Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Basement Restaurant, Broughton Street, Edinburgh
Broughton Street is a bustling thoroughfare in the east end of central Edinburgh. In addition to the demand for dining facilities from offices and homes nearby, the Playhouse Theatre is handily just round the corner from Broughton Street. And Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle once lived round the corner on Picardy Place and there is a statue to him outside the house. As its name implies, the Basement restaurant is below street level and so doesn't have a prominent frontage. So despite researching the location on Google Street View, I began to think I needed the services of Sherlock Holmes to find the restaurant as I initially walked past the sign hanging above the entrance and the menu display at the top of the stairs!
The Basement lives up to its name and is dimly lit - although the tallest candlesticks I've ever seen were at just about every table and the uplighters on the walls created a nice atmosphere. The rustic theme is continued with the wooden chairs and tables and the roughly plastered sand-coloured walls. The brightest part of the restaurant is the bar servery area with the bar itself beyond. So overall there is a surprising amount of available space. Outside the restaurant is a small open-air seating area - mainly for those who these days have to smoke and by law are no longer allowed to have everyone else inhaling their smoke.
Clearly many customers are regulars (always a good sign) and the Basement restaurant can become very busy at times and so food can be served in the bar as well as customers moving from the bar to the restaurant, depending on demand.
Established in the mid-’90s as a venue that would combine the best of pub, restaurant, and club culture, the Basement Bar is famous for its food, which is fast and filling and infamous for its staff wearing bright Hawaiian shirts!
When writing a restaurant review, at some stage I go and have a look at what other reviewers have had to say on the Web. While the old adage about not being able to please all the people all of the time could apply here, the overwhelming number of comments were positive, with the freshness of the ingredients, value for money and vibrant atmosphere predominating. And as the Edinburgh Pub guide put it "When Broughton Street first became hip, much of its kudos came courtesy of this Edinburgh pub."
Although there are a number of Mexican dishes on the menu, including burritos, chilli con carne, nachos, fajitas and Mexican fish cakes, it is probably more accurate to describe the Basement as serving a wide range of good traditional pub food, ranging from mussels and paté to steak pie and sea bass. That is not to be dismissive of what is on offer as it could match many a swanky George Street establishment! The regular lunch menu of freshly cooked items is augmented by an extensive à la carte selection which changes every day, with some items appearing on both menus.
Starters on the larger menu included sweet crispy tiger prawns with a sweet chilli dipping sauce and smoked salmon served with chive sour cream, lemon and crusty bread. Main courses ranged from roast duck breast on a chard and mascarpone salad, to 8 ounce Scottish sirloin steak crispy sea bream served on a haddock cake with pancetta and smoked pea veloute. (Eat your heart out, George Hotel...)
However, my lunch companion and I independently homed in on the standard lunch menu - I chose the bruschetta, a traditional Italian starter of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. The toasted bread had a herbed tomato paste and chopped fresh tomatoes. I thought that this would be a light starter before the main course. I hadn't reckoned on the generous mountain of chopped tomato and the substantial slices of bruschetta! You can perhaps get an impression of the quantity from the illustration. You just have to take my word for the freshness and tastiness of the dish. My friend opted for the homemade chicken liver paté with crusty bread (see picture above) which he polished off more quickly than my tasty tomatoes. And while we were eating, we couldn't help but notice the large steaming bowl of mussels (another starter we could have had) going to another table.
My lunch companion chose as a main course sea bass, which wasn't just covered in ordinary beer batter but, according to the menu, Grolsch beer batter, accompanied by sautéed potato and salad. The tasty, crispy batter and fresh fish went well with the sautéed potato, but being a bit of a traditionalist like myself, he would have preferred a vegetable rather than the salad to accompany it.
My choice of main course was the fish pie topped with grilled mashed potato and I went for sautéed rather than new boiled potatoes to accompany it. Sometimes fish pie can be disappointing with more creamy sauce than fish below the crispy topping. But the value for money Basement came up trumps with a substantial filet of poached salmon and large amounts of smoked haddock providing both taste and aroma. And the crispy sauté potato complemented the grilled topping on the fish pie very well. I was beginning to see why the place was so popular and had so many regular customers.
Our waitress was very attentive and friendly and had to be very patient as my friend and I took a long time to make up our minds on what to select from the menu. But she really came into her own when I hesitated about having a desert. My lunch companion was more than satisfied to just have a coffee but I always feel on these occasions that I should be able to report on what dessert is on offer (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it). I thought that a dish of ice cream might be good way to finish off the meal. Then the waitress pointed out that in addition to sticky toffee pudding and banoffi pie, the day's special dessert was a cherry and apple pie - and I could "have ice cream with that" - I was sunk! It's my own fault for not anticipating that this would be yet another substantial portion - though it was no struggle to eat my way through it!
Although we stayed with soft drinks and coffee (I had to drive back to Glasgow after all), the Basement boasts an extensive drinks list ranging from tequila, rum, and malt whisky to dessert cocktails, for those with a sweet tooth, and there's also an excellent selection of beers on tap.
The two course lunch menu, served between 12 and 3pm is £8.95.
À la carte menu - Starters: £3.75 to £5.95 (smoked salmon); Mains: £7.95 to £14.50 (sirloin steak). Desserts: £3.75 to £3.95.
The Basement bar and restaurant is located at 10/12a Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RJ. If I had read the directions on their Web site I wouldn't have missed it on my first pass down Broughton Street. The Underground has a quirky Web Site with amusing illustrations (though it's hard to identify the staff from the representations on the site) and you are advised "Protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun in our underground beer garden." - a reference to those chairs outside, below pavement level. Their email address is email@example.com.
Booking is advisable if you want a seat in the restaurant, and Wednesday is their busiest weekday evening. Telephone number for reservations is 0131 557 0097 but there is also a convenient online booking link on their Web site
The Basement has thrived for around 15 years in a very competitive environment by giving the customers what they want - a wide range of good quality, fresh food at reasonable prices. And the staff - and all those customers - have created of a vibrant, noisy atmosphere which is particularly attractive to the younger clientele.
If you have detected a certain levity in this review, then the management at the Basement will be well satisfied since they clearly want their customers to enjoy themselves - even those Hawaiian shirts are an element in creating an environment where fun and jollity come with lashings of good food and excellent value that will put a smile on the face of your bank manager.
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