Set back from the road – and surrounded by a hedged kitchen garden – sits The Gardener’s Cottage. The old stone building originally housed the gardener of the Royal Terrace Gardens, but has been repurposed by chefs Dale Mailley and Edward Murray, as a chapel to seasonal and local cooking.
It’s hard to put your finger on what makes the restaurant work so well. There is something almost religious about the experience. Inside, and through a heavy velvet curtain, the dining space is made up of three long tables, where perfect strangers sit side by side in reverence and idolatry. Here, God is not king, however -it is the freshest local produce which sits atop the altar. Of this there can be no doubt, as the waiters perform the ritual of service – reeling off dish descriptions like well-rehearsed incantations. This kind of cooking could be pretentious, and overly traditional – but instead, manages to be playful and at times, very clever.
This is the first date night Cat and I have had since The Boy was born almost a year ago (yes, really), and what a way to celebrate! We opt for the seven course tasting menu (there is no a la carte), but decide against matched wine – preferring to choose a couple of glasses ourselves. Unencumbered by anything so crass as a menu, we await each course with real excitement.
As we tuck into warm sourdough and whipped creme fraiche – washed down with a very agreeable sussex sparkling wine (think cremant) – the ceremony begins. The amuse-bouche appears, all posh hashbrown and fancy prawn cracker – and begs to be devoured in a single bite. A glass of picpoul de pinet each, and with mouths amused (thanks, Standard Grade French), we are soon enveloped in a velvety celeriac veloute with parsley oil and thyme foam. This is an accomplished dish, where the clean flavours layer beautifully, teasing us by ending all-too-soon. We needn’t worry, though, as a perfectly cooked piece of Shetland cod arrives to catch our attentions, topped with crispy garlic chives, and adorned by a shock of purple violet mash.
With a full and spicy glass of tempranillo merlot ordered, a beautiful plate of lamb arrives. A light smoked ricotta lives comfortably with heritage potato and wild garlic, and whilst the loin (I guess) is very slightly under-seasoned, the fatty and flavoursome belly (again, a guess), is one of the nicest pieces of meat I have eaten for a while. With that we begin the march toward the end of the meal, a point which is inevitable, but no-less sad in prospect.
The cheese course is simple, but hits the spot. A hard and soft Dunlop are paired with a selection of homemade chutney and crackers. Just two courses to go, and we are experiencing the tasting menu equivalent of the Sunday blues (do I really need to iron my shirts and pack a lunch for work tomorrow…?) – we don’t want it to end. A sensational bowl of ewe’s milk yoghurt with toasted puffed wild rice and sea buckthorn sorbet is a standout dish. The flavours meld wonderfully, and cut through the richness of the meal with the kind of seemingly effortless simplicity which can only ever be the product of a lot of clever and thoughtful work.
Bringing the meal to a close is a gorgeously composed plate of rhubarb cream, jelly, puree, and poached rhubarb set against the foil of a gingerbread tuile. I want more of the sharp rhubarb flavour here, to balance the lovely molasses sweetness of the gingerbread – but that’s a matter of taste, and I’m probably just succumbing to the inescapable melancholy which often accompanies the end of such a profound dining experience.
And there we leave it – strolling out into the cold March night, to be serenaded by the dulcet tones of football fans, as the dregs of the Edinburgh derby trickle up London Road. The whole experience at Gardener’s Cottage is so convivial, and unstuffy. The waiters are welcoming and knowledgeable. The cooking is skilful and sensitive, paying real respect to the sensational produce available close to hand in these parts. Tying all this together, is the atmosphere. One moment you are worshiping at the altar of seasonality and provenance, the next you are in a cosy bothy, the next a friend’s house swilling wine – and always wondering what delights will emerge from the kitchen next.
[Anyone who has been following my Insta will have found it hard to ignore my persistent love for Quay Commons – my daily work coffee spot in Leith. This place is the bakery for Gardener’s Cottage, and does a great line in light bites, coffee, and booze. Great food and drink is made all the better by lovely staff, and a chilled out ambiance. They are also about to start a regular pasta night, so watch this space!]