Edinburgh Food Studio

158 Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh

0131 258 0758

Dinner: £42

Food rating: 9/10

I’VE been meaning to visit Edinburgh Food Studio for ages. It’s not a conventional restaurant and by far and away Edinburgh’s most exciting food development, a crowdfunded restaurant and research hub that aims to combine culinary arts and sciences with conviviality and fun. The people at the stove, Ben Reade and his partner, Sashana Souza Zanella, have eclectic CVs that ooze food cred. Reade trained at Ballymaloe Cook School in Ireland, did a degree at Slow Food’s University in Piedmont, led the planning for superstar Danish chef René Redzepi’s "Mad" (food) symposium. Souza Zanella is an anthropologist and chef from Montreal. Together they generate more fizzing creative energy than a flagon of explosively fermented kombucha.

When I booked online I didn’t realise that I had signed up for one of the studio’s frequent collaborations with visiting chefs, but then I was relieved to hear that "it’s on nights like these that you experience our space in its purest form". That’s one of the fun things about this set-up: its randomness. So our packed-out dinner turns out to be a collaboration with two guest Hungarian chefs, Petra Tischler and Csilla Sybestyen, a set menu with Hungarian wines paired to each course. Somehow it’s liberating once you consent to serve yourself up for a food experiment – no agonising over choices.

We eat at refectory tables so close to fellow diners that it would be rude not to talk. Reade, tall, baritone-voiced, has the personality and confidence to host such planned extemporisation. Tischler talks us through the menu; Reade reminds us of the studio’s mission statement: keep food and drink interesting. Amen to that.

First up, sharp, lactic butter, made in-house, and a tangy sourdough bread made – beat this for one-upmanship – with flour that the studio has milled. Then there’s salty goose crackling that Tischler brought over from Hungary, the most exquisitely fatty, crisp imaginable, with crunchy rose-pink fermented pickle (some type of radish, I think), and dabs of creamy, sinus-clearing horseradish sauce.

Next we’re savouring "lecso", a vivid, cardinal red tomato soup with crunchy yellow pepper, transparent isosceles triangles of charred baby onion, and tiny salt-sweet, raisin-like sun-dried peppers with earthy paprika undertones, a tangle of crisply fried onions on top. I flag a little with the fleshy sea trout that tastes as if cooked in a salt crust on spinach purée scattered with lentils – this is a lot of eating – but rally when it comes to another main course-sized dish featuring Hungary’s celebrated pork breed, Mangalitza. There’s both lean and fatty meat, and once again some stunning crackling but it’s the accompanying buckwheat groats that steal the show for me, so nutty, and free from the glutinous quality that has dogged my own efforts.

My second stomach clicks into action for the two desserts, the first a mild, affable, lightly set, lemony semolina that’s eclipsed by the second, a rich confection of dark chocolate, ground poppy seeds in all their bitter minerality, and raspberries, served with the most exquisite red wine reduction. If this is Hungary’s answer to Black Forest cherry cake, I’m backing Hungary.

This is a collaborative dinner, so we can’t separate out the studio’s cooking from the guest chefs’. And that’s the joy of the place, one-off events that can never be replicated. However I sense Reade and Souza Zanella expressing themselves in the integrity and zeal with which they source their ingredients, the lengths they go to in preparing foods from scratch, their commitment to tracking down anything diverse, arcane, or overlooked, providing it’s edible. For all that our dinner has six courses, not including the sweet little heart-shaped ginger biscuit at the end, it’s fresh and healthy. Every dish is bright and beautiful, judiciously decorated with kitchen garden herbs, forager’s finds, and edible flowers. There’s not a scrap of pointless wadding to pad out the plate, every element earns its keep and has been intelligently thought through.

So, if we judge the studio solely as a restaurant, it’s a welcome flash of freethinking originality, the polar opposite of a copycat, play-safe restaurant, an exhilarating blast of creativity that stretches our gastronomic horizons.