The Leith Glutton
And then there were three…
187-91a, Henderson Street, EH6 6ED
Just like that: within the space of a month, Leith boasts not just a tram line, but a third Michelin-starred restaurant. Heron’s accolade brings the Edinburgh total to five, with a deserved new star for Timberyard too. As newbies on the block, Heron and Timberyard join Martin Wishart, The Kitchin and Condita as being, in the quaint words of the Michelin rating system, ‘very good in its category’.
I visited Heron in its opening week in 2021 and was impressed. Its category, in this instance, is contemporary Scottish. In a large space that has eluded success for a number of new openings in the last decade, the Heron team have made it work. The décor is stylish, with an impressive bar area and tables on a raised platform, offering nice views to the Shore. Like its namesake, Heron is a graceful place that, at times, soars and glides with impressive ease.
The kitchen is young, to a remarkable degree. All the chefs are under thirty. Michelin promotes few chefs so early in their career, and Tomás Gormley and Sam Yorke, at 28 and 25, are Scotland’s youngest. Front of house are all slightly older and, whilst service is good, it is not as exceptional as the food.
A menu with two choices per course is priced at £65. The tasting menu is offered at £95. That is not cheap. Most people living in Leith will not readily afford this, and so a special meal should rise to the occasion. Heron does.
We start with amuses bouche, small dishes that often set the cadence of the meal. Here, the stand-out dish was a flawless tartlet of langoustine with lardo and lemon oil. The shellfish was as fresh as it can be, surely landed that day, cleverly off-setting the lardo which had been home cured for months. The overall taste was incredible. The simplicity showed a kitchen in control of what it does, willing to combine first-class ingredients with advanced techniques. The crockery here is made to order by Leith’s Borja Moranta. Provided it came on one of Borja’s wonderful small plates, I would be prepared to eat one of these tartlets every day for the rest of my life.
There is an emerging tendency to treat bread not as an accompaniment but as a course in its own right. Done well, I am in favour. Here, a very good sourdough is served with brown crab butter so light and airy it could be a parfait made from air. This time, one of Borja’s plates which has been smashed into fragments and rebuilt along the fault lines using the Japanese art of kintsugi, which translates beautifully, and descriptively, as ‘golden seams’. It is hard to know if this was by design or the happy result of a sad accident.
Sometimes, a meal can dip after an excellent introduction, and so too here. The weakest dish came next: charred and raw fennel served with blood orange and ponzu. For those that eat molluscs, the fennel was swapped out for a scallop but neither showed the kitchen at its best. That is okay, because the occasional blip only helps to highlight triumphs elsewhere.
Next was such a one, modestly presented on the menu as ‘Potato, Galloway Farmhouse Cheese, Chive’. The bowl glistened with the softest, lightest puree of potato one could imagine, and was topped with crisped potato shards, shavings of said cheese, a chive oil, and fresh chives. It was as if the unexpressed dish of my dreams had been formed into existence before my eyes. (I muttered as much across the table, and got a stop-being-so-pretentious-its-just-a-nice-dish look.)
The dishes grew in complexity as the meal progressed, even though this is a light and easy style of cooking. Turbot was cooked accurately on a rich, butter sauce and bed of wild garlic and sea vegetables. The menu promised it came with ‘salty fingers’, a crisp seaweed merrily placed on top of the fish.
Another triumph, with excellent contrasts of texture.
Veal sweetbreads came next, cooked as they should be, and served with pickled walnuts and sweet rocket - a herb unrelated, at least in taste, to rocket. It is easy to overcook sweetbreads but the lads at Heron have got it nailed.
The final main course was local venison with bramble and meadowsweet. This showed off the ingredients well and avoided the tartan cliché that can happen when Bambi meets bramble.
For those with heartier appetites, a Gubeen cheese was served for a £13 supplement, but we moved to the first of two desserts. A carrot and ginger ice-cream sat atop a small round of pistachio cake. The depth of flavour here was impressive, clearing the palate and setting us up for more.
The main dessert was a technical masterstroke. A rhubarb compote was contained within a disc of rice-pudding, which was itself shrink-wrapped in white chocolate and pistachio dust. A quenelle of rhubarb sorbet sat on top, as pink as could be. Caramelised almonds and a deep fruit and tarragon gel completed the dish.
I absolutely loved it, although the feeling at the table wasn’t universal. But in an area of the menu often neglected, it was original and satisfying. That’s why we come to places like Heron. Petit fours were good.
They have an interesting wine list, we chose a small-scale production German white at £57 a bottle, moving on to a glass of Georgian red for the meat course. There are several good bottles to choose from for under £30, or a wine pairing is offered for £79 per person.
This was a fine meal, great fun, and remarkable quality from a pair of young chefs who are not resting on their laurels, having recently opened a new bar-diner in Stockbridge, Skua, which is receiving rave reviews.
Heron is one of the most interesting new Michelin star accolades on this year’s UK list, but there are in Edinburgh too, some worthy runners up, Both Noto and the Scran and Scallie are recognised with a Bib Gourmand, the level below a star, and Noto deserves it. I suspect the Scran and Scallie is helped by having a famous owner; Michelin inspectors often display a curious deference to celebrity.
To the right hand of those lauded, I would add Aurora on Great Junction Street, a place which offers remarkable originality, and Borough where the kitchen is capable of flashes of greatness but has not yet achieved it consistently. Both must be awaiting next year’s Michelin guide with nervousness. I am crossing my fingers on their behalf and will, reader, dutifully keep you informed as the Leith dining year progresses. ■
Below: Turbot, wild garlic, sea vegetables