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New kids on the block


187 Great Jct St, Edinburgh EH6 5LQ
0131 287 2600

102 Constitution Street, Leith EH6 6AW
0131 283 3309

To be honest, I was sceptical. Very sceptical. It is a small venue with a pricey menu, and the name is in Gaelic. Now, I’ve nothing against Gaelic, and speak facal no dhà myself (that means a few words, for the rest of you Leithers).

The name, Dùthchas, is not readily translated but broadly means the relationship between the people, place and nature. The website looked expensive, and so did the paint job on front door.

So for several weeks, I avoid the new opening, fearing the place was more suited to American tourists of a moneyed nature, not people like me. It turns out that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I’d just got a bad case of the Scottish cringe, and one dinner at Dùthchas had me fully cured.

Borne out of the team behind Purslane, Paul Gunning and Alexander McDonald have gone into business to reinvent the pint-sized Aurora premises on Great Junction Street. In short, the cooking is exceptional, the service exemplary and the cocktails… well, we need to talk about the cocktails.

It’s hard to pin down the cooking style. Dishes are very fresh, ingredients precisely chosen and often flawlessly cooked, with a clarity of purpose about every single thing on the plate. There were some small missteps in the meal but – given the chef was cooking solo on the night we visited – overall, this is the most exciting new restaurant in Scotland for some time.

The tasting menu is a six-courser, but with added froufrou. Canapes are served sequentially and hot: an ox cheek pie and consommé of great depth; haggis fried with brown sauce and pickled turnip; smoked eel tart with creme fraiche and beetroot; a cigarillo piped with cauliflower puree and blue cheese sauce. I was instantly blown away. Canapes are meant to show off a bit, teasing us of what is to come. Here were four technically complex dishes, starting the meal with an earthquake of flavour. Not many restaurants do that this well.

A bread course disappointed: the milk roll was fine, and the slice of focaccia with ham and gherkins is best forgotten.

But straight away – bam! We are back on track. The best piece of fish I have eaten this year came next. A slither of seabream, cooked to perfection and with crispy skin sitting proud, sat in a fennel and tomato water. There was a hint of saffron, which is precisely the result you want from saffron. The dish was creative, original and showed that the kitchen is capable of cooking at the highest levels.

It is also a kitchen willing to have fun, we realised, when a chicken kiev of sorts appeared. Breaded chicken was plated on a new season wild garlic puree. Sometimes, this kind of dish is overly laboured, with technical delivery at the expense of taste. Not so here. Presentation and flavour went hand in hand, and I am living for it.

An excellent piece of salmon came next, with a light ratatouille, and then the gorgeous main: Shetland lamb with kale and asparagus. This was a triumph: perfect tenderness, perfectly sauced. It was a remarkable combination of people, place and nature.

Dessert came in two parts: first, a lemon and yoghurt meringue and then a larger rhubarb panna cotta, in layers of cream and gel. Aside were a range of rhubarb textures, sweet pickles, and pistachio. It was good, but too heavily set; perhaps a hefty hand was needed with the gelatine to make the layering stack.

Coffees and mignardises came finally; the pate des fruits is the standout here. Wines are interesting, by the glass, bottle, or in a matching flight. Now, back to the subject of the cocktails. Alexander likes to experiment. A lot.

Fortunately, his experiments work well. A clarified negroni has been fined with milk over several days, then filtered through coffee paper to produce a crystal-clear spirit. I can’t put my finger on it, but the taste seems, well more complex than Campari from the bottle.

The chilli margarita may have a variety of industrial applications in the paint-stripping sector, which would be a shame, because it actually tastes very good. It is just not for the faint-hearted. I can’t wait to go back again, and have no doubt I will.

A confession, reader. This glutton wasn’t planning to write about Dùthchas. The main piece was meant to be Askr on Constitution Street. Dan Ashmore offers absolutely great, technically clever cooking, but just not quite as consistent as Dùthchas.

A tasting menu is cooked, mainly over fire. Guests start off the evening on high stools as a chef prepares two canapes as part of the fixed tasting menu.

Turbot taramasalata is served with raw soy cured trout roe, chive and watercress. A pickled daikon is rolled around seasoned mackerel and kombu. Both are utterly brilliant, and there is something elemental about being served by a chef this close. I was once served a piece of sushi in Tokyo, eaten direct from the hand of the chef. This is the next best thing.

We are ushered to our main course table in the adjacent salon. First up, glazed chicken wings with black garlic. They are good, and very cleverly presented, but a little flat. A flatbread comes, cooked to order over fire, with some baba ghanoush.

It is fine, but I could do that at home – all I need is one small aubergine. Dan steps up a gear or two for the next dishes. Beetroot is cooked in yesterday’s coals, beautifully served with blackened apple and crème fraiche.

A kitchen which takes a simple vegetable and uses clever techniques to elevate the flavour knows what it is doing, which makes the previous dishes all the more surprising. Turbot too, is cooked perfectly over coal.

Hogget comes in two phases: a cup of broth (very nice) and a plate of meat served with chargrilled peas and a deep, unctuous sauce (absolutely first-rate).

The pre-dessert is a forced rhubarb buttermilk, and I love it. It is actually better than the main desert, a blood orange caramel on a chocolate mousse. It is too much: the largest course by far and would have benefited from being half the size. Mignardises are available at a supplement.

Indeed, several other supplements are available, including oysters, scallops and wagyu beef. These would take the tasting menu from £85 to north of £130 – not cheap.

Dan is a chatty and enjoyable chef who knows his job is to host, as well as cook. I loved the meal, and really hope it survives. But how often will the menu change? Where Dùthchas is swapping dishes regularly, the Askr menu seems more fixed.

At the time of writing, Dan has started offering a cheaper and smaller midweek menu. I may give that a go. ■

£282 for two, with wine and (freely chosen) cocktails

£360 for two, with wine and (heavily upsold) cocktail

Below: Shetland lamb, kale & asparagus

Dishes are very fresh, ingredients precisely chosen and often flawlessly cooked



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