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The Leith Glutton
Amos Karahi

Tipo, Ardfern, Dúthchas & Askr


110 Hanover St, Edinburgh
0131 2264545

A friend, with good reasoning, refuses to eat in any chain with more than three outlets. With such a fair warning in mind, this glutton pretends that Stuart Ralston doesn’t actually operate four wildly-successful Edinburgh restaurants.

Aizle came first, moved to unlikely bigger premises at the Kimpton Hotel on Charlotte Square, and was followed in 2019 by Noto appearing on Thistle Street. Now that the pandemic-we-don’t-mention is in the rearview mirror, Ralston has moved quickly to buy vacant premises with good pedigrees.

So where the Two Dogs trundled along on Hanover Street there is now Tipo and Lyla, offering a ten course tasting menu and angling for a Michelin star has risen from the ashes of 21212 after the tragic early death of Paul Kitching last year.

Ralston’s cooking is hard to pin down. Ingredients are heavily Scottish, but with discernible twangs from five years working for Gordon Ramsay in New York. By that, I mean that small plates are favoured, Asian ingredients used cleverly, there are lots of small-producer wines, and there is a very strong focus on the impact of each dish. Many dishes are strongly flavoured, but the overall flow of a meal in Ralston’s restaurants shows a cohesive harmony.

Some dishes are exceptional. Noto’s crab butter, for example. I dream of it regularly, and inevitably wake up drooling. The emphasis is more on cream than crustacean, albeit offset with a sharp dill oil. Highly finessed, the oozing deliciousness is served in the crab shell, with bread on the side. Connoisseurs prefer to eat it with a spoon and guilt. It is lavish, luscious and the best single dish served in Edinburgh.

Today, however, we head towards Tipo. First, you have to get there, which is not quite as simple as you might think. It involves a long Georgian corridor, climbing up a precarious staircase, before ascending to what must have been a dreary Edinburgh solicitor’s office. Where once there may have been heavy furniture and musty files, now there is stripped pine with subtle pastel banquettes.

We choose the high counter seating over tables. Groups of more than four are placed in a pasta room; an ingenious segregation of which all other restaurants should immediately take note. For a kitchen focusing on Italian cooking, the dining room décor quickly tells us that this is no pizza parlour. Rather, this is a Mediterranean expression of Ralston’s small plate approach: thoughtful ideas, well-prepared food, and a menu that just makes sense.

The food offering is short, and we start with a plate of zeppole. In Italy, these fried doughballs are served sweet, with powdered sugar or perhaps a pastry cream. Here, they come firmly savoury, with shaved confetti from a sharp goat’s cheese. We sip a sparkling rosé, swing our legs on the high stools, and relax. Life is good.

To start, the lamb fritte. It is crusted meat, yet remains remarkably succulent, served with a small slice of white anchovy. Three small such logs sit on the plate, around a beautifully presented puree which nestles a herb oil. It was modern, fresh, delicious and original. A cured mackerel was served alongside grape and chilli, with puffed rice adding texture and interest; also very good.

Stepping up from small plates to medium, we order a strozzapreti – a hand-rolled pasta typical of central Italy – and a pork chop to share. Again, both hit the spot, bursting with flavour without overpowering the meal.

To finish, we share a home-made cannoli and glass of something sweet from the Veneto. Dinner comes to £150 for two, including plenty of good wine, and we promise to be back soon. Not a plate missed the mark, however small they are.

Back down in Leith, notable changes are afoot:

First, and with much regret, Mistral closed last month after a great three-year run. Sam and Julie have had fun, and so have we all. They are heading back to France, sadly taking their wine with them.

It is a big loss to Leith. We will miss the good times, the excellent sourcing, and Julie’s very good food.

Their premises is being taken over by Roberta Hall-McCarron who runs the Little Chartroom next door. We are told it will be called Ardfern, offering brunch, bar snacks and dinner, alongside a bottle shop. This will be her third place, after Eleanore on Leith Walk. I’ve always rated Eleanore a lot higher than the Little Chartroom, so am interested to see where a more casual offer goes.

Second, Aurora is gone and is no more. It’s doors closed in December. We enjoyed the Best Of Closing Dinner, showcasing Kamil Witek’s extraordinary self-taught cooking.

The venue on Great Junction Street has been kitted-out by the owners of Purslane, which has a very solid reputation. The name is Dúthchas, a fairly ill-defined Gaelic concept denoting the relationship between people, land and culture. Hopefully the menu will be better defined, and certainly early online reviews are very positive.

Third, and perhaps less surprisingly, The Chop House on Constitution Street is closing. This was the original premises of three but has been sold off to allow the owners to concentrate on the Bruntsfield and Market Street outlets.

It was a lot of fun when it opened nearly a decade ago, but latterly the quality of cooking declined noticeably. Often, the tables are empty. It hasn’t been able to attract the crowd down from town and, frankly, there are better options for us Leithers.

The replacement sounds much more interesting. It is to be called Askr, headed by Dan Ashmore who previously worked as part of the Dean Banks group of restaurants, with the cooking done over coal and woodfire.

This is very on-trend in northern Europe, and has the potential to be something a bit different in Edinburgh. We are intrigued, reader, and intend to investigate on your behalf very soon. Oh, the sacrifices I make! ■

Cured mackerel and below, Tipo


Ingredients are heavily Scottish, but with discernible twangs from five years working for Gordon Ramsay in New York


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