The Caley Sample Room is my local. It isn’t the pub closest to where I live, but it is by far the best pub within 20 minutes walk. An added bonus is that it offers not just beer, as the name and its location close to the Caledonian Brewery might suggest, but has a decent wine list and a good kitchen. Yes, the thing that makes me so fond of the Caley Sample Room is that it serves food, and good food at that. Once a quarter they offer a special menu in association with the Shandon Local Food Group. On Thursday 23rd September I went to eat and find out more.
The Shandon Local Food Group is a collection of people living near and in Shandon who share an interest in food and the green values of growing your own, staying local and enjoying what you have around you. Whether local in this instance means sold or grown locally is up to the individual. The group has part of the Royal Edinburgh Community Garden where they grow vegetables and harvest trees and bushes.
We arrived early and settled into a comfy sofa with a drink to wait for other people to turn up. Since we are not part of the group we speculated on whether members of a local food group would stand out, in any way. If membership is, somehow, visible. Would the people we were about to meet wear the same clothes, or have the fresh skin of virtuous eaters? Would they carry bunches of apples, or wear garlands of garlic or even wellies? Nope. We guessed that a group gathered at the bar was “our” group only because they looked at the booked tables and, eventually, sat down at them. We took our courage in hand and joined a table. Our neighbours were Simon and Alice, who were not part of the group either. They were there on the urgings of Amy, one of the group’s organisers, also at our table. Simon was seriously into mushrooms, Alice told us about set design and Amy amused with tales of UK-US culture shocks.
Amid chat and laughter, we had a three course dinner. Butternut squash gnocchi with a rich tomato sauce, slow-cooked haunch of venison with pork and cranberry stuffing, sweet potato mash and red cabbage followed by a chocolate fondant.
The gnocchi were great: generously sized with that sticky centre that only freshly-made gnocchi have. The sauce they came with had the most intense taste of tomato and worked well with the gentle sweetness of the potato dumplings. I want to make my own soon.
The haunch of venison was tender and generously sized. Before dinner we had a short introduction to the menu from the Caley’s manager who explained that they will continue to use slow-cooking cuts to keep the prices of the food down but the quality high. That’s a strategy that I applaud. The types of cuts that suit slow-cooking also suit a pub setting and are both tasty and good value. The venison was complemented by a sauce with a hint of chocolate and a rather good red cabbage with raisins and cranberries. I go mad for sides: never mind all the other lovely things on my plate – I could have had a big bowl of that cabbage and been very happy indeed. It was perfect.
The fondant too was rather good. Melting on the inside, nicely spongy on the outside, with good chocolate flavour.
We had a really pleasant evening. The good people of Shandon Local Food Group were both entertaining and welcoming hosts. The group is active and do regular meetings and events. We’re planning a visit to the community garden in the next few weeks and know that we’ll be back to the Caley before long. It is, after all, our local.
The Caley Sample Room
42 – 58 Angle Park Terrace
Tel: 0131 337 7204