I was a huge fan of Edinburgh Larder Bistro, the last occupant of the down’stairs corner unit at 1 Alva Street. I was therefore very curious indeed when invited to review the new occupant: Forage & Chatter. It’s maybe unfair going to a restaurant when you’re, as it were, thinking about another. Luckily, I’m now a staunch fan of Forage & Chatter, so it worked out OK.
The downstairs space is cosy and warm, with dark, rustic (but splinter-free) wood tables and banquets. V., my dining companion for the evening, and I decided to sit in the conservatory, the raised space at the back. Once upon a time this was a tiny court-yard. It’s now covered and warm all year round, a comfy stone-bound space.
The food is seasonal, local, restrained but using modern techniques. The menu invites questions: it lists the main ingredients, not the techniques applied to them. We asked what form the buttermilk took on the beetroot salad and found that it was labne. While we chose, we nibbled on bread with yogurt butter and home made herb pesto, and sipped a rosé prosecco that made me think of Kir Royal. It had notes of red fruits and a soft sparkle.
To start, I had the cured trout. Never afraid to follow a national stereotype, I find it difficult to say no to cured fish of any kind. This was served with aïoli, herb pesto, radish slices, leaves and a pretty dusting of seaweed powder. It was utterly delicious. The cure was sympathetic, allowing the fish to shine through.
V. had the BBQ pork shoulder, crispy squid, cauliflower, radish. Puréd and crispy cauliflower worked well with the meltingly soft and rich pork shoulder.
I was sorely tempted by the pearl barley, celeriac, hazelnut, prune and shallot, as well as the curried butter monkfish, early winter squash, bay. Tearing myself away from those delicious-sounding mains, I decided to have one of the restaurant’s favourites: Scottish venison loin, heritage carrot, jus. V. had the West-coast hake, onions, courgette, dill.
The venison was cooked perfectly: rich red and soft to the bite. It came with carrot puré, lightly pickled baby carrots, roasted carrot, a rich, sweet jus and bursts of fruity gel. Each element was delicious on its own, and they worked well in harmony.
The hake was flaky and sat on a sea of onion puré, rafts of grilled courgette adding colour and texture. The puré was sweet and velvety, the fish perfectly cooked.
With our mains we drank a French wine by a Scottish producer: Levin. It was, to my palate, more aromatic than many a sauvignon blanc, managing to stand up to the venison and complement the fish. I loved it’s rounded fruit.
Out of pure greed, we also had buttered ginger garlic broccoli (yum!) and rosemary salted chips. WE could have lived without the sides, we found when we came to have dessert, but they sounded so good, we couldn’t resist.
Many of the dessert lovers I know would head straight for the chocolate option. Not so V. or I. Torn between pear, prune, thyme, hazelnut, vanilla ice cream and apple and meadow sweet gratin, yoghurt, I eventually came down on the side of warm dessert.
V. had the lemon curd and Douglas fir, a pretty hedgehog of fir-flavoured meringue and lemon curd prickles, alternatively tangy and sweet.
Nicholas, front of house for the evening, recommended the La Fage Maury dessert wine to go with. I’m glad that he did. It was a silky mouthful of blackcurrants and mascerated berries.
‘Whereto now? Are you going for a drink?’ V. and I both shook our heads. We were too replete and content to think of anything but sleep.
Forage & Chatter has been open for a month and a half and is already filling up at the weekend. I expect it won’t take long before they fill up during the week too. Give them a try!
1A Alva Street
Edinburgh EH2 4PH
Caroline and V. dined at Forage & Chatter’s invitation.