The King’s Wark: selling seafood on the seashore

Smoked hake with brown prawn butter on black pudding and mashed potato. It's a mouthful.

Smoked hake with brown prawn butter on black pudding and mashed potato. It's a mouthful.

We’re so close to the sea that you would expect good seafood in Edinburgh. And you can certainly get it, from fancy restaurants in town to the pubs on the shore of Leith, seafood and fish are ubiquitous. Last weekend I took a leisurely walk down to Leith and visited three of the bar-cum-restaurants down there, finally eating in the King’s Wark.

The Shore, The Ship and  The King’s Wark. So went our Saturday Leith pub crawl. These are restaurants as much as they are pubs, so they have a somewhat different feel from pubs in town that serve food.

The Shore is cozily traditional, with a family feel and cheerful and professional staff. You can eat in the bar or in the restaurant. We watched sat in the front, watching the lunch crowds come and go. It seemed that most of the visitors were regulars and everyone chatted and munched happily. The Shore is one of those places where people come in on their own for a cafe latte, or a beer, at the bar, and families go for lunch in the sunshine. It’s friendly and comfortable.

The Ship does a similar thing but posher. It’s more spacious, has even more gleaming wood and offers a Fruit de Mer Royal @ £75 which I will have to come back for at some special occasion (spend £110 and you get a bottle of house bubbly too). With the same impeccable service as the Shore, the Ship was more formal and expensive. A good place a the post-lunch aperitif (judging from the people around us), The Ship offers an impressive menu and an oyster shot on the drinks menu, should you need a mid-afternoon protein pick-me-up.

The King's Wark, Edinburgh

The King's Wark, Edinburgh

The King’s Wark has quite a different feel again. Darker, busier, you can almost smell the smoke of ages lodged in the dark polished wood. Almost. We went to The King’s Wark at dinner time and decide to eat while we were there. Dinner was really busy. Around us were older couples and friends, mostly in twos, in their early forties and upwards.

The menu is solid and offers the fish and chips that you’d expect, as well as a variety of today’s catch specials. It tends to the robust, flavour wise.

Sweetbreads with forest mushrooms and pickled walnuts.

Sweetbreads with forest mushrooms and pickled walnuts.

I started with sweetbreads which I’ve never had before. They came with forest mushrooms and pickled walnuts, another first for me (but not a last – I’ve now got a jar in the fridge). Sweetbreads are slightly porky in flavour, creamy and pale, with a firmer texture than I had expected. The mushrooms complemented them well and the pickled walnuts cut through the fatty sweetness wonderfully.

My main course was pan-fried smoked  hake on black pudding and mash, with a brown shrimp butter. I was worried that there would be too many flavours on the plate, and there were. The hake was cooked perfectly but I got a huge serving and needed the musty sweetness of the black pudding to balance the saltiness of the fish. The brown prawn butter was lovely but rather too delicate to stand its own ground. The mash was good but I must admit that I was too full to eat it.

It might not have been the perfect fish meal for me, but The King’s Wark is clearly very popular and has, according to a sign outside, won a prize for best pub food this year. That I understand: it serves excellent pub food: large portions of robust and tasty stuff. There was more than one vegetarian option and a couple of good meat dishes on the menu too. There’s variety even if the focus is strongly on fish. As it should be.

The Shore
3 Shore
Edinburgh EH6 6QW
Tel: 0131 553 5080

The Ship On The Shore
24-26 Shore
Edinburgh EH6 6QN
Tel: 0131 555 0409

36 The Shore
Edinburgh, EH6 6QU
Tel: 0131 554 9260

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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