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Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Hanging out (and on) at The Espy

View from ‘The Espy’

It is possible to have too much of a good thing, Edinburgh’s annual jamboree of festivals being a case in point. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the buzz of my home city in August. But after a month packed with music, comedy and drama (which also resulted in my being floored by a thespian-vectored germ, leading to the lack of recent updates on Scrumptious Scran) the time comes to give central Edinburgh a swerve and head for the coast. Accordingly, last Saturday lunchtime JML and I treated ourselves to a wee trip to Portobello.

In terms of Porty’s eateries, you really can’t get more “on the coast” than The Espy (its name being an abbreviation for “the esplanade”). Situated on the ground floor of a grand Victorian tenement located on the corner of Bath Street and the Promenade, it’s almost possible to order a pint at the horseshoe bar whilst dangling one’s feet in the waters of the Forth. During the summer months the pub has tables set up on the prom, yet as the day was bright but a little too breezy we decided to try and secure a space in the ample dining room, but still with great views to the beach.

Even though we were relatively late for lunch – arriving at 2pm – the pub was packed and we were only able to bag our spot on condition that we vacated within an hour and a half. JML and I were ravenous, so this would not a problem, well at least I thought not…

Dips and flatbread

Waiting for our beers to arrive, I reacquainted myself with The Espy’s interior. The place has that shabby chic vibe that now seems to be common to a number of Edinburgh’s more popular boozers, such as Boda and The Roseleaf, except that The Espy compliments this with surfing paraphernalia and Australian iconography. Altogether, the place has a welcoming, family-friendly feel.

Two chilled pints of San Miguel promptly arrived, together with a jug of iced water – a nice touch to get the latter both free and without request – and the waiter took our food order. Now we have dined at The Espy a few times before, and the place’s regular menu provides a very decent range of burgers and less standard pub-grub, such as plates of mezze to share. Yet on this occasion we both chose from the comprehensive menu of daily specials; JML combining a trio of Mediterranean dips and warm flatbread, together with another, intriguing, starter of pork and prawn cakes; and yours truly deciding upon the slow-roast pork loin, black pudding, apple and leek mash, with a cider gravy.

Our order duly dispatched to the kitchen, we quaffed our drinks, perused the papers, and waited for our food to appear. Then oddly, five minutes later, another member of waiting staff appeared to take our order, only to be informed this had already been done. Further sipping of drinks, reading of newspapers and waiting followed. Then even more waiting, until after some 30 minutes it became apparent that tables seated after ours were now being served their food. When I tried to attract someone’s attention to question this there was a mysterious dearth of front-of-house staff in our section of the dining area, resulting in my having to get up and accost the Maître d’ to find out if our order had indeed reached the kitchen.

Pork & prawn cakes

Thankfully, our grub landed on our table a few minutes later, accompanied by apologies for its tardiness. And as to the food itself, well this ranged from “very good” to “not bad”. JML’s pork and prawn cakes were delicious, with the meat and seafood flavours running in harmony with those of lemongrass, chili, coriander and a smidgeon of peanut. The salad that accompanied these Asian-inspired morsels was decently put together and well dressed. The Mediterranean dips were also very tasty, with a creamy harissa being a particular stand out, and the mountain of flatbread that came with these was warm, fresh and moist. My slow roast pork and black pudding was succulent and tasty, and was well balanced by the cider sauce and chunks of caramelised apple. The bed of mash on which this lay was a wee bit of a let-down, however, as it could have done with fewer lumps and a bit more butter through it.

Having polished off our dishes, it was now getting perilously close to the 3.30pm deadline set for us to vacate the table, so we tried to attract the attention of someone to whom we could make payment – and tried and tried again. Eventually – with just minutes to spare – we paid the cheque, only for another waiter to enquire just moments later as to whether we were ready for the bill…

Pork loin & black pudding

The Espy has a nice vibe, great location and serves decent pub grub. The staff can’t be faulted for their friendliness. But on this visit there seemed to be something significantly amiss with how either the kitchen or front of house was being managed; as we were leaving, I overheard a waiter apologising to another table for problems with their order. Maybe it was down to all the extra covers on promenade, who knows? But having to wait the best part of 40 minutes to receive my order does impart a more jaundiced attitude to my food, when this eventually arrives. Fingers crossed that “normal service” has resumed by the next time I’m down Portobello way, otherwise it may well be another sea-side venue that gets my custom.

Food – 6.5/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Service – 5/10
Value – 6.5/10

Ambience – Expect a relaxed yet busy, pub experience.

Esplanade on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

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  • Reply
    Beauty Balm
    March 28, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Great review. I've dined here a lot and find the food can either be amazing or a let down.

  • Reply
    Keep Calm and Fanny On
    March 28, 2014 at 10:49 am

    It's a shame eh? The food and place is smashing, but I also had poor service standards last time I was there, including watching the bar men make up a pint from several part pints (of different lagers) lying around the bar and trying to pass it off as fresh – in front of me! Like you, I am hopeful it gives itself a big service shake…

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