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The Leith Glutton
Amos Karahi

Askr redux, Chancho & Ardfern


When it comes to travel, I always like to visit somewhere twice. With restaurants, I am faster to judgement.

Leafing through the last issue of The Leither, I see that my review of Askr was too hasty. There were snide remarks about the cost and length of the tasting menu. I’ve been back for the shorter mid-week menu, learnt my lesson, and, like Bridgerton Season 3, dearest gentle reader, it is most pleasing.

The full-format menus are still on offer, but so too is a shorter lunch menu, also served at dinner. It is exactly what Leith has been needing and you must go immediately. EH6 is alive with the sound of brilliant tasting menus: Martin Wishart, Heron, Duthclas. There’s even The Kitchin if you can’t get a reservation at the good ones.

Since the closure of Borough however, options for a really good local restaurant are limited. Street food has never been better here, but we need a place you turn your mind to on a Friday evening because the fridge is weak and the inspiration is empty, which is exactly the set of circumstances leading to you reading this.

“I want to serve customers the food they want,” says chef Dan Ashmore, “not force them into one thing”. It is a philosophy of which others should take note. I know times are tight, and carrying lots of ingredients brings cost, but allowing a customer to make a few choices isn’t novel; even Ryanair lets the customer choose the destination. I hope that analogy doesn’t encourage any restauranteurs to start charging for a seat, mind.

In Askr, we get three seats each. First, there is a high perch to swing our legs and read the menus. We order an excellent glass of English bubbles. The lunch menu is £35 a head, with longer menus at £85 and £115. At dinner, the lunch menu is available for £45 and it is a steal. We add on ‘snacks’ for £10 a person – a very reasonable supplement.

And so we move seat; this time to perch at the snack bar. A very helpful bartender swoops in to move our glasses, but I’m not letting go of that fizz. It is delicious and fizzy.

Behind the bar an eager chef assembles two canapes before our very eyes. Charcoal croustades filled with gels, foams, taramasalata, and microherbs (ordered from the grower and delivered two hours after their pluck) are artfully arranged. Smoked mackerel is rolled around pickled daikon. There are more gels, more pickled things, more microherbs.

Honestly, I could eat these snacks all day but the helpful bartender needs us to move seats again. Perhaps it is something to do with weight and balance rules.

Now we sit in the main body of the kirk, one on a chair and one on a pew. Perhaps more of a banquette. More snacks arrive. There is a chicken drumstick stuffed with farce and daintily wrapped with twine to avoid sticky fingers. A flatbread with roast aubergine dip comes next. It is smaller and much better than last time, crunchy on the outside and squidgy hot in the very middle.

Then the proper restaurant dishes come. I have pickled trout with tomatoes and a tomato dashi broth. The flavours are exceptional and the portioning generous. This is a proper meal. Across the table, asparagus is plated with a cured egg yolk and a wild garlic emulsion. To be honest, I am flabbergasted. It is just really good.

For mains, I ordered a pork chop. I assumed this would be a small slice of meat, decorously plated. But no, the whole chop comes out with the bone sliced on the side. It has been dry aged with salt in the vast cabinets visible from the table. The flavour was impressive, and well charred over coals, but could have been served a touch pinker. An apricot puree went well with the pig’s subtle smoky flavour and earthy cavolo nero. There was nothing particularly fancy on the plate, but it all came together deliciously.

A duck leg was confit and fell beautifully into a bowl of braised barley, topped with turnip foam and plum. It was also very good, and a generous dish. The duck had good flavour and texture. Surely everyone wants a top-flight neighbourhood restaurant that serves an elevated confit duck? To end, a disc of charred pineapple with sesame, caramel and a coconut sorbet just hit the spot.

Well done to Dan for listening to feedback and putting his customers first. Askr might just be my go-to place for a nice dinner out.

There are other new openings in Leith too, take Chancho, a neat new cocktail bar on Bernard Street from the people behind Hey Palu. There is a lot of brushed pine and small glasses. The team are super friendly and make a mean martini.

There is a strong retro vibe to the drinks, and sharp Scandi décor. It was bustling on a Friday night and – pleasingly – they offer walk-ins.

The much anticipated Ardfern is open now, and I have been impressed with both the snacks and drinks. It is wildly popular morning to night, so good luck getting a table.

Our slot straddles afternoon bar snacks, and a 5pm – 8.30pm menu. First, a word about the wine. It’s great and laid back. Bottles are sold to go, or to be drunk at the table. The range is impressive, with unusual varietals and an emphasis on European producers that are doing something a bit different.

The bar snacks are a cut above what we might expect: olives, sunflower seed hummus with chicory, mortadella (at a cheeky £12 a plate, thank you very much), and a small cheese plate. The cheese highlight was a Cashel blue served with a superb rose wine jelly.

As the afternoon wore on, helped by a bottle of fizzy ancestral Montonega amongst friends, we hit the 5pm afternoon menu and frankly it would have been rude not to try a few plates.

There were kedgeree fritters with a curried mayo and cured egg – arancini of sorts. We tried some fried potatoes with bagna cauda (a garlic and anchovies dip from Piedmont). The mushroom hash browns with truffled pecorino was just as good as those words might lead you to believe. Pork croquetas with pesto and pickled chilli had great crunch and taste.

Well done Roberta Hall-McCarron. I’m not a huge fan of The Little Chartroom next door, but Ardfern is a super addition to Leith and just as good as the excellent Eleanore up on Leith Walk.

The food scene in Leith just gets stronger and stronger. Even though there are trams ready to glide you up town, you don’t need them. You’ll find some of the best food in the city right here in the old Port. Right now. ■

Asparagus, cured egg yolk, wild garlic emulsion


We tried some fried potatoes with bagna cauda (a garlic and anchovies dip from Piedmont)


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