As little as ten, even five years ago, there was almost no UK-made charcuterie. The fact that in the absence of a recognised British equivalent we had to borrow a French term, or a traduced Italian one- ‘salami’, a corruption of ‘salumi’- for this food category says it all. But heavens, how the cured meat category has exploded! Not least in Scotland where a clutch of dynamic, small companies- Hammond, Peelham Farm, Great Glen, Tombuie and more- is now producing a portfolio of exciting charcuterie products made by artisan methods. At Whiskers Wine Café in Edinburgh, it’s East Coast Cured- a family charcuterie business in Leith- that fills the charcuterie platter.


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Knowing this pedigree makes me inclined to choose this option, one that I’d normally ignore. I mean, if all you’re getting when you eat in a wine bar is stuff you could unwrap and eat at home, I don’t see the point. But artisan charcuterie of this type is necessarily quite expensive, and although I might pick up a pack of one type at a farmer’s market, I’m not up for buying one of each type. But here I can satisfy my curiosity. So we’re tasting our way through no fewer than six different products. Neat roundels of a fiery piccante one; chorizo that’s been cured with fruity, smoky tobacco-scented Cascabel chilli and Bourbon; venison, darker than the rest, matured with gin; coppa, from the neck, that soft lean meat with its cover of silky fat: Bresaolo, darker hued, herbal, perhaps from bay leaves; judiciously restrained truffle and porcini, a mosaic of soft unctuous fat and sweet porky meat. What a stunning line up these patiently cured meats make, each individual, distinctive, none too salty, the meat never dominated by the cure. They come with carrot and onion kimchi, and a peppery, caraway-studded sauerkraut, both competently home-made, and ‘sun-blushed’ tomatoes, which I can’t eat because their queasy fudginess and indiscriminate deli flavours send a shiver down my spine, and dry, light bread, which isn’t of a calibre to match the meat.

Pates and terrines- confit duck and apricot, smoked trout, Scottish duck liver- cost £14 a pop; I don’t understand the pricing policy here. So we move on to other dishes. Smoked haddock rarebit, with a clean, simple salad of orange, green and yellow tomato, laced with dill, is the best of the lot: pale, naturally smoked fish under a thick, comforting cheesy cape. The Hardiesmill sugar-cured beef, prettily presented under a lattice of green apple matchsticks and sliced radishes, is way too salty, we can’t taste the meat; Harissa mayonnaise makes matters worse. We can just about taste the crab on toast, all mixed up with spring onion, chilli, fennel and tomato, just. The additions are in danger of masking it. It’s the slow cooked lamb neck- meat with an unattractive reheated taste, watery Puy lentils, mouth-mugging pickled onions, incongruous hazelnuts- that finally clinches for me that although Whiskers might cook well enough to be a daytime cafe, the step up in skill needed to be an evening outfit isn’t there.

And this hunch is confirmed by desserts: a pear that’s been poached away to sticky anonymity, served with a cloying chocolate sauce, chewy, stale-tasting granola and whipped cream; a lazy and amateurish Summer pudding, which seems to be made with cotton wool bread and frozen berry mix.

Whiskers doesn’t yet seem to have either the cooking level, or the atmosphere, to span day and evening, although it does have a good wine offer: Amongst the 27 wines on offer by the glass, we find much of interest: an organic ‘orange’ wine; a Basque and Cretan white; Umbrian red.

These are difficult premises, narrow frontage and areas at the back that feel pretty dead. As the moment, it feels functional, pale and grey, with an institutional feel. A glimpse into the kitchen through the hatch and the open door looks cafeteria-like and mundane, no rock ’n’ roll chef vistas to be had here. A rethink, with a view to creating more of a welcoming wine bar atmosphere, could work wonders.

Whiskers, 48 Raeburn Place 0131 343 3681

Food: 6 and a half/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Value for money: 6/10

Joanna Blythman

Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018