Cardinal stands out among new offerings in the capital thanks to its welcome blend of serious talent and sense of fun. By Ailsa Sheldon

In Edinburgh every spring, as sure as the daffodils, there’s a flurry of restaurant openings. Shiny new venues emerge from behind dark hoardings, earnestly hoping to win the hearts of discerning city diners. This year the opening with the biggest buzz has been Cardinal by Tomás Gormley in Stockbridge. Not yet 30, this is the third restaurant opening for Gormley but his first solo launch. In 2021 he opened Heron in Leith with Sam Yorke, which gained a Michelin star in 2023. The pair also opened Skua in Stockbridge in 2023, which Gormley now runs as a solo venture.

Cardinal offers a 13-course tasting menu with vegan, pescatarian and vegetarian menus available. Fans of Skua will note a continuity of interior design in the black walls. Whereas Skua feels like a dark speakeasy, Cardinal is a little more sophisticated. Wishbone style chairs, dried flowers, candles and modern art lighten the space. We settle in with the short and brilliant cocktail list. I start with an excellent Cinderella Rockafella with rye whiskey, amari and spiced honey, and my partner’s Cardinal Sour with brandy, peach and citrus is a knockout too. I’m pleased to spot a zero per cent Boulevardier on there, too, and an interesting range of homemade soft drinks. The staff, like the chef-patron, are young and they are very good: knowledgeable, friendly and skilful at creating a relaxed atmosphere.

The Herald:

The evening begins, as many glorious evenings do, with oysters. This plump beauty has a simple lovage oil drizzled on top, allowing the creamy oyster to dominate the palate. To snack on we also have a crisp chickpea panisse with a vegan XO sauce. It’s sweet and salty with a little chili – just the thing to wake up the tastebuds. A delicate crab tartlet demonstrates the pastry skills: the case is made with squid ink and filled with a crab shell jelly, sweet white crab, finger lime and delicately arranged strands of nori.

These delicious morsels are paired with a juicy organic French cider, an interesting and excellent choice. I fall for Fior di Banco by Barraco from West Sicily, full of sunshine, minerality and Mediterranean flavours. A chilled red from Tarragona La vinya de en Tomas (the name a coincidence I’m assured) is another unexpected favourite. The paired drinks have been curated by general manager Ben Mansour, with a list that focuses on low intervention European wines, produced using biodynamic and regenerative practices.

The Herald:

A highlight is a dish of cherry-smoked Belhaven lobster, a dish Gormley says was inspired by his time working at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie. In Gormley’s version lobster shells are smoked over the same cherry wood that wood-turner Daniel Westers has used to carve the beautiful serving wooden bowls. The shells are infused in butter to make a smoked lobster butter, used as a base for the hollandaise sauce and the liquor for poaching the lobster. Pink fir potatoes are diced, fried and dressed with lime gel and lobster tails covered in hollandaise sauce and finished with chive dust. This incredible dish is served with Champagne, a perfect acidic match to the salty potatoes and creamy lobster.

The menu jumps from more classic dishes, like turbot and asparagus with brown butter (flawless) to the more playful. A savoury doughnut arrives with three emulsions to dunk and scoop. A hot doughnut with taramasalata? Iconic. I also love a sourdough waffle wrapped around soft buttermilk aubergine, N25 caviar and Katy Rodgers’ creme fraiche. Salt baked beetroot sings with tarragon flowers. At the table beside us a beef tallow candle has been melting, and it’s used as part of the sauce for a sirloin beef dish. The only dish that leaves me a little cold (pun unintended but unavoidable) is unflavoured granita with a choice of syrups in dropper bottles: it’s fun but doesn’t do much flavour-wise. We end on a nostalgia trip: Neapolitan ice cream, sweeties and sea buckthorn jammy dodgers served from a biscuit chest.

The Herald:

What I love most about Cardinal is how Gormley plays with flavour and formality. The tasting menu is well-balanced but surprising, with dishes that are beautifully plated but prioritise flavour. 

There’s nothing flighty about Cardinal, Gormley is a serious talent. The tasting menu shows real culinary skill, depth of flavour knowledge, and a reminder that eating out is meant to be fun.

14 Eyre Place, Edinburgh EH3 5EP