50-54 Henderson Street, Edinburgh

0131 629 2525

Lunch/Dinner: £20-£65

Food rating: 10/10

YOU can skip reading the rest of this review if you like. All you really need to know is that the food at Norn is fabulous, so you’d be well advised to get yourself round there quick-style, even if it’s just for the £20 lunch. I didn’t have particularly high hopes. I’m not a huge fan of set menus, especially when they’re £40 and £65 (for four and seven courses respectively). And although I wholeheartedly approve of chefs who take foraging and sustainable sourcing to heart, many dishes in some such establishments read rather more interestingly than they taste. On the optimistic side, I could be sure that any chef trained by Geoffrey Smeddle, that utterly reliable chef-proprietor at the ever-evolving, never-disappointing Peat Inn, would cook like a dream, and know how to get the very best from his suppliers. Scott Smith is proof of that point.

But when the bread and butter turn up, my excellence-sensing antennae crackle with electric energy. I’ll remember the bread – sourdough naturally, not posh-restaurant-but-can’t-be-bothered “pseudough” – for a lifetime. Smith makes it with Orcadian beremeal, an ancient strain of barley. Not one but two starter cultures are involved, one from beremeal, the other uses rye from Golspie Mill in Sutherland. It took Smith three months to get his loaf right; beremeal defeats most bakers because of its low gluten content. But perseverance yields results: an even-textured, barely sweet crumb tempered by a lactic tang, and a gloriously chewy mahogany crust. The intrinsic character of this grain, which has luckily escaped the attentions of plant breeders’ “improvement” methods, is astonishing in itself, but – wait for it – we’re eating it with butter made on the premises from “cultured” (ripened) buttermilk. Now, my customary table-side slump has switched to rapt attention. I already want to come back for the £65 menu. In fact, Smith can have the pin number for my savings. I trust him.

And there’s absolutely no let-up thereafter. Dragging myself reluctantly away from the bread, the compensation is a brittle beremeal wafer topped with beetroot purée, slivers of confit duck heart, brittle beetroot crisps, and sappy leaves of wood sorrel. The first proper course is a delicately assembled but taste-packed salad of immaculately fresh white crab meat. It intersperses charred, possibly lightly pickled cucumber that looks as lovely as a Hiroshige “ukiyo-e” wood-cut of tree bark. There are white flowers of wild garlic, paper-thin pink-white radishes. I realise that my plate is making an embarrassing scraping noise because I can’t bear to leave anything on it.

Asparagus next, juicily fresh-harvested, on layers of fine potato crescents and pea and sorrel purée, under a diaphanous goat’s cheese and asparagus froth dusted with a cobweb of asparagus, lemon zest, and sea salt powder. And then we come to the rosy, luscious Cumbrian veal topside, brined for hours to enhance its gentle personality. It’s cushioned on charred gem lettuce hearts, encircled by velvety broccoli purée, all cuddled up with slippery quarters of St George mushrooms inside the protective embrace of dark green cabbage leaves that are semi-molten from their immersion in beef dripping. Chicken stock gravy lively with apple cider vinegar rounds off this tour-de-force.

We’re offered a free glass of Asti spumante. The feedback to date is that the dessert isn’t quite sweet enough without it. Wines here, by the way, are all natural, that’s to say, grown without pesticides and the minimum possible high-tech funny business during vinification. Many of them are organic or biodynamic. How progressive: natural wines are the future. The dessert needs no assistance for my palate. Frankly, it’s sensational. There’s eau-de-nil shaded woodruff ice cream, which tastes a bit like green fig. Ground ivy syrup brings a bitter note. A trail of salty rhubarb foam divides it from a toast-crisp cap of sweet, buttery popcorn. Marzipan-tasting woodruff leaves round it off. I’m gurgling with delight like a baby.

Frou-frou traces of past enterprises in these premises have been expunged. Ferments and infusions (clover root, scurvy grass and more) threaten to colonise the washrooms. Calmness radiates from the kitchen. I’d go if I were you.