91 High Street, Haddington

01620 824 824

Lunch/dinner £10-£30

Food rating: 8½/10

SOME restaurants are cooking on gas from day one; others stagger on from a shaky start. Unfair though it is, serving good food is no guarantee of success. Admirable restaurants regularly shut down: wrong location, difficult premises, servicing an unrealistic lease, scaffolding up for months that kills off trade. A big shame. But the new Falko café-restaurant in the former George Hotel in East Lothian market town of Haddington is patently in the first category. I can’t think of any other establishment that bedded down so naturally, that has been so quickly appreciated and taken to heart by locals. It’s a pleasure just to walk in there. Steady queues; almost every table that isn’t yet cleared is occupied. In some ways it reminds me of that cherished Yorkshire institution, Betty’s of Harrogate. Betty’s, set up in 1919 by a Swiss baker, was modelled on the grand tea and coffee houses of continental Europe. Falko’s project is German. Edinburgh is already familiar with the very real, non-fictional Falko Burkert through his coffee house in Bruntsfield. A state-qualified pastry chef "konditermeister", he is an old-fashioned purist – I mean this as a compliment – who adheres to the strictest German craft baking standards. His style is all about restrained amounts of sugar, and offering subtle, natural flavours. He militantly eschews the technological armoury used by most modern bakers, insisting, for example, that all sponges are raised by hand in the orthodox Viennese manner by beating air into the eggs, not with the addition of raising agents. So his "kuchen" isn’t overly sweet to compensate for intrinsic blandness and fakery. This is why – although his cakes are huge and look as nostalgically gorgeous as Marlene Dietrich – I can easily finish one.

In Haddington, Falko at last has the space to create the Bohemian Viennese-style café he long envisaged. The roomy, yet cosy, premises have donned an apparently effortless, retro, coffee house feel, and the smells of baking wafting through from the kitchen seal the deal. To be a restaurant (Falko’s now open three evenings a week) as well as a cake and coffee stop, savouries matter. And Falko seems to have pitched this just right. At lunchtime, the people around us are tucking into what look to be the most brilliant bacon rolls, and door-stopper slices of homemade bread generously covered in fresh tomatoes that have been topped with Béchamel sauce, Emmental, and grilled to an oozing bubble. Everything "bread" is worth eating here. Heinrich (the sourdough starter) is 100 years old but even Falko’s yeasted breads are handmade by craft methods within a traditional timeframe.

I toy with the homemade kasspatzle noodles with Raclette cheese, fried onions, and Black Forest ham but end up repeating the same choice I made on an earlier visit – eggs Florentine – because they are such a shining example of their kind. Two elegantly oval poached eggs, napped with mild-mannered homemade Hollandaise, spurt ochre yolk when touched and sit upon golden potato rostis and unctuous creamed spinach. I could eat this every week, and it only costs £7.90. Above the convivial café thrum we can hear them pounding out the thin pork escalopes for the Wiener schnitzel in the kitchen. Two crunchy, schnitzels arrive with lots of lemon, a curled anchovy, and trad German accompaniments: mustardy, non-mayo potato salad (a suitably waxy variety) stippled with chives, and slinky ribbons of salted, lightly pickled cucumber dressed in cream and dill.

We ponder the cake counter with its many toothsome dilemmas, which takes time. Ideally you’d go with a few people and all taste each other’s kuchen. But given the bounteous array of possibilities I’m smugly pleased with mine: a custard tart with pink rhubarb and chunky pear set in its velvety skirts. And although sponges are less my thing, I make quite a dent on the airy, four-inch high chocolate truffle torte with its brittle pastry base and three layers each of creamy chocolate and airy sponge.

Such a great place, such a great project, Falko may yet become "an institution".