TheGardener's Cottage - a highly celebrated new restaurant just north of the centre and neatly five minutes walk from my dad's flat - is a sign of exciting new possibilities in Edinburgh eating. Here, on my recent trip back home to visit family and friends, I had some of the most exciting Scottish food in the warmest, most convivial surroundings.
It's located in, you guessed it, an old gardener's cottage (three rooms, effectively) on the northern slope of Calton Hill. A gravel path through growing beds leads you up to the cottage. The door is open, but you push through thick velvet curtains to get in. There are two dining rooms, with three ten seater communal dining tables between them, a record player sits in a chimney breast with a stack of blues records piled up, changed by the staff as the stylus lifts.
The menu changes daily, based on what's in season, what's available, what they've foraged that morning. A couple of brunch dishes are on offer at the weekend, a short lunch menu through the week, and every evening there's a single seven course taster menu, priced at a very, very, very reasonable £25 (or thereabouts).
I'm going to walk you through what we had, but given the menu changes daily, it's more a flavour of the kinds of tasty morsels you might expect from the Gardener's Cottage.
We started with freshly baked (still warm!) sourdough with an olive and anchovy tapenade, and venison and duck potted meat - like a Scottish, gamey rilettes. The bread was amazing, rivalling E5 bakehouse for tangy, bounciness, and the toppings were exceptional.
Next up was the soup course: leek, potato and wild garlic soup, topped with smoky, meaty bacon and winkles they'd foraged from the coast that morning. Cured pork and shellfish is a winning combination at the best of times and a favourite in Iberian cuisine, but I like the distinctively Scottish flavour here.
This was followed by treacle cured trout, served with a soft boiled egg, tart creme fraiche with toasted hazelnuts, a couple of thin wild leeks, fermented celariac, and a bit of the aniseedy and lesser-used herb Sweet Cicely.
Next up was a salt baked carrot, served with fermented cauliflower, smoked yoghurt, toasted seeds and some interesting leaves. Salt-baking is a technique I'm most familiar with being used for fish in a Mediterranean context, but it worked well here. The carrot was sweet, salty and full of flavour.
Now for the 'main course' - hay smoked duck breast, on top of a gravy flavoured pearl barley risotto, served with braised january cabbage, with bits of fermented pak choi. The smokiness was quite subtle, and the barley added a lovely earthy nutty flavour.
The main was followed by a cheese course: a lovely smooth Rachel goat cheese, served with a long crispy thin cracker, apple and pickled walnuts. A perfect combination, and delicious even for those who don't always love goat's cheese (that's me!).
Finally, for dessert we were served sweet little bits of Alexander beetroot, lavender infused cream and beetroot and apple granita. It was a great combination of flavours and sensitations, crisp and sweet, cold and melt in your mouth, creamy and rich. Wow.
Booking is pretty much essential for the Gardener's Cottage, but they make sure it's a relaxed and well paced service. Our table (booked two days before and their last available) started at 5.15 and was ours til 8, meaning we had lots of time to enjoy the meal in a relaxed way. Tables started at different times, and the whole process was exceptionally managed.
I left thinking that the Gardener's Cottage is exactly the kind of restaurant I'd love to run in a parallel world where I didn't work in policy. Friendly, fun, unpretentious and good value. If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh any time soon, make sure you get a reservation in - this is an exceptional restaurant.