Ailsa Sheldon samples the tasting menu at chef Stuart Ralston’s second opening of the year and his most ambitious project yet – Lyla

Tasting menus are divisive. If you prefer a relaxed menu and generously loaded plate, the idea of a procession of tiny morsels tweezed into perfection is a nightmare – and one you might wake hungry from. In Scotland tasting menus have been democratised by the budget-friendly Six by Nico restaurants, and eschewed by big hitters like The Little Chartroom, The Kinneuchar Inn and The Palmerston in favour of classic three-course menus. But love them or hate them, for a chef to really flex their skills, you can’t top a tasting menu. 

Lyla is Stuart Ralston’s fourth restaurant, his second opening of 2023, and the most ambitious. Over three snacks, 10 courses, plus petit fours, we see the real breadth and depth of Ralston’s talent. We’re never bored, and we definitely don’t leave hungry. 

Arriving at Lyla we’re met by a carved stone sign and a heavy closed door. It feels classic, permanent and a little intimidating. I’m almost expecting to be asked for a password, but a reservation will suffice. Taking seats at the first floor bar (for a better view of the snack preparation), I order a pickled samphire martini. It’s a smooth and saline sharpener, an ideal match for the introductory bites. 

My favourite is a Pilot beer pastry case filled with juicy lobster and pickled kohlrabi, topped with popping balls of trout roe. I foolishly attempt to eat it in two bites, sending tiny orange balls flying – but otherwise it’s perfect. Stories of ingredients wind between courses, the roe is harvested while making the trout sashimi we eat later, both marinated in mirin and sake. The Japanese ingredients beloved by Ralston at Noto remain a keen influence at Lyla. Like the best Japanese cuisine, there’s a clean produce-lead approach with each ingredient playing a key role. 

The Herald:

No. 3 Royal Terrace was previously home to Michelin-starred 21212, run by the late, great Paul Kitching. It was Kitching’s wife Katie O’Brien who approached Ralston to take over this iconic restaurant space, a bittersweet privilege and hard act to follow. The newly renovated restaurant space is calm and considered: marble-esque wallpaper, dark grey curtains, the ubiquitous artful twigs in a vase, and, crucially, comfortable chairs for a long dining experience. The kitchen is open, and it looks pretty calm in there too despite the multi-course juggling act. 

Lyla is seafood focussed and it’s the fish dishes that best demonstrate Ralston’s creativity and skill. Tender cured plaice is topped with radish ‘flowers’, an individual exmoor caviar pearl in every bud. Slivers of cured trout sashimi are delicately arranged on chawanmushi, a smooth and salty Japanese savoury custard, with marigold flowers, lemon peel and strips of nori. 

Wild halibut, poached in butter and served with Jerusalem artichoke and caviar makes my partner Euan go misty eyed and swear under his breath (we won’t be swapping jobs, but he sums it up pretty well). Halibut returns as a side of glorious crisp salty halibut cheeks, with a mighty scallop served with rich and glossy black bean XO sauce.  

The menu is often playful and interactive. A fat langoustine is wrapped in crisp pastry strands, dunked in burnt apple and sorrel ketchup and joyfully eaten with our hands. 

A twist on pumpkin soup hides pickled girolles and a smooth pumpkin puree under a spenwood cheese foam and a generous flurry of winter truffle. Bread gets its own beautifully butter-saturated course: a laminated savoury brioche with salted butter, plus a handmade wild garlic caper and koji butter. Some dishes are finished at the table, but thankfully with no billows of smoke or gimmicks.

Sommelier Stuart Skea was recently rated no. 4 in the UK by Sommelier Edit. His wine pairings make every dish taste even better –  no mean feat. A rich slate and apple riesling cuts through unctuous lobster, and a apricoty viognier proves a great match for truffle and pumpkin. Some wines are surprising hits: a Gewurztraminer that tastes of lychee and rose, a yeasty English fizz, and a sparkling pink Bugey Cerdon which Skea describes as, “cremola foam and jolly ranchers.” 

There are many wines I’d never think to order, but without exception Skea’s pairings add delicious new depths and dimensions. 

Ralston has just turned 40, with three Michelin-listed restaurants and a cookbook to his name and, judging by Lyla, no shortage of ambition. Behind every dish is years of experimentation and creativity, a brilliant hardworking team across the restaurant, and a passion for letting the best ingredients sing. The results are exceptional. Lyla is all in, cards on the table, shooting for the stars.
3 Royal Terrace, 
Tel: 0131 285 8808