All good things come to those who wait
Time there was that this glutton didn’t have much reason to forage on Easter Road. Pickings were thin, but how things change. Over the last few years, the Chief really has been putting sunshine on this part of Leith - or eastern Montgomery Street to offer more cartological exactitude.
Old-timers will remember the Manna House bursting onto the top of Easter Road in 2005 with a passion for real baking, good patisserie, and a mean rosemary fougasse, that olive-oil drenched bread slashed to look like an ear of wheat. They must take a lot of credit for making Easter Road a foodie street to rival any in Edinburgh.
The goodness has spread round the corner too, onto that stretch of London Road towards Meadowbank. Café after café vies for attention. The cream of the crop is undoubtedly Maria’s Kitchen, a new Italian deli with a small, if pricey range, of imported products.
The focaccia is fresh, and the pasta made in-house, but here, it is all about the cannoli. Iconic southern Italian fried shells, usually stuffed with sweetened ricotta and candied orange. One bite will change your life. While these ones wouldn’t be the talk of Palermo, they are the best rendition in Edinburgh. Maria’s Kitchen does a mean pistachio cream version too, all served up with hearty Italian bonhomie.
For coffee, Little Fitzroy wins hands down. It certainly serves one of the finest espressos in Scotland. This is a third-wave Australian coffee shop, which basically means they are serious about the beans, the roasting, the grinding and the cup – pretty much everything.
In the ongoing covid scenario there is hatch service, which starts impressively early in the day. Bakes and sandwiches are vegan friendly. Cathryn Cripps Clark started Little Fitzroy in 2019, naming it after a suburb of her native Melbourne. She now employs 7 people across her two sites; all authoritatively serve coffees from numerous Scottish roasters.
If you’ve got room after a cannoli, which may well be unlikely, you can stop by Écosse Éclair. The vibe here is chic and smart. By any standards, a specialist choux pasty maker is urban regeneration in action. Can Misirlioglu, the Dutch-Turkish founder draws on his experience during impressive stints as a pastry chef in European and London hotels.
After working the kitchens at Prestonfield House, he is running his own high-end business and he brings technical excellence to the business of making éclairs, both in the pastry and the filling.
Cranachan is often available; people who like that sort of thing will find this the sort of thing that they like. Certainly the ones flavoured with praline are superb, and pistachio makes a mark. You will want several, but they are not cheap and once they sell out the shop closes for the day.
After all that you might want a vegetable or two. Which is where Easter Road Greens comes in. Their produce is always good quality and reasonably priced. As your cynical reviewer, I fight the urge to gently mock the fact that they publish a lengthy mission, vision and values statement for their business; this is not a development many fruiterers or greengrocers have felt necessary.
I feel guilty even confessing this, because that mission statement is just lovely to read. By being friendly, they want to ‘spread joy through conversations’. They promise to ‘treat our colleagues like our family’ (which we can safely assume is a good thing). They also commit to ‘caring about other people, animals and the planet”.
These people just need a big hug, or at least a visit for your greens, bottles of hot sauce, jars of ferments, and an impressively wide range of soy sauce. They stock Shore seaweed crisps, made in Sutherland – a great new product.
Easter Road is also now home to the Edinburgh Honey Company, ideal for a novel Christmas present this year. As third generation beekeepers, the shop sells Polish honey made by the grandparents and Scottish honey made by the current owners. The range is vast. There is an intense caramel honey made from buckwheat flowers that have been baked in deep European sunshine and a delicate floral honey made in East Lothian, these people are the bee’s knees.
Where once lurked the Manna House, now stands an outpost of the ever-growing Twelve Triangles. It’s a bakery at heart, but carries IJ Mellis cheeses, Mossgiel Organic milk, cured meats and jars of homemade yumminess.
Twelve Triangles’ miso caramel is so good it should be available on prescription only and I am fond of the smoked tomato ketchup, used judiciously, there are few snacks it can’t improve.
The bakers here have real skill and they get better as time goes on, growing their range, and growing in confidence. With an open production area, you can watch them laminate a croissant, score a loaf, or cut a scone.
Next door, is a real Easter Road gem, Polentoni, owned by a couple from Northumbria and Padova. They have tried their hands at many different things. Including phases of offering evening ‘feasts’, brasserie lunches, and selling imported Italian produce at very fair prices.
The brunch-o-meter swings high here. During lockdown the team have settled into what they do best: make exceptional Italian lunch items – a Polentoni panino is the real deal. The bread will be rustic and crusty; there will be cured meat, thinly sliced, with some fennel running through it, or perhaps a perfect slice of mortadella; there may be an artichoke cream, or a porcini cream if you’re lucky. Certainly there is no more authentic panino this side of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Spinach and a baked egg, the yolk perfectly proud, sit atop an open pizza pie. On a good day, you will be treated to some arancini or perhaps a potato-filled focaccia no thicker than a pencil. I can’t praise these people enough – and that’s before we get to the sweet stuff.
There’s something missing on Easter Road, though: a good restaurant. For a while, there was Rivage, where a Mauritian chef and his Edinburgh partner served brilliant food but didn’t seem confident enough to charge the prices needed to make their business viable. Old hands will remember Tinelli’s on the ground floor of a tenement; it’s probably an Airbnb now.
The cafes, delis and shops show there is no shortage of ready cash in the area. It is one of the most densely populated parts of the country and just a short walk from John Lewis. Stockbridge, Dalry and Bruntsfield all have great bistros and restaurants. So if a budding chef reading this is looking for a location, here’s looking at you.
I’ll pop in and do a review just as soon as you open.
Polentoni and Little Fitzroy