Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Café Fish, Leith, Edinburgh

The Location

The attractive Leith waterfront is the gastronomic "north bank" of Edinburgh, boasting no less than three Michelin starred restaurants within a five minute walk. As part of the serious gentrification of the old sea port, right along the curving cobbled Shore and around the harbourside, there are cocktail bars, bistros, pizza houses, Spanish tapas and seafood diners - a place to eat and drink for all tastes and budgets.

The Restaurant
New on the scene is Café Fish on a prime corner site, a minute's walk from the Shore. Formerly the Vintage bar, many original interior features have been preserved - tall windows, stripped wood floor and original cornicing - but given a contemporary graphic design branding by Lee Boyd of Studio LR. The entrance is a refurbished 1960s revolving mahogany door and the ceiling is now suspended with theatre-style lighting fixtures. Industrial stainless steel, aluminium and rough stone are the key materials from the attractive Oyster and Champagne bar with its high backed stools, neat rows of shiny square tables to the open kitchen where you can observe the chefs at work. It's all very smart, cool and casual, a modern take on the grand Victorian oyster bars like the ornate Cafe Royal.

The entrepreneur behind the restaurant is Richard Muir, who has had international experience in catering and hospitality management (Sodhexo, Gary Rhodes' restaurants and the Carmelite Hotel, Aberdeen). In the kitchen are two young star chefs: Virginae Dumon, who trained in the South of France, moving to London to work with Marco Pierre White; and India Innes, who appeared on the Channel 4 TV series, Gordon's Kitchen Nightmares, where she impressed Gordon Ramsay so much he offered her a job at his Boxwood Café at the Berkeley Hotel. The philosophy behind Café Fish is to offer excellent seafood at affordable prices. The daily changing lunch and dinner menus are based on seasonal fresh fish sourced from the West Coast of Scotland, as well meat and vegetarian options.

The Food
No oysters on this particular Friday night menu, unfortunately, but I could not resist the Hand-dived Isle of Harris Scallops (reputed to be the best in the world)- a platter of three fat scallops sitting on creamy celeriac mash and topped with a smear of sweet red onion marmalade. Simple, light, fresh tasting yet deliciously appetising, just what a starter should be. We munch our way through a basket of soft French baguette bread and pat of butter. On the other side of the table, my partner selected Crispy Squid - a mountain of lightly deep fried rings, accompanied by a dish of lemon mayonnaise. I tried a couple - just to check his description that they were not rubbery but a soft and juicy texture. Spot on.

In between courses, you can read the back of the menu, with its fascinating Encyclopaedia of facts and figures about Leith, fish exports from Scotland, aphrodisiac oysters and the long life of lobsters. Next posh fish and chips for me - chunky beer- battered pieces of monkfish with chips, tartare sauce and a tiny green salad. While it tasted fine, the presentation was a bit slap dash, with a dollop of fries over the plate. Why not a neat stack of fat hand cut chips or fondant potatoes, and some fresh pea puree and tomato salsa? Ken chose a House special, Café Fish pie: a dish of salmon, haddock and cod in a cream sauce, with a (rather thin) layer of mashed potato. The only accompaniment was an uninspiring, small handful of frissée lettuce and tomato salad. Again, lack of vegetables and there are no Side Orders on the menu. To be fair, other dishes, such as the Cod and Seabass are complemented by creamy spinach and roasted vegetables respectively.

Desserts are rich and sweet - chocolate tart or white chocolate mousse. Alternatively, as tried and tested, the cheese plate was an ideal portion to share, unless you are still very hungry - Stilton, Isle of Mull cheddar and a very ripe Brie de Meaux, with oatcakes. An overly generous portion of chutney almost smothered some of the cheese -perhaps best to serve in a small dish for those who like it. (A small quibble: every few minutes there is a "ding dong" of the chef's kitchen bell for service - rather distracting and annoying!.)

The Lunch menu offers lighter choices such as Café Fishcakes, Cullin Skink soup, crab and avocado salad. While the menus change every day, I would personally welcome several Café Fish brand dishes - -fishcakes, oysters, fish pie, and smoked salmon -always on the dinner menu. The wine list is carefully chosen with some quality bin end house wines by the glass / bottle with a wide selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay-Chablis and Viognier.

The Bill
Lunch- Light dishes, £ 4-£8. Dinner - 2 courses £19, 3 courses, £23 (some supplements). House wine £4.50/ £17. Blanc de Blanc Champagne £7 /£32.

Further Information
Cafe Fish is at 60 Henderson Street, Edinburgh. For reservations, phone (0131) 538 6131. There is a Cafe Fish Web site.

Café Fish may be a new kid on the block but with its first class pedigree of highly professional owner and renowned chefs, no wonder it is already attracting a buzzing crowd of couples and party groups of friends (our neighbouring table of four ladies clearly enjoyed their chilled bottle of bubbly and fishy feast). Once the young, enthusiastic team of waiters become more confident and the menu develops some impressive modern classics and Café favourites, this is sure to be a popular destination, day and night, to enjoy prime seafood and fine wine, by the sea.

Vivien Devlin
June 2009

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