The New Kid on the Block
87 Henderson Street
0131 554 1242
Damage: Dinner for two with a bottle of wine from £120
Testimony from ex-staff of The Kitchin was damning: Day after day, The Times recounted shocking tales of mental and physical abuse. If a fraction of the allegations in the newspaper of record are true, then they should end Kitchins career. Or, at the very least, the loss of his coveted Michelin star.
His reputation has been shot to pieces and the transparent PR offensive hasn’t helped; blame apparently ascribable to ‘the high-pressure environment’ of top flight restaurants – despite the world’s most innovative kitchens currently being run along quiet, forward thinking, team work lines.
Suspending staff members, despite the fact that some of the most serious allegations relate to Kitchin himself – then repopulating social media with pictures of staff ‘having fun’ before service is not the solution.
Most galling of all was the classic misdirection: a refusal to apologise “for enforcing extremely high standards.” Which was hardly the core of the charges made.
In the opinion of this reviewer, tested several times over the last decade, those standards don’t live up to the carefully curated hype.
Your reviewer has testimony from this side of the pass; wilted crudités, forgettable mains, an eggy jam soufflé I’d rather forget.
All seemingly served in the vague hope that the customer is wowed by the mere presence of a celebrity. Sure, there are some notable dishes – game is treated with respect and the pig’s head with langoustine was novel for its time.
For sure, the Kitchen Empire has done well for itself, but when a brand with limited substance loses its reputation, perhaps the emperor is shown to have no clothes.
In truth, there were always better places to eat in Leith, and there is now a new name on the block.
Heron has opened on Henderson Street, and here’s the skinny: it’s really good. Not least those windows, with sweeping views along The Shore.
The new owners have spent serious money on décor. This great setting has challenged a run of earlier occupants. A glorified salad bar failed having taken over from a very decent but short-lived brasserie – which, in itself, took over from the fondly remembered Raj.
There is a liberal use of the Farrow & Ball colour scheme and the loos are the nicest smelling rooms in Edinburgh, even before the Aesop handwash. An entire crockery set, hand-thrown by rising pottery star Borja Moronta at his Abbeyhill studios includes plates, bowls and jugs. All are superb.
This team has serious pedigree, working at Andrew Fairlie@Gleneagles and The Witchery before running a popular lockdown pop-up. It shows.
The menu arrives on beautiful handmade paper. It is short, four starters and four mains, but every aspect is well executed. (Snacks, vermouths and martinis, are served in a classy, seated area.)
Sitting down to dine, a lightly cured mackerel fillet comes with textures of gooseberry and apple – think finely diced gels and very smooth purees which cut through the natural oiliness of the fish.
It’s a pretty dish, with borage flowers and a taramasalata mousse, bringing a welcome salty note. These are simple ingredients, put together in a superb way. There is also a rich veal sweetbread served with textures of celeriac and girolle mushroom, perhaps a touch autumnal for midsummer.
Heron maintains this high standard for mains: Duck breast – notes of honey, lavender and chicory – comes with a precisely executed pithivier of duck meat. The pastry is flawless.
I ate lamb: two excellent cuts of fillet served with aubergine puree and a crispy bon-bon of slow-cooked lamb, all brought together by an exceptional barberry sauce. A grilled scallion crowns the dish. It draws on a wide horizon of flavours: Barberries are not often on a classical menu, but they should be. The mains came with a small baby gem lettuce, grilled and dressed, like a warm Caesar salad.
Desserts also pass muster; there’s a bowl of almond crisps with yoghurt, soused strawberries and basil oil. It works. Across the table, dark chocolate mousse balls served with raspberries and sorbet are compelling.
Finally, cheese. If you order cheese in a restaurant, the chef should make something of it. Here, Blackmount from the Errington dairy comes with stout and fig compote, which is just the right balance of simplicity and artistry.
Wines are well chosen, with a few very drinkable bottles under £30, and some that stretch northwards into pricier-but-not-silly territory.
Mark-ups are reasonable; a Dolcetto d’Alba from Piedmont more than fits the bill. Fabrizio from the Old Poison Distillery in the Biscuit Factory supplies spirits.
What’s the catch? Well, we came home hungry. Portion sizes are small, and prices are high (£28 for a main) – designer furniture and hand-thrown ceramics do not come cheap.
Front of house could cushion the blow easily; throw in some bread, amuse our bouches, dial up a pre-dessert. There are ways of bulking out a meal without ruining the margins.
A note on service, the restaurant was barely open a fortnight when we took on the selfless task of reviewing its offerings, and it needs to relax a little.
They are offering a top-end experience, but don’t quite have the staff numbers to serve all the tables and top up drinks as well. It’s actually okay to leave the wine bottle on the table. We are happy to do that for ourselves.
There is, as a dining companion says, and not as a compliment, an oversupply of male leadership. There is certainly a lot of testosterone swishing around the waiting staff.
Put one person in charge, and it will all run more smoothly. Let me emphasis, this is all said with love, Heron is a great kitchen and deserves every success. I can’t wait to go back and try the set lunch.
The cooking here is impossible to fault and if this is the standard after the first two weeks of opening, a Michelin star is by no means a wild dream.
If Tom Kitchin could cook like this, maybe he’d hit the headlines for all the right reasons.
Lounge and waiting area, mackerel fillet with textures of gooseberry and apple