really good food, somewhere between Jock’s Lodge and Leith Walk”. But Edinburgh’s equivalents of the goddesses Edesia and Bibesia must have been sat atop Arthur’s Seat with their fingers in their ears – until now!
For the last few weeks, as I trudged back and forth between Scrumptious Scran Towers and my place of work in central Edinburgh, I noted that the old Station Bar on Abbeyhill’s Cadzow Place – a very traditional Scottish boozer – had been shut for a bit of a repaint. Then the posters appeared in its picture windows, announcing the arrival of The Safari Lounge. Might this be, at last, a decent new boozer in Edinburgh’s East End? Praise the lord! Or lady, or whatever be your deity of choice.
So this Friday, JML and I dropped by to see what pleasures this revamped Victorian bar might hold. Oh my! Walking into the place it doesn’t immediately look like a lot has changed. There is still much of the dark brown tongue and groove and ornate plaster work in evidence, except the walls are painted a subtle tangerine and white – taken together all vaguely reminiscent of a liquorice allsort. The original wooden bar has gone (despatched to another venue, to allow the nine rotten joists that lay beneath it to be replaced, apparently). And at the end of its subtly trendy replacement is a small kitchen – but what a kitchen…
|A busy bar and kitchen.|
As we ordered drinks at the bar and scouted round for a table, it became apparent that the place is much bigger than I had realised, with a comfy, offset area to the rear of the bar, and a separate “Tiger Room” beyond that. Our drinks arrived – chosen from a great range of lagers and craft beers – together with a couple of menus. And that is when I realised why this place is confident enough to site an open kitchen at the end of the bar. At first glance it may appear a typical pub menu of salads, mezze, ‘lite bites’ hotdogs and burgers. Yet read on, and it isn’t just your standard bar food at all. It’s a menu put together with real care and thought.
So, we ordered a main each of a “Safari Dog” and a “Momo Fuku” Pork Bun, accompanied by a side of skinny fries and the intriguing “popcorn mussels” and watched mesmerically as the two chefs in the open kitchen grabbed ingredients and cooked and assembled the dishes before our eyes. Within ten minutes of ordering, the food arrived. JML had chosen what transpired to be very posh hotdog – a meaty, flavoursome sausage nestling in a brioche roll, drizzled in a mustard dressing and surrounded by a tangy onion and cider chutney. It was simply smashing. My shredded pork belly buns – there were two – consisted of beautifully succulent meat with vinaigrette coleslaw, all encased in ghostly white rice baps. Intriguing in how they looked, delicious in how they tasted. Both mains were served with a generous accompaniment of freshly prepared, perfectly dressed salad.
As to the sides? Well JML’s fries were skinny and crispy as described, and came as an ample portion. My popcorn mussels were a revelation, however. Imagine a take on whitebait, but involving shellfish in tempura batter accompanied by home-made tartar sauce. Crisp on the outside and with a soft interior, packed with intense, slightly salty, seafood flavour. I need say no more.
|Popcorn mussels & fizz.|
As we were devouring our delicious fare, it became apparent that The Safari Lounge – which takes its name from the neon sign displayed in the window of its former incarnation, the Station Bar – has been the subject of a very clever makeover indeed. The banquets running along the walls are now covered in subtle, but stylish embossed khaki leather. The traditional tables and chairs are painted with dark black shellac, and the bar stools covered with cow hide. Having asked the, very friendly, bar staff for permission to take some photos for the review, I got chatting with Andy Caird, proprietor of The Safari Lounge. Caird has previously managed such esteemed Edinburgh stalwarts as Negotiant’s and Medina, and obviously knows what makes a winning venue.
“I set out to refresh the bar, but no more than necessary – I didn’t want to destroy the place’s character”, he told me. “It’s a similar approach with the food. I wanted a menu that wasn’t just typical pub fare, and that features dishes prepared with fresh ingredients. But at the same time, the pub and what it serves should offer something for everyone in the area.”
As I spoke to Andy, I noticed a couple of old boys – certainly regulars of the pub in its former incarnation – stood drinking at the bar, joking with the staff. At the same time, food was flying out of the kitchen and landing on the tables populated by cool-looking 20 and 30 somethings. The Safari Lounge certainly is a venue with loads to offer. If there is any justice, the gods will be smiling on it for a long time to come!
Food – 8/10
Value – 8/10
Ambience – Expect a laid-back – yet busy, modern pub experience.
(N.B. the croquetas recipe mentioned in my last post, will be appearing on the blog in the very near future).