Food Review: North Bridge Brasserie


Posted by in July's Magazine

Solid, dependable, familiar are probably the three adjectives I’d apply to the North Bridge Brasserie in the old Scotsman newspaper building. When it opened in 2001, as part of the new Scotsman Hotel, I thought it an excellent addition to Edinburgh’s growing and improving restaurant scene. I ate there quite often – once, memorably, without having to pay the bill, but The Leither’s crack legal team have insisted that I don’t expand on that story. A lot has happened in the past decade and I was keen to see if the cooking had moved on with our changing times.

We visited on a warm summer Saturday night and found the bar in the middle of the room rather quiet, with only five customers, yet now so reduced in size following a 2008 refurb that it afforded no room for us to sit. I liked the old circle bar, which had far more seating, with customers enjoying the central theatre of bar staff preparing cocktails and pouring good (if not inexpensive) wines in their (then) trendy black attire. You could pretend you were really quite sophisticated and part of the smart crowd. I’m not suggesting that it’s not still smart, it’s just not as smart, with the short bar now facing a wall, albeit a mirrored one, and the clientele not quite what they used to be. Perhaps I just don’t like looking at myself in a mirror these days – or certainly not with such a young crowd alongside – and would I be right in thinking that youngsters don’t dress up for a Saturday night out any more, or have I turned into my Dad? They do have more bar area seating away from the bar itself, but I wasn’t taken by it.

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The restaurant is not much changed. The set up of tables allows lots of room for diners with none of the cramped feel of a typical Parisian Brasserie, which it aspires to emulate. It’s in the old newspaper reception hall with its wonderful marble pillars and splendid oak-panelled walls still intact, but it doesn’t feel dated due to the glass and steel stairway leading to a galleried dining level where you can keep yourself entertained by looking back down onto the comings and goings of the bar and dining area.

First look at the menu doesn’t lead you to believe that anything innovative is going on in the kitchen, but it is reassuringly unchallenging and, well… solid, like I said. If that sounds like damning the place with faint praise, it’s not intended. We actually sat for quite a while trying to decide what to have – and not because we didn’t fancy anything, rather because we fancied quite a lot.

In the end, we opted for what turned out to be one of their signature dishes – fresh Western Hebrides crab, pea & pistachio bavarois, topped with pink grapefruit jelly (£9.95) and warmed seasonal asparagus, Serrano ham, with poached free range egg dressing (£7) for starters. The crab was excellent although you’ll already have concluded, not cheap, and the asparagus was good. It’s probably the third time I’ve had asparagus in as many weeks, given my fondness for it and its seasonality, and this one followed a very hard act in the version I had at Casa Lucio’s in Madrid. It might otherwise have gained a higher accolade. Also, whilst the egg dressing was a nod at innovation it didn’t quite work. I’d rather have an old fashioned lightly poached egg with my asparagus.

For mains we were torn between both having fish – the lightly curried halibut tempting my sense of adventure – and mixing it up a bit for better breadth in this review. We chose the latter route and had roasted saddle & cottage pie of rabbit with glazed apple (£16.50) and pan fried sea bream, creamed potato, roasted salsify, baby onions, in a red wine fumet (£14.50). The sea bream was very good in a dependable, familiar if unexciting sort of way, and the rabbit was superb. I love rabbit anyway but cooked in this way (two ways) it was different, but in a good way, not in a “these shoes are different, I’ve never seen tartan platform soles with a green and white striped cloth and patent ‘leather’ upper before, do you think I should buy them?” sort of way. I’d return for this dish alone.

We decided to have wine by the glass from an interesting enough list. A French 2008 Viognier (£4.75) with the crab bested the German Riesling from the same vintage (£7.50) with the asparagus, which just goes to show that either you can’t assume dearer will be better, or they mixed them up and gave me the Viognier by mistake! We had a South African Old Vine 2007 Chenin Blanc and a Spanish 2004 Reserva Tempranillo (both £6.25) with our mains and both were fine.

We shared a chocolate pudding (£6), which was one of those ubiquitous round sponges with gooey chocolate in the middle, served with honeycomb ice cream. It was superior to many of its type but it’s probably time for chefs to move on now, chocolate pudding-wise. Sweetness had the best coffee (£2.40) she’s had in Edinburgh for many a month, prepared specifically to order by our very friendly Australian waitress. I had a glass of 2003 Sauternes (£5.50), which was excellent, as only Sauternes can be. And if you meet me in the pub after reading this, don’t berate me with your I had a fantastic Slovakian pudding wine in a wee out of the way place in Kilmarnock stories. I know there are improving pudding wines out there, but experience prevents my moving with those particular times, just yet. John Holmes

One response to “Food Review: North Bridge Brasserie”

  1. […] of the Edinburgh Film Fest, 450 years of Leith Academy, music project The Imagined Village, North Bridge Brasserie… all are available for your delectation or, far more likely, to eat your fish supper from. If you […]

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