The Guild of Foresters, Edinburgh review – gilt-edged pub grub

Pea and ham hough / hock soup.
Verdant pea and ham hough / hock soup.

Ah, Spring is here. A week of sunshine, warmth and al fresco supping and dining is cordially welcomed. With friends coming round for dinner at the weekend, surely it is time to fire up the barbecue? Except, just as I am reaching for the charcoal, early May regresses to early March, at least in terms of the weather. So with renovations at Scrumptious Scran Villas meaning there is currently no space to entertain indoors, it’s time for plan B.

Not that Portobello’s The Guild of Foresters could be in any way be described as being second rate.  Quite the reverse. Nestling at the more bohemian end of Portobello High Street, I have to confess I have been a regular visitor to this smashing bistro/bar since it transformed itself, some 12 months ago, from the traditional boozer that was The Foresters’ Arms.  And it has been quite a transformation…
Fresh bread, hummus, olives and olive oil with Balsamic.
Bread, olive, hummus, oil, Balsamic. Splendid!

Walls have been stripped back to bare stone and brick.  A couple of wood-burners have been installed to keep things cosy in winter; and in anticipation of when the sun actually does shine French doors now adorn the establishment’s front, and the walls of the yard to the rear are lined by a ring of beach huts.  So that’s a Scottish spring day fully covered! 

Altogether, it’s a very relaxed and inviting space.  But two things really prick my interest about “The Guild”.  In the comfy bar area of the venue, unsurprisingly enough, there is bar.  But this is a really great bar with a fantastic array of draft beers – I know of no other pub in Edinburgh that serves Granada’s Alhambra sublimely crisp lager on draft.  And in the bistro section there is an industrious open kitchen. And how I love to see my food being prepared whilst I sit, cutlery in hand, salivating.  As I have said before, it’s always a good sign if a venue is brave enough to sport an open kitchen, as any corner cutting or sloppy prep is sure to be noticed by the punters.
Tempura oysters with wild garlic mayo.
Tempura oysters with wild garlic mayo.

And talk of the kitchen brings me nicely on to the menu.  I think it would be a bit of an injustice to describe it as “pub grub”.  Certainly, there are some stalwarts on the a la carte, in the form of hamburger, fish and chips etc..  But it is the choice of ingredients and attention to detail that sets this fare a (seafront promenade) mile away from, say, that served by a pub chain with a meteorological and cutlery nomenclature (if you get me).  And do keep an eye out for the inventive dishes that pop up on the specials blackboard.

The specials, which form an expansive and ever changing part of the menu, predominated in my dining party’s choice of starters. My eye was caught by the tempura oysters accompanied by a wild garlic mayonnaise.  This was a delicious flavour combination, with moreish molluscan chunks encased in a light, crisp batter just begging to be dipped in the rich, but fresh, sauce.  I really liked it, but… There was something that sat slightly at odds with the texture combination – maybe it was the spongy firmness of the cooked oysters set against the outer crunch, but it’s a minor personal point.

Steak, chunky chips, onion rings, tomato, bearnaise.
Steak, chunky chips, onion rings, tomato, bearnaise.

Around the table, my companions were tucking into equally tasty morsels.  Back to basics, but skilfully put together was a half pint of unshelled prawns, fresh crusty bread, and paprika mayo.  The shellfish looked so good, I stole one – covertly dipped in the mayo it was delicious!  Equally stripped down, but also very tasty, was the combination of a selection of fresh breads, homemade hummus, olives, and very good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Very appetising.  Yet possibly the standout starter was something that, on the face of it, sounds quite modest – the soup of the day.  The bowl of  emerald-hued deliciousness that arrived at the table consisted of fresh pea and ham hough broth which was full of verdant flavours, rippled with salty pork meatiness.

Braided pork cheeks, gravy, chive mash, beans.
Oinkingly good braised pig cheeks.

If our opening courses were all about variety, mains were a carnivorous binary split.  After taking a fair chunk of time to peruse the menu, JML’s and my dining companions each settled on a lovely chunk of beef. 35 day aged ribeye, paired with rustic chips, onion rings, roast tomato, and a smattering of salad, all accompanied by a béarnaise sauce.  There really shouldn’t be much more to say other than this was splendidly well put together pub food.  Actually, it was much more than “just” pub food.  One of my fellow diners – Kathrin – has a job that means she travels the world, and she has eaten a fair few steaks in countries renowned for their beef.  Her reaction said how good this offering really was.

Sticky toffee pudding, caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream.
Very sticky toffee pudding.

JML and I both went for slow braised pork cheeks with chive mash and green beans. I adore less-used cuts of meat, especially those that require long and slow cooking, and the two savourous porcine chunks that were served certainly fitted that bill.  Cliché though it maybe, they were meltingly good, surrounded by a rich stock reduction, paired with smooth mash made sprightly by the chives, and beans just the right side of al dente – that is, not too squeaky on the teeth.

Pudding transpired to be a sweet/tart/savoury division. Two of our party decided to share the cheese platter, which featured a well-constructed selection of both Scottish and continental fromage.  A creature of habit, JML homed in on the sticky toffee pudding and was suitably rewarded with a rich chunk of caramel-doused sponge, bathing in a pool toffee sauce, and topped off with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream.  “Delicious”, by all accounts.  After the sumptuousness of my main, I decided on a lighter option for the sweet course, in the form of a rhubarb panna cotta. The silky-smooth blancmange had a lush vanilla note, to which the acid-sweet tang of the rhubarb topping provided a great contrast. Most enjoyable.
Rhubarb panna cotta.
Smashing rhubarb panna cotta.

All in all, there was practically nothing to find fault with in our visit to the Guild of Foresters.  It’s a welcoming place that really delivers at what it sets out to be; a decent bar/bistro that serves a very good menu of “gastro pub” staples, and some interesting specials.  The fact that one often struggles to secure a table – especially at weekends – bears testament to how popular this venue has quickly become amongst both Portobellians and those hailing from outside Edinburgh’s Riviera.   So if you are looking for a good pint – and even better scran – after a bracing walk on the prom, do head for this fab wee place.  But you may need to reserve your spot first!

Food  8/10
Drink 8/10
Service 8/10
Value 7.5/10

Ambience – Expect a relaxed bar / gastro-pub. 

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  • Reply
    The Edinburgers
    June 26, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    These pictures make us want to hop on the 26 and head to Portobello. Think we'll need to pay a visit over the weekend!

  • Reply
    The Edinburgers
    June 26, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    These pictures make us want to hop on the 26 and head to Portobello. Think we'll need to pay a visit over the weekend!

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