|Choco-brioche butter pudding loveliness.|
I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that late February can be a bit grim. Whilst spring is tantalisingly just round the corner, the second month of the year can still dampen spirits, with its short days, long nights and stormy weather. Sometimes, a pick-me-up is needed at this time of year. And what better to boost spirits than visiting a new restaurant that is generating a bit of a buzz?
I had already been hearing good things – from the likes of Lunchquest and Scotland on Sunday’s Richard Bath – about The Apiary, even though the place only opened a few weeks before Christmas 2013. Occupying premises in Edinburgh’s Newington district – that previously housed the Metrople café-bar – a glance at the new restaurant’s website indicated it promised “Modern British grub to comfort or excite; pickling, smoking and preserving all done in house…” together with “Top to tail offerings dressed head to toe in tasty.” Home curing, smoking and pickling AND nose to tail grub – well that most definitely whets my appetite. So maybe The Apiary would provide the culinary lift I was looking for?
Initial portents were promising, as so busy was the restaurant on a wet winter Saturday that the only dinner reservation available was at 7pm. When we arrived, the large and airy dining area was already peppered with full tables, so we were courteously shown to one of the leather-upholstered booths that line its walls. With the combined a la carte and specials menus offering plenty to consider – including some very appetising-looking sharing platters – we ordered a couple of beers (with my Harviestoun Wild Hop IPA being notably refreshingly bitter) whilst we made our choices.
Just as when we thought we’d finished placing our order, our server – and I should point out that the front of house staff really know the menu, and how to make diners feel at ease – drew our attention to the “side bar” section of the carte. A side order of crispy pig’s ear, smoked Maldon salt and aioli – oh why ever not?! And as our starters appeared so did a beautifully crisp – yet fruity – bottle of Marqués de Altillo Rioja blanco.
|Ham hock hash & hollandaise.|
Our choice of wine proved an ideal accompaniment to JML’s first course of ham hock hash cake, with poached egg and hollandaise. This proved to be a generous, round slab of fried mashed potato combined with meaty morsels exuding delicious smoked porcine flavours, and brilliantly set off with silky-smooth sauce and an egg poached to perfection. To be honest, it was a challenge to solicit a forkful from my dining partner for me to try. My choice of starter counts as one of my all-time favourite dishes, so the pressure was on – but I needn’t have worried. The plate of crispy whitebait that landed on the table was absolutely spot on, harbouring an intense taste of seafood which was further enhanced by being dipped in the accompanying citrus-infused mayonnaise. This was most definitely good mood food.
For his main course, JML moved from ham to lamb – a dry spice rubbed rump (to be precise) accompanied by mint yoghurt, Moroccan aubergine and flatbread. When carved, the meat was a perfectly-cooked pink, with its great taste being further enhanced by a coating of North African spiciness. Together with the well-matched accompanying ingredients, this was a plate that would definitely have you believe you were dining nearer Marrakech than Marchmont!
|Fab pheasant – but maybe a bit more saucy?|
My choice of pheasant breast wrapped in prosciutto, pigeon breast, crème potato mash, braised red cabbage, and red wine jus presented perhaps the only slight blip in what was turning into an excellent evening. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad dish at all, with the pheasant being richly gamey and succulent (which can be hard to achieve this late in the season), and the accompanying prosciutto and red cabbage respectively adding nice salty and fruity contrast. But the crème mash could have maybe been a wee bit more, well creamy, and it would have been nice to have had more of a puddle of the wine reduction on the plate. It’s probably just that the starters had set the bar very high. We couldn’t fault the side of crispy, salted, shredded pig’s ear, mind – imagine sweet, crisp, umami-laden slithers of pork scratching, and you’ll be getting there.
Having put away two pretty accomplished courses, we paused for breath before consuming pudding. This gave me time to properly take in the ambience of The Apiary, and I have to say the team behind it have managed to create a really pleasingly informal – but not too laid back – vibe, the kind that can be frequently encountered when dining in decent bistros on continental Europe. A commendable achievement in a building that was formerly a bank.
|A cracking coconut & cardamom sponge.|
And so to the desserts… I went for the warm coconut and cardamom sponge, with a Malibu and lime syrup and vanilla ice cream. It was light, yet packed with exotic coconut richness, which combined tremendously with the subtle floral hint provided by the cardamom, and the zingy notes coming from the lime syrup. Plus the ice cream was excellent, too. Across the table from me, an absolute triumph of a sweet was being consumed. The combination of a chocolate and brioche butter pudding, with orange zest, chocolate and stem ginger ice cream, and crème anglaise was something magical. It tasted every bit as warming and comforting as it looked, and those are the words spoken by someone who claims not to have a sweet tooth.
This restaurant is a cracking wee find. It’s friendly, without being too casual; the front of house staff are simply charming; and the kitchen turns out some fantastically enjoyable and inventive food, yet without making it overly complicated. It also offers some excellent lunch and pre-theatre deals. To be honest, it’s the sort of place you’d probably like to keep as your little secret. But that wouldn’t be fair. So, as the long winter closes (or at any other time of year, for that matter) if you want to put a spring in your step, make a beeline for The Apiary.
Ambience – Expect a venue with a relaxed – but elegant – bistro/café ambience.