No one else in town cooks like this
9 Albert Place, Leith
The cost of living crisis manifests in many forms. Diners eat out less, restaurants feel the pinch, and, bluntly, everyone is a bit more miserable. At Gulp Ramen, owners Elizabeth Elliot and Sharif Gergis realised that boiling ramen stocks for sixty hours was increasingly uneconomical, even if the taste was delicious. So in July the pair closed their off-site prep kitchen and have rebranded their Leith Walk restaurant as Mirin.
I say Leith Walk, but technically it is Albert Place, and I say restaurant when really it is more of an industrial-themed bolt-hole. There are four tables and a counter, all made from a soft cedar wood, lit by a network of overhead bulbs strung from pink cables. Indoor succulents droop from high on the walls. Coupled with the vivid geometric of artwork on the walls, the décor resembles the high-energy food that spills from the tiny kitchen.
Irish couple Elizabeth and Sharif relocated from the French Alps, landing in Edinburgh just before the pandemic. A snowboard, hanging on the wall, hints at the life they left behind.
To cut to the chase, the food here is brilliant. It is fresh, with serious ingredients, and the daily changing menu will bring more repeat custom than even the best ramen shop. The plates are small but the flavours are big, designed to punch you in the face albeit in a (mostly) pleasant way. The menu is also small and we are sharing with friends so, hell, we order everything on it.
First come three bowls of dumplings, each in their own sauce. The wrappers are fine, translucently tracing the outline of their contents. Smoked mackerel and pea comes with a laksa bisque. It is a fishy, fusion bundle of fun. The BBQ broccoli with courgette comes in a mushroom broth, fine, but is eclipsed by an exceptional roe deer and black pudding dumpling, with a chilli and lime broth.
Dishes are sent as the kitchen wishes, which works fine for this style of dining. Out comes a yakitori - Japanese style cooking over charcoal - Mirin use authentic equipment and high-quality charcoal, but let their creativity shine through. Chicken thigh is carefully cut, topped with crispy skin, then covered with togarashi (a blend of chilli, seaweed, and sesame) and coal oil.
Crispy chilli beef comes next. Rump steak is cut to a thick julienne, coated in fermented honey, and fried to perfection. Heritage carrots come with star anise and smoked aubergine. Pork belly comes with blackberries and radish. I love the sharp flavours, the precise cooking, and wonderful flavour definition. No-where else in Edinburgh is cooking like this.
In a nod to Mirin’s ramen origin, two soups are offered. The stocks may not be boiled for the best part of a week, but still command a depth of taste that is impressive. Both are small bowls filled with some ramen noodles. One is made with a chicken and pork broth; the more interesting one is based on a broth of shitake mushrooms, curry and roast onions. A slow-cooked egg, of perfect texture, nestles atop both dishes. It is an uplifting dish, like getting a sloppy hug from a wet puppy. If a pharmaceutical company could distil this experience into a pill, Eddie Cochran would have had his cure for the summertime blues.
Yet more food comes out. A tail of sea trout sails onto the table, served on a Korean chilli butter sauce with fresh green peppercorns and its roe. Puffed skin adds crunch and texture. In some ways, this is their most impressive dish. The flavour is flawless, the fish cooked precisely, and the kitchen is demonstrating its skill in an understated, confident way. Sharif and his team are on to something here.
Equally good, but less refined, is the katsu pork slider. Tonkatsu is one of the great dishes of Tokyo: exceptional quality pork bread-crumbed and fried. Mirin make this into a glory burger of my dreams. A brioche bun houses a katsu patty, the type of thinly slice pork belly generally found in a bowl of ramen, American cheese, a vinegar wonton and pickled radish. It really is as good as it sounds.
Finally, the chicken arrives. It is labelled as hot, and man it is hot. Luckily this glutton loves chilli. Few dishes aren’t improved by chilli heat, and I take the view that more is merrier. (My preferred method of testing the heat of an unknown chilli involves biting half of it off and enjoying the resulting good snack). But I find this hot chicken hot. Searingly hot. Full-on burny-burny. We hear tales of a recent customer who needed a recovery glass of milk. Yet the heat of this dish makes sense.
The chicken is boneless and moist. It is a visual feast. Seaweed mayonnaise, green peppercorns, and pork crackling bring the plate alive. Vast quantities of gochujang paste, togarashi, Carolina Reaper chillies, and yet more fiery little red chillies layer heat upon heat. The total effect is phenomenal. It is certainly the best fried chicken I have eaten for years.
The short selection of wines is well-chosen, with plenty of options for non-drinkers. We pick an orange wine from near Murcia at £38 a bottle and enjoy it. Sadly, pudding is a disappointment. We order the cheesecake over the crème brûlée. It is a competent pastry base with a dark chocolate ganache, raspberry jam, and milk chocolate mousse; easy to make up from the fridge. A good pastry offering and a small kitchen don’t always work well so perhaps Mirin could rethink the offering here. It is the only flaw in a superb meal.
Service is present and authoritative: Elizabeth runs a tight front of house. But with so few covers, and serious ingredients cooked fresh to order, Mirin needs a good flow of customers. As work gets out, there will be no shortage of those and I fully intend to be one.
A big lunch for two comes to £69 plus wine. A bowl of shoyu soup, itself a perfect lunch, is £12. ■
Below: Sea trout, chilli butter sauce