Come with friends & prepare to share
Joanna and Alexandra from Athens and Crete have birthed one of the finest new additions to Leith’s culinary landscape
There is a beautiful beach of golden sand near Coburg Street, with vivid Mediterranean water, and a whitewashed Greek taverna. At least one of these statements is true. You will, by process of simple elimination, work out that it is the latter.
I’ve been walking past the place for weeks now, and obsessively checking their very good Insta game, but keep forgetting the name. An internet search engine tells me it is Kafeneion To Steki, although frankly it’s all greek to me.
Joanna and Alexandra - from Athens and Crete - have birthed one of the finest new additions to Leith’s culinary landscape. The place is superb. They are accomplished hosts and great cooks. Everything is served with a smile a mile wide.
Inside, the décor is understated smart, with splashes of art from the Greek islands speckled over bright, high walls. An olive colour scheme runs up and down pillars. It’s the kind of place where none of the crockery matches, but all the flavours do.
We start with a small glass of sparking moscato from Rhodes, effervescently floral with just enough of a sweet note, and study the impressive wine list. Until recently, few Greek wines have been seen in this country, but luckily that is changing. We pick an agiorgitiko from the Peleoponese, bottled close to the ancient site of Nemea and remember a holiday nearby.
We are the only non-Greek speakers today. This, it transpires as the food comes, is a very good sign. We hear furious chopping from the kitchen and, suddenly, a saucer of chopped aubergine, bursting with garlic, dill and olive oil, arrives at the table to punch us in the mouth. To be clear: this is a good thing. A plate of fava is incredibly smooth, dappled with red onion shavings and capers. These are seriously good little plates of yumminess. Come with many friends, and prepare to share.
Creamy feta is wrapped in filo pastry and fried to perfection so the cheese softens without oozing. I drizzle a little honey on the side and dream of Arcadia. The highlight of lunch, however, is yet to come. It turns out to be a larger dish, fairly priced at £12. Chopped pork shoulder is cooked in wine and olive oil, with leeks and wild rocket. The dish is finished with beaten egg and lemon. It is utterly delicious.
There is a small list of desserts, some made on site and others bought in from A Slice of Greece patisserie on Morrison Street. We finish with Greek coffee, strong and punchy.
A three course lunch for two, with wine, is £84, but you could eat a very decent weekday lunch without wine for £15. I’ll be going back, and soon, perhaps to try the Greek breakfasts.
Further up in town, far beyond the west end of Princes Street, near Haymarket, lies The Palmerston. I will leave you to deduce the likely address. It is the kind of place we have been needing in Edinburgh for a long time - a chef’s restaurant with Parisian bistro looks and a northern-European hipster vibe. Our perching seats at the bar let us watch the staff whip up cocktails, while we study the impressive wine list.
Many meals start with bread and butter, but few produce the quality here. Everything is baked on-site and the sourdough has superb depth of flavour. The menu has half a dozen starters and a similar number of mains.
For me, a cod brandade comes first, proudly dotted over small fried artichokes, enlivened by espelette pepper. The kitchen is sending a powerful statement: we can cook and we know it, the chefs say. A trio of food industry types stumble into the adjacent seats and delightedly order the half roast chicken. It does look good when it arrives.
I order a smaller main dish, a cross-section of pan-fried brill with gremolata, served on chard. The fish was very well cooked, with excellent flavour. This glutton’s sidekick goes all out and demands a veal schnitzel with braised red cabbage. The dish was well conceived but needed less oil, more butter, for the frying. We share desserts: quince sorbet for one; chocolate and olive oil mousse for the other. Both are good but, in a fight, the mousse wins.
As we roll off our stools, and trundle down to Leith, there is a dawning realisation that very soon, there will be a tram door to door. Suddenly three years of tram chaos becomes worth it. The Palmerston is a brilliant kitchen and a lot of fun, and it is about to be a whole lot easier to get to.
An undeclared war is raging in Leith: the war of the croissant. One on side of the battle stand the French, in the form of Boxwood Tam. His materiel is stockpiled in his exceptional Brittany bakery on Queen Charlotte Street. As an actual French patissier, he knows his craft. There is no dirty-this or loaded-that, as a friend sagely notes, just classic items baked to perfection.
On the other side of the battlefield is Hobz, in the low redbrick art deco building on Leith Walk. They make brilliant bread but have a Gen Z work life balance so seem to spend as much time closed as open. Their viennoiserie is also very good, made using einkorn flour which imparts deep flavour.
However, the most recent offensive – in the form of a sublime pain au chocolate – comes from Boxwood Tam. Hobz will have to counterattack strongly if they are to re-gain territory.
In Other News
Sadly Taza in Town has closed, although the separate bakery goes on. It served wonderful Syrian food, and is a great loss to Edinburgh. ■
Kafeneion To Steki
The Palmerston and crushed aubergine dill, garlic at Kafeneion To Steki