The Leith Glutton
Scandi calm & logic
50-54 Henderson St
0131 554 7655
There is no doubt Borough is a restaurant with ambitions, absolutely no doubt. Service is friendly, timeous and precise; the menus read well, and the whole has an underlying Scandi calm and logic.
What other thing, the diner asks, could the chef (Darren Murray) possibly do with this line-up of ingredients? Meanwhile front-of-house is ably overseen by his partner Aleks.
Murray has a clear sense of style about his menu. He knows the perfection he is reaching for, gets close regularly, and sometimes hits the spot with aplomb. That the kitchen only re-opened a fortnight ago, and all restaurants are finding their feet again, makes this even more impressive.
Menu aside, it’s just lovely to be back out dining. After months of doing the washing up at home, we now get occasional nights off with friends.
There is laughter, wine, catching up on gossip (silly discussions about the difference between a cobbler and a cordwainer) and much comparing of notes on the dishes served. Seriously, this kind of thing could catch on.
Borough is the kind of place where as much attention is paid to the lampshades as the ingredients. Think mounds of grains, flowers and berries (and that is just the lampshades). Crockery is hand-fired pottery, primarily from the talented Andy Lang, aka The Potter of Leith, with some more delicate pieces fashioned by a potter from Amsterdam who has a strong connection to Edinburgh.
Now Aleks comes out and serves our choice of the two house cocktails, although the idea of a cocktail jars with the minimalist vibe here.
The drinks are what they are: Rowan, Apple & Thyme, a light glass, perhaps overpowered by cucumber, and a melon backnote, and a Currant Flower Negroni which held its own very well (£14).
Only a 5-course menu for £45 is on offer, with well-judged and noteworthy matched wines for another £35. Not every dish is perfect, but this level of cooking and this kind of creativity at this price is hard to argue against.
Dishes change daily in response to what suppliers can offer. The kitchen is doing great work here, and deserves the attention and praise they have been getting.
Bread is homemade of course, with excellent butter served at the right temperature, and it all flowed well into an opening tomato salad on a mussel dressing. The description underplays the preparation and taste apparent here.
Tomatoes, supplied by Phantassie (who can source good produce when they try), were craftily skinned, presumably using just enough boiling water to also improve the texture. The plate was extremely well dressed and showed great depth of flavour. It was light, summery, and a promising start.
Now a chef comes out with a stunner of a course. An Isle of Wight aubergine has been generously sliced, battered, and served as an escalope with Crowdie cheese and an olive crumb. There are layers and layers of flavour here, and texture upon texture.
This is a genius dish, which lesser kitchens would get wrong, served with confidence. On the plate are a bundle of delicious contradictions: moist and firm, soft and crunchy, sweet and salty, and all very grown up. Bravo, Darren Murray, bravo, you can cook and make deep-frying seem classy. It was the best dish by far.
Next is the Loch Etive sea trout, a favourite fish of mine. The cut lightly cured and even more lightly seared. Gleaming from under some greenery, it was generously proportioned for a dish of its size, and came with peas and a citrus sabayon so light it vanished on touch. The whole is finished with curls of dehydrated skin, bringing a welcoming firm snap to the mouth. Samphire, just coming into season, gives extra bite.
Every element is well cooked and tasty, though it’s harder to appreciate the varied flavours in their totality. With some tweaks, this could be an excellent dish showcasing the superb fish even more.
Now Darren returns with the main course, Saddleback pork served with a thick broccoli velouté, asparagus and new potatoes. The flavours here are good, so it seems churlish to suggest that this was the least interesting part of the meal. The meat – which given its quality/obvious provenance should have been served pink – would have benefited from a few seconds more on the pan, not least to warm it up, and either the kitchen or the butcher should have removed the gristle.
A very good slice of salami – almost certainly homemade – outshone the pork itself. The asparagus was nicely prepared and correctly cooked.
Then the pastry chef arrives with dessert and – bam – Borough leaps back up to the levels of graceful accuracy and flavour this kitchen can boast.
A thick almond friand soaks in a pool of strawberry juice with Mossgiel milk parfait quenelle, flat meringue paper and green rhubarb dotted artfully about. Completing a lovely assemblage.
The meringue is exceptional, the rhubarb cooked with just enough bite, the paired wine a sparkling Spanish pink - this is not a restaurant where dessert is an afterthought.
An optional cheese course (£5 supplement) offers an ash rolled goat cheese log and a 2-year-aged Gouda from Connage Highland Dairy. The latter, matured well, retains a freshness of flavour and very good crystallisation. Petit fours of salted chocolate fudge were well received.
Now closing time.
Aleks returns with a thimbleful of aperitif containing redcurrant vodka rounded off with vermouth and Buckfast.
The monks of Buckfast Abbey would have given the contents of the glass their blessing and so, in a non-ecumenical way, shall we.
Blessed are we to have such a questing, motivated, and at times downright dazzling restaurant here, on our doorstep, in Leith .