Food Review: Elbow

Posted by in July's Magazine

I’ve always had a soft spot for East Claremont Street, it contains my first (debauched) shared flat rental – now, thankfully for all concerned, a nursery – and earliest local, The Claremont Bar. Whose crepuscular exterior morphed into the rather lovely citrus green neon signage of Elbow in 2010. Appropriately, ‘debauched’ had its sticky hands all over the weekend that preceded this return to my transformed former stomping ground, which probably explains why I tooled up with Saturday’s copy of The Times under my arm, despite the fact it was the following Thursday.

I must have ‘liked’ Elbow on facebook or signed up to their mailing list, for they had sent me an invitation to a Deep South themed food night in tandem with the Soul Kitchen DJs. I decided to forego this on your behalf, as, though I had long intended to review the place for this rag, it seemed rather pointless to run the rule over a one off event.



I have previous here; I once did a prearranged review (not in this magazine for we fly by the seat of our pants here) of a Polish restaurant where the chef insisted on presenting me with a traditional Polish Christmas menu in August. Whilst admirable in intent, it proved impossible to get exercised, or indeed write about food that no one else had a hope in hell of ordering. So although I passed on Elbow’s mass invite it did prick my memory apropos a general review. And here we jolly well are.

As I settle to my tardy reading – the food review in the aforementioned Saturday edition of The Times – it transpires that Giles Coren, a prime dick slap at the best of times, had let his ego out for a bit of a chest beating. “This restaurant (Aumbry) has never been reviewed in the national press except in the Guardian by a chap who, though an admirable writer, is not a restaurant critic.” Giles, as ever, pontificates as if he, unlike the clearly inferior non-critic in question, somehow managed to shoehorn four years at the Oxbridge University of Restaurant Criticism (leaving, no doubt, with a double first) into his busy parallel career as a ’humorist’ and reality TV star. All of which leaves me hoping that my ’parallel career’ as a chef and restaurateur passes muster with Mr Coren.

With The Times magazine not so much tossed aside as thrown with considerable force, I turn my attention to Elbow’s interior, which is – there is unfortunately no other way to put this – funky. Swirls and filigrees of floral turquoise adorn the wallpaper of one wall, offset by muted tones of brick and granite coupled with lots of retro furnishings, light fittings and gewgaws. A stenciled Hoover (called Groover) catches the eye and the owners appear to be called Trendy Wendy and Fran Tastic… what’s not to like?

The menu points out that everything is prepared from scratch so patience is appreciated, but really no such acknowledgement is required. Everything we ordered came lickety split and in good order, especially as we were sitting at a capacious table on the vertiginous mezzanine where it would have been very easy to lose us. Oh, that ‘we’ isn’t a regal affectation, I forgot to mention I have lately been joined by my better half, so I’m going to stop scribbling these notes and give her my full attention. After all drink is being taken and I won’t be able to decipher my increasingly spidery scrawl tomorrow…

Hello! Welcome back… So, what did we order? A light, buttery, toasted brioche with herb sautéed mushrooms and creamy blobs of slightly sour, slightly salty, goat’s cheese (more please of the latter). A smoked haddock fishcake – which had collapsed rather under it’s gooey poached egg and sharp hollandaise – no matter, it betokened a dish made on the premises, and had the requisite smokiness.

Potential for wankerdom
For drinks, the philistine (you guess) had a pint of lager and the fragrant one had a French sauvignon, which for once bore some resemblance to wine suppliers’ lazily universal tasting notes. It did indeed taste of greengages (sweet then sour) and had a ‘pleasing minerality’. There is an extensive cocktail list, I particularly liked the rebranding of The Virgin Mary as A Bloody Shame, all are around six quid (excepting this).

Pesto, tomato and mozzarella tart majored on the basil and garlic packed pesto, a good thing, as mozzarella (unless it’s buffalo) has the texture and taste of fresh putty…not so here. The fish finger sandwich (more like goujons really) came with a sharp tartar dressing which added a welcome tartness to the strips of cod in cider batter – crisp, grease free, pommes frites also featured.

Incidentally, note that the menu suggests enquiring about dishes of the day, we forgot and missed out on chicken and chorizo stew and butternut squash and sexy leek soup. The latter entirely in keeping with the whole Elbow ethos. Prices? Not rightly sure, the largish menus were whisked away to give us, ahem, more elbow room (boom! boom!) and their website was down. But think starters around a fiver and mains from seven quid up. Oh, and that wine was £4 (the lager was lager price).

Service was affable and laid back in a good way. In fact our waiter/barman managed to disavow me of my long held belief that any young fellow who affects a pork pie hat at work (indeed anywhere) is preternaturally disposed towards being a wanker. Step up Pete Docherty on behalf of wankerkind, and take a bow Tom Waits – the exception that proves the rule. And I fervently hope I have not mangled even further that frequently misused idiom.

East Claremont Street has, it seems, survived and flourished since my bibulous and wastrel fledgling days in its embrace. A youth of today (a 9-year-old at a table next to us) offered up his own pronouncement to his assembled family: “This is a place I’ll keep as a secret, just for myself.” Can’t say fairer than that.

133 East Claremont Street
t. 0131 556 5662

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